Q&A

What is LOUISE?
LOUISE stands for Lebanon One Unified Inter-Organizational System for E-cards. It is a platform and a cash system for Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese whose objective is to simplify humanitarian strategies, systems and activities. The organizations behind LOUISE; UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, Save the Children and World Vision, designed the system to enhance the efficiency of their assistance and to form an inter-agency humanitarian safety net. The aim was to streamline the vulnerability assessment, targeting, financial providers, distribution, training and communication. Once LOUISE set sail, it replaced multiple mechanisms with a system that was more accountable to beneficiaries and that better addressed their needs. LOUISE is based on the idea that cash alone can’t buy dignity or a guarantee of not getting trapped in poverty – but cash and integrated services can.
Which organizations form LOUISE?
  • UNICEF, a leading humanitarian and development agency working globally for the rights of every child.
  • UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people.
  • The World Food Programme (WFP), the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, striving for a future of #ZeroHunger.
  • Two of the biggest international non-governmental organisations in the world, Save the Children and World Vision.
What’s special about LOUISE?
While redirecting benefits to the socio-economically disadvantaged in a development context is not new, it has only become mainstream within humanitarian aid in recent years. Functioning markets, technical capacity and advanced banking services make it ideal to implement in Lebanon. The strength of the system is the approach to cash as means and not an end in itself. LOUISE’s uniqueness is that it does not separate aid from programming. LOUISE is also different due to the knowledge sharing and generation, and the collaboration between the UN and non-governmental organisations to address the multiple vulnerabilities and needs of beneficiaries in a unified manner. The collaboration also makes referrals between programmes and humanitarian actors easier than before. Combined, with the reach and experience of every actor, LOUISE ensures that no vulnerable person is left behind.
How do different agencies and organisations contribute to LOUISE?
UNHCR brings the expertise on refugees and protection, its advocacy role, its constantly updated database and data management systems, as well as its accountability and presence across Lebanon. It also brings a wealth of experience in cash programming. UNHCR provides multi-purpose cash to help the most vulnerable refugee families cope with daily expenses and challenges. During the winter months, UNHCR’s seasonal cash support helps over 160,000 families and 800,000 persons stay warm.

UNICEF brings its expertise on children to enhance the impact of LOUISE and ensure a focus on multi-dimensional poverty and education. In order to address the increase in negative coping mechanisms harmful to children such as child labour, early marriage, reduced food-intake and school drop-outs, UNICEF provides unconditional cash to socio-economically vulnerable Syrian and Lebanese children and families. Through two cash-based programmes. UNICEF, together with WFP and the Ministry of Education, supports Syrian families with enrolment and retention of primary school aged children into the 2nd shift. The amount ranges from $20-65 per month, depending on the child’s age. Through the Common Card, UNICEF also provides Syrian and Lebanese children with a one-off $40 amount to meet additional needs of children in winter.

WFP, the leading agency on food security and nutrition, has a long history of large-scale cash based assistance. WFP brings models and crucial mechanisms to make LOUISE work. WFP provides food assistance through the Common Card to the most vulnerable Syrian refugees. Eligible refugees receive $27 each per month which can be used to buy the food they want in nearly 500 specifically contracted shops acros Lebanon.

The non-governmental organisations Save the Children and World Vision, are the final crucial actors and the key to LOUISE’s success. It is due to their extensive network, experience, country wide presence, referrals, assessments and enrolment, that dozens of thousands of disadvantaged children and their families in Lebanon get by.
What kind of assistance can be accessed through the common card which is part of LOUISE?
The assistance available to a family depends on its specific needs. This can be food assistance in almost 500 contracted shops across Lebanon, multi-purpose cash assistance through ATM’s, winter assistance, or education and protection cash assistance. Not all cardholders have access to the same types of assistance and not all refugees or Lebanese poor are eligible - due to limited resources and as a consequence, the need to prioritize families based on needs.
Why does the UN conduct a vulnerability assessment?
A vulnerability assessment for Syrian refugees in Lebanon is conducted every year by WFP, UNHCR and UNICEF, to monitor and document trends and to make sure that humanitarian assistance constantly meets the needs of the most vulnerable. Every year, the assessment provides valuable insight into refugees’ living conditions. The assessment was first carried out in 2013, and has since been done yearly, shaping planning decisions and programme designs, becoming a socio-economic baseline and a cornerstone for all humanitarian interventions in Lebanon.
How does the UN conduct its vulnerability assessment? What is the methodology?
We can take the most recent assessment as an example. Between May and June 2016, a survey team visited 4,596 Syrian refugee households, randomly selected from 26 districts across the country. The population was stratified by district to allow district and governorate analysis. The household questionnaire was based on the questionnaire of the previous year to ensure comparability. Qualitative information was gathered through focus group discussions in each governorate.
Does LOUISE also assist Lebanese families or Palestinian refugees in Lebanon?
Vulnerable Lebanese are eligible to some types of assistance provided through LOUISE, such as the winter, food and child benefit assistance. Overall, the multi-purpose cash assistance to close to one million Syrian and other refugees is directly boosting local economies by transforming refugees from aid recipients to active consumers in their host communities. Refugees purchase their goods locally, be it food, fuel, or clothes, in addition to paying rent, water and electricity. Hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries are therefore funneling the cash they receive back into local markets.
Why is it better to address needs of vulnerable people through a single multi-agency platform, than through one agency?
One system, built on strengths, expertise, access and data of several agencies, is stronger and reaches further than a single agency ever does. Most importantly, for beneficiaries that have had to report to various distribution points and manage a number of cards; a single medium simplifies their lives and allows them to access aid in a more dignified fashion. Agencies that have joined forces can better address the multiple diverse vulnerabilities beneficiaries face on a day-to-day basis. The complementary collaboration between UN agencies and international non-governmental organisations also provides a greater overview and at the same time, reduces duplication and management costs. LOUISE is the umbrella and an open platform for all; a single call centre, performance tracker, training, card, financial service provider and more. In comparison, when agencies strive alone to meet the needs of vulnerable people, it often leads to competition, division and duplication.
Does every beneficiary get the same assistance?
No, a family or an individual that owns a common card is not necessarily entitled to all of the assistance offered or the complimentary services. All cardholders have been assessed and measured based upon a vulnerability criteria, and that assessment shows which needs are the most urgent to address.
What is the duration of each type of assistance?
Some types of assistance such as winter and child cash benefits are for a limited duration based on the winter season or the school cycle. With text messages the agencies inform beneficiaries about starting and end dates. The provision of food and multi-purpose cash assistance usually depends on the circumstances of the family in question. If a family's’ situation improves and it is no longer eligible for support based on the targeting criteria and availability of funds, the family will be informed two months before the assistance is stopped.
How do cardholders get notified about credit and top-ups?
At the same time each month, all benefits are transferred to beneficiaries as a single payment. Some types of assistance is provided monthly and some on a yearly basis but in all instances, beneficiaries are notified with a text message explaining that a transfer was made and from which programme of LOUISE. Beneficiaries can also check their balance whenever in ATM’s and on receipts from the contracted shops all over Lebanon.
What does one monitoring and evaluation mean? What about one information management portal?
LOUISE has a joint monitoring and evaluation framework to harmonize methodologies and timelines, enhance efficiency and reduce the burden of cardholders. The framework endeavours to provide a regular, holistic overview of the assistance. Simultaneously, a common information management portal collects data through the call centre and the Bank, providing information on card usage, expenditure patterns, challenges in distribution and delivery, resulting in almost real-time programme and financial information flows. The pooled data then generates analysis that directly shapes future programming.
Why is cash better than distributing goods?
Cash assistance offers dignity to those in need. Beneficiaries become consumers who decide themselves – based on their own needs - how to spend the assistance they get. Cash assistance also boosts and supports local economies and saves UN agencies and NGO’s the cost of importing humanitarian aid. A number of studies and evaluations confirm the benefits of cash assistance, for both direct and indirect beneficiaries; that is refugees and vulnerable Lebanese and the local population and economy. In-kind assistance on the other hand requires expensive supply and logistics, does not take individual and specific needs into account and is by many considered to be undignified.
Does LOUISE work?
Less than six months after the launch of LOUISE, the lives of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees had improved considerably. The total monthly expenditure of cardholders on essential life saving commodities such as food, water, health and hygiene – was 21 percent higher than of those that weren’t receiving any assistance. Eight out of ten supported families had been able to improve their shelters. Households reported being less reliant on loans and being able to avoid negative coping mechanisms. Children receiving the child benefit attended school for an additional month on average, compared to children not getting any support. Local Lebanese businesses have also experienced a change to the better. Finally, the introduction of a single card and a single bank, selected through a rigorous tender process, has reduced the overall costs now that there is only one programme and not four run in parallel.
Who funds LOUISE?
LOUISE, the system of UN agencies and non-governmental organisations, is supported by Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, Estonia, the European Union, France, Germany, Japan, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
Is the economic situation of refugees in Lebanon and poor Lebanese improving or worsening?
It is worsening, year by year. Lebanon has a number of so-called poverty pockets where the most vulnerable Syrians and poor Lebanese live, in already impoverished areas of the country. More than half of all Syrians in Lebanon, or 52%, live in extreme poverty or on less than US$ 2.4 per day, along with 10% of the Lebanese population Similarly, nine in ten Syrians in Lebanon are in debt, on average owing US$ 857 to their lenders
Do all Syrian households struggle with providing food on the table for their children?
Yes, most Syrian families experience not having enough food, or eating food of poor quality. In 2016, 93 percent of Syrians were food insecure to some extent, compared to 89 percent in 2015 and 75 percent in 2014. The deterioration is likely to have slowed down due to sustained food assistance response. Poor Lebanese families have seen the same deterioration in past years, hand in hand with worsening livelihoods of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.