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CCAF Study Uncovers Digital Assets’ Potential in a Humanitarian Context

A new study has been published by the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance (CCAF), at Cambridge Judge Business School. It provides insights and preliminary analysis on the potential use of digital assets to facilitate cash-based transfer (CBT) in a humanitarian context.

Entitled Considering Digital Assets for Humanitarian Cash-Based Transfers, the study identifies which humanitarian aid environments are most likely to see benefits and value-add from adopting digital asset-based CBT operations.

The empirical review of past digital asset-based CBT pilots presents initial evidence that digital assets have the potential to benefit humanitarian aid agencies’ operations. This is in addition to their beneficiaries, in a number of ways, provided that the appropriate technical, logistical, regulatory and policy conditions are met.

This research, which was supported by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), focuses the analysis on the potential benefits provided to CBT beneficiaries. These could include mitigating challenges of local currency instability, privacy protection, and by-passing expensive international monetary transfers. This is in addition to improving access to financial services for the unbanked or underbanked.

Beyond this review of past CBT pilots, there is little existing analysis or information to provide more empirical findings on how beneficiaries currently experience and use digital assets in a humanitarian context, or even if they are preferred to current CBT mechanisms. Other insights from the review include the lack of comparability among the digital asset pilots in CBT to date.

The study also identifies and critically analyses a range of issues that agencies should consider in pilot design. The overarching goal is to provide choice and preference for beneficiaries in addition to existing CBT mechanisms.

Key factors for humanitarian and development agencies to consider before piloting a digital asset-based CBT programme include:

  • The current CBT infrastructure
  • The regulatory status of digital assets in concerned jurisdictions
  • The specific humanitarian environment and local conditions
  • The capabilities of the implementing agency
  • Attributes of the beneficiary population
Applying digital assets in a humanitarian context

“Technology-enabled financial innovation can play a key role in making humanitarian aid more expeditious, efficient, scalable and secure. However, their adoption needs to be human-centric and evidence-based. They need to take into account relevant technical, logistical, regulatory and policy conditions and considerations,” says Bryan Zhang, co-founder and executive director of the CCAF.

“This study explores the potential of utilising digital assets for cash-based-transfer programmes in a humanitarian context. It used the Philippines as a case study to advance our understanding of this complex issue.”

“In setting out a foundational framework for understanding digital assets, this paper highlights critical factors for improving agency operations and cash-based-transfer programmes and points to further research in terms of benefits and challenges for agencies and beneficiaries in other local contexts,” says Nick Dyer, director general of humanitarian and development the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.

“As a leading humanitarian donor, and given the increase in humanitarian crises globally, the UK is keenly interested in these efforts to use digital assets appropriately. Finally, we want to improve our collective humanitarian response for the benefit of those in need.”


  • Francis is a journalist and our lead LatAm correspondent, with a BA in Classical Civilization, he has a specialist interest in North and South America.

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