Cambodian Women and Children Benefit from Digital Technology

Monday 7 August 2017

Through the five-year NOURISH project, funded through USAID and the U.S. Feed the Future initiative, USAID/Cambodia is working with the Royal Government of Cambodia to accelerate progress in improving nutrition among women and children. Using an integrated cross-sectoral approach,, NOURISH brings together health/nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and agriculture interventions in 565 rural villages, reaching nearly 26,000 women and children in three Cambodian provinces.

Through NOURISH, USAID aims to create demand for the improved use of services, practices, and products. The project has set up a Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) initiative for poor, food-insecure households with a pregnant woman or child under two, known as “first 1,000 days” families, to incentivize the timely use of health and nutrition services. Under the CCT initative, eligible women can receive up to six payments—to reach a total of $65 over the first 1,000 days. Funds are transferred directly into women’s bank accounts after certain conditions are met. These conditions include at least four antenatal care visits, childbirth at a health care facility, two postnatal care visits, use of a handwashing device, and monthly growth monitoring and promotion for children under two years.

The women receive all payments into a savings account opened specifically for this purpose with a local microfinance institution (MFI), which brings digital financial services to the villagers for the first time. In addition to the small financial incentive for targeted health and nutrition service use, the CCT drives financial inclusion and women’s empowerment by increasing their financial literacy and access to financial tools, such as ATM cards, PINs, and formal savings accounts.

“I just feel very modern; we have our own money and can save for our children,” proudly shares one of the CCT beneficiaries in Siem Reap.  “We are happy to have the ATM card. We never thought that we could have that card on our own as we are so poor.”

The U.S. Global Development Lab is helping the project further digitize the CCT process to ensure that the program can reach scale quickly and efficiently. This includes building a mobile-based application for enrollment and beneficiary management, and a web-based platform to ensure that data is updated in real-time in both field offices and in headquarters. By eliminating most paper-based processes and further automating the CCTs, USAID will help set an example of a digital platform for managing social assistance in Cambodia that partners can replicate. In addition, working with the local MFI to further increase financial literacy among women receiving the payments empowers these women to start to save and access credit to increase their productivity and income.  

Demonstrating the benefit of digitization of CCTs will be a critical component of the broader, ongoing conversation with the Royal Government of Cambodia on how to efficiently build up their national social assistance and protection programs, and to support a variety of sectors including health, education, and agriculture.