MOBILE money is playing an increasing role in disaster recovery efforts as shown by the initial projects undertaken in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda.

This development has caught the interest of relief agencies of the United Nations, as well as other international humanitarian agencies, who are studying the experience of the Philippines in disaster response.

"We at Smart find it very gratifying to be involved in the difficult but vital work of helping revive the communities devastated by Yolanda and other natural disasters. We are happy that, aside from providing badly needed communications links, we are finding innovative ways of applying the mobile money technologies to help the recovery effort," said PLDT and Smart president and CEO Napoleon L. Nazareno before a global audience at the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month.

He cited the recent initiatives of Smart in the Philippines to make mobile money more pervasive and beneficial to more Filipinos, especially in times of disasters.

One of the early recovery activities that Smart helped facilitate was the payout to the emergency cash-for-work beneficiaries of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) held last December in Tacloban City.

"Like other cash-for-work programs, the beneficiaries are paid to sweep streets, clear debris and clean up the drainage. What was different was the innovative way it was being implemented with the help of state-owned Land Bank of the Philippines and Smart," Nazareno said.

UNDP has tapped LandBank and Smart's wholly-owned financial services unit, Smart e-Money, Inc. (SMI) for the cash transfer rollout using the Smart Money platform.

The first batch of beneficiaries received their weekly payout worth P1,400 via new ATM cards from LandBank. They also received a text message that their pay had been credited to their cash card via a cell phone courtesy of Smart, which was linked to their card and came preloaded with 30 days’ worth of free SMS.

The pilot phase of the UNDP program will cover about 5,000 beneficiaries in different parts of Central Philippines hit by Yolanda, but will eventually benefit some 50,000 people.

"The beneficiaries are of course very happy. The wages they receive are a financial lifeline that keeps them afloat and pump primes the local economy," Nazareno said.

"The UNDP likes it too because this is a faster, safer way of disbursing wages. It also turns the beneficiaries, many of whom were previously unbanked, into bank depositors of the LandBank, a definite plus in terms of financial inclusion," he added.

Now that this system has been tried and tested, UN agencies and other humanitarian agencies can quickly set up mobile-enabled cash-transfer programs in future disasters. Another UN agency, World Food Programme has already engaged Smart to disburse its cash-for-food benefits to over 200,000 grantees starting this month.

SMI is now looking at the next implementation of the UNDP cash transfer program via electronic vouchers instead of cash. Smart’s BayadLoad will be made available for this deployment.