Svenska handelshögskolan

Is cash assistance really king in humanitarian aid?


In a world where humanitarian crises seem to be an ever-present reality, delivering aid to those in need has become more challenging than ever. As humanitarian organisations increasingly turn to cash and voucher assistance (CVA) as a way to provide aid , it is crucial to consider the logistical implications of this. Failure to do so can result in delays, increased costs, and potentially harmful outcomes for the very people organisations strive to help.

This shift in the way aid is delivered is not without consequence. CVA is not managed in the same manner as in-kind assistance, and assumes that markets are functioning properly and there is a sufficient supply of goods available”, argues Russell Harpring in his doctoral thesis Cash and Voucher Assistance in Humanitarian Contexts: Supply Chain Determinants for Feasibility and Operability.  

CVA enables beneficiaries to choose the goods and services they need most, promotes local markets and businesses, and provides a sense of dignity and choice to those receiving aid. However, delivering cash and vouchers can also pose significant logistical challenges, particularly in contexts where infrastructure is weak, security is a concern, or there are limited financial service providers.

“The problem with CVA grows as persons affected by disasters often have multiple concurrent needs to be met, with varying degrees of severity and urgency. Each should be evaluated separately to determine the best course of action to take for the response,” Harpring points out.

Therefore, humanitarian organisations must carefully assess if cash and voucher assistance is the best way to help in each case. In his thesis, Harpring explores how aid can be delivered more efficiently and effectively by addressing the humanitarian system holistically.

As we continue to face complex crises, it is essential that we develop a better understanding of the mechanisms which underpin the systems we rely on to deliver aid. Programmes should be implemented so as not to cause disruptions to the existing supply chains and financial markets which may further exacerbate an already unstable situation,” Harpring underlines.

So, is cash assistance really king in humanitarian aid? Russell Harpring suggests that you should look to your supply chains for the answer.

The thesis is available here: Cash and Voucher Assistance in Humanitarian Contexts: Supply Chain Determinants for Feasibility and Operability.

The doctoral defence of Russell Harpring takes place on 4 May at 14:00 EEST at Hanken School of Economics.
You can participate via Teams.
Opponent: Professor Maria Besiou, Kuehne Logistics University – THE KLU
Chair: Professor Graham Heaslip, School of Engineering Atlantic Technological University, Galway

More information:

Russell Harpring 
Hanken School of Economics
+358 044 977 5832


Hanken School of Economics is a leading, internationally accredited university with over a hundred years of experience in education and research in economics and business administration. The research is of a high standard and constitutes the foundation of all teaching. Hanken has close ties to the business community and an active alumni network with over 13 000 alumni in 65 countries worldwide. 

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