Humansis: shaping the future of emergency distribution

Getting aid out to the people who need it in conflict and disaster zones has always been a lengthy and inefficient process. But that was before Relief Applications developed the Humansis platform.

A new online platform which allows the easy disbursement of cash and food vouchers in disaster relief and conflict scenarios is transforming how organisations are able to operate.

Humansis is a new Beneficiary Information Management System developed by humanitarian tech company Relief Applications in partnership with the Czech NGO, People in Need, has recently undergone trials in Cambodia and the Middle East. It has been hailed as a success in simplifying how beneficiaries are identified, how aid can be transferred instantly via mobile money, in the much improved storage and access of data, and in the way it has streamlined data collection for donors. 

Open Source

The new technology is Open Source, meaning any organisation is able to access the source code of the application it free of charge, to install it and/or adapt it for their own needs. This is the first Open Source information management tool available in the humanitarian field. 

Getting aid out to the people who needed it in conflict and disaster zones is usually a slow and inefficient process. Lists of beneficiaries are drawn up manually and stored insecurely on staff laptops, while staff had to travel long distances to remote areas to hand over cash or food vouchers in envelopes. 

“James Happell, Global Innovations Advisor at People in Need, said the platform has the potential to revolutionise the way his organisation is able to operate in the field, saving staff time, and making reports for donors and partners much easier to prepare.”

Not only did this take time and considerable staff resources, but it was difficult to track who was getting what (especially if they crossed borders), and painstakingly drawn up lists of vulnerability criteria could be lost if staff members lost laptops or left their posts. 

PIN in Iraq Photo credit: Jakub Plihal,

This new technology aims to address these challenges with a simple platform that allows lists of beneficiaries to be uploaded in seconds, and money to be sent almost instantly to beneficiaries’ phones via WING mobile banking. In Cambodia, Humansis is also connected directly with the government’s social security database to quickly identify those most in need.  If the recipient does not own their own phone, they can nominate a proxy to receive the money for them. The platform also works offline if internet or power are unavailable, and the old system of delivering cash manually can still be used if preferred. 

Fast, accountable and easy to use

James Happell, Global Innovations Advisor at People in Need, said the platform had revolutionised the way his organisation is able to operate in the field, saving staff time, and making reports for donors and partners much easier to prepare.   

“It’s an exciting project and our staff are really looking forward to how it’s going to improve their working lives,” he said. “There are a lot of demands on their time and donor expectations for reports on their activities and this will really simplify things and free up a lot of their time.

one of the biggest advantages is the speed with which beneficiaries can be registered and verified

“Getting cash and food vouchers to the people most in need is an ongoing challenge in conflict zones and emergency response, and keeping track of the data we collect on beneficiaries is always a challenging task, especially in the contexts in which we work where access to power and the internet is not always reliable,” he said. “Previously we had been utilising relatively antiquated and very manual methods for collecting, storing and distributing data, such as spreadsheets and basic databases kept in insecure locations or staff laptops. When staff members leave or move location then data would easily get lost. It was very difficult to collect and verify information from the people we were trying to assist. It was also hard to combine information into reporting for our donors and partners.” 

Happell said one of the biggest advantages is the speed with which beneficiaries can be registered and verified. “This platform automatically calculates lists of those most in need, saving us time and money, and getting aid out to people more quickly. It is more efficient for our organisation as a whole.”  He said Humansis is stored on a centralised database and is cloud hosted and encrypted, ensuring the security of beneficiary data. It also features a duplication tool meaning data can be easily cross-referenced to eliminate payment and registration duplications. 

Humansis already in use in Cambodia and the Middle East

The platform is in place and ready to use in Cambodia in case of a natural disaster. It is being trialled in the Middle East as a displaced population aid delivery tool, allowing easy verification of IDs, and quick and efficient distribution of food, cash and goods, allowing assistance to be provided to groups wherever they are. 

Reconstructing trails in Nepal. Photo credit: Sajana Shrestha

A key benefit of Humansis is the high level of transparency it ensures within the aid delivery chain in humanitarian organisations. Cash is no longer being transported around the country in envelopes, with duplications common. “Previously there was a lot of loss, whether intentional or not,” said Happell. “Now there is increased transparency and accountability. Our users and staff have a full audit trail visible to ensure all usage and changes are accounted for.” 

Endorsing the Principles for Digital Development

Happell said it was important to them that the platform is Open Source and available to anyone to use, unlike some of the alternative platforms. “That is one of the most positive aspects of it, and it’s the right thing to do because a lot of our funding is public. We want to be able to share it for use by others.”

Relief Applications endorses the Principles for Digital Development, meaning their work is Open Source wherever possible.

The hope is that Humansis will be a continually evolving concept. Happell said they are looking in to biometrics and digital ID tools so that when people cross borders they are able to maintain and verify IDs, and they would also like to connect to further e-cash tools.

Learn more about Humansis (formerly Akezi) here