Photo credit: Lorenzo Moscia
Photo credit: Lorenzo Moscia

Cash for resilience: How WUSC is using cash transfers to support girls education during the COVID-19 pandemic

Increasingly, education systems are challenged to deliver education services in adverse contexts such as natural disasters, political crises, health epidemics, pervasive violence, and armed conflict. The year 2020 was no exception, as health systems around the world struggled to cope with the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Kenya, the first COVID-19 case was detected on March 13, 2020 which triggered the closure of schools and businesses, threatening the gains previously made in girls’ education. Putting it into context, findings from a recent donor-led evaluation show that in Kenya, learning loss (1) is on average 2.4 years worth of previous learning for math; and while there was substantial variation for reading, an average 3.5 years of previous learning has been lost (GEC, 2021). In these types of contexts, education can  help mitigate the risks of such adversity by providing a safe and stable environment where  children and youth can succeed and thrive (World Bank Group, 2016). 

WUSC’s COVID-19 response: adjustments to our cash transfer model

Since 2013, WUSC has been implementing the Kenya Equity in Education Project (KEEP), which aims to increase girls’ access to education in the Kakuma and Dadaab Refugee Camps and in host communities. Funded by the United Kingdom’s Foreign Commonwealth and

Development Office (FCDO), via the Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC), KEEP-II (2) programming includes cash transfers (CT), teacher training, remedial education, mass media outreach, community mobilization, psychosocial counselling, and life skills training, among other interventions. As part of the project, 2,500 families are supported by CTs, which are used to incentivize them to support girls’ education and to cushion them against the effects of extreme poverty. In response to the envisioned dangers posed by COVID-19 to learners, especially girls,  the KEEP-II project adapted the delivery of CT (3) to ensure beneficiaries were sufficiently supported throughout the crisis. This helped bolster resilience (ability to recover quickly from crisis and return to school upon reopening) and encouraged continued student attendance and retention after the crisis period concluded and schools reopened. The CT adaptation focused on facilitating rapid payments to the families, expanding the target beneficiaries from 2500 to 3000, as well as increasing the value amount to be disbursed to KES 3,000. The KEEP team engaged with various government agencies and private sectors — primarily the Refugee Affairs Secretariat (RAS) and Safaricom (4) — to help remove the barriers to using M-PESA to pay refugees (5).

Learnings from the COVID-19 CT adaptation 

The COVID-19 disruptions affected most learners who were not able to report back to school in Kenya. Despite the challenges faced in our context, our monitoring data shows that more learners who benefited from CT returned to school. The CT beneficiaries were in fact three times more likely to be present in school after schools fully opened in the last quarter of 2020 and first quarter of 2021. Families spent part of the money on learning, such as paying for private tuition, revision materials, or uniforms (35.6% of families); purchasing food, clothes, and other necessary personal items (34.1%); and ensuring that girls had access to sanitary wear and were able to purchase personal protective equipment such as masks, and buy medicine (30.3%). In addition to this, we noted that the CTs also acted as a protection measure against negative coping mechanisms such as exploitative child labor, forced marriage, transactional sex, petty crime, and drug use. 

In summary, we note that the decision to alter the regular CT implementation seemed to have a positive impact on households and as well as promote resumption to school. The evidence we have shows that families were able to ease the burden at home, meet girls’ basic and education-related needs, and reduce negative coping mechanisms which disproportionately impact girls.


(1)  As a result of the suspension of face-to-face instruction in schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been concerns about consequences for students’ learning. Most of the students are expected to lag behind by a couple of years for them to catch up to their grade level education achievements.
(2)  KEEP-II began in April 2017 and will end in September 2022. 
(3)  Prior to COVID-19, WUSC implemented the cash transfer based on attendance, however families were not restricted on the use of the cash as long as it goes to offset the family burden of sending girls to school. 
(4)  Safaricom is a Kenyan mobile network operator headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya. It is most known as the home of M-PESA, a mobile banking SMS-based service.
(5)  Due to Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements, refugees were not allowed to own M-PESA  registered lines, however our engagements with RAS have really helped eliminate the barrier. 
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