Mobile phones are everywhere in the Philippines, even the slums of Manila, where people either have their own or share with others. That means the country is well suited to a new pilot project that uses text messages to distribute money earned through WFP 'cash-for-work' projects.
"It's like a digital wallet," explains Stephen Anderson, WFP's Country Director in the Philippines, who says that using Manila's near universal mobile phone coverage to manage disbursements solves several problems, both for cash-for-work beneficiaries and WFP.
The first and most obvious, according to Anderson, is that it's more efficient. "The new system allows us to sign up participants, enter them into a database and when the projects they're working on are completed, the payments go out automatically," he said.
Anderson says the text-system will also resolve many of the logistical challenges of organizing "cash distributions."
Transferring the money via text message, by contrast, can help resolve both problems. Instead of gathering a at distribution site, beneficiaries can claim their money at any of 18,000 participating corner shops.
Some eight in ten people in the Philippines have access to a mobile phone, according to the National Communication Commission, even in the poorest areas where a basic model can cost as little as US $10.00.
A country that likes to communicate, the Philippines boasts both a phone-savvy society and a booming telecoms industry which has stepped forward with the technology to run the mobile cash transfer system.
Globe Telecom Inc., a Manila-based telecoms firm, has furnished both the phone cards for the beneficiaries and the "G-cash" software package which manages the transfers. The company has also designed the training materials used to show participants how to "cash" their text messages.
Launched in September 2010, the mobile transfers pilot project started with 2,000 participants of cash for work projects in and around Manila, out of about 40,000 people still involved with WFP early recovery activities in the Philippines after Tropical Storms Parma and Ketsana in 2009.