121 is an end to end Cash Based Aid (CBA) system that is safe fast and fair. Read more about it on 121.global


CBA restores people’s autonomy and helps to rebuild the economy. Current practices make this kind of aid still complex and slow, and it often has safety issues for all stakeholders involved.

The International Disaster Database records a steady increase in the frequency of natural disasters over the past 35 years. As a result, the number of people affected by humanitarian crises has almost doubled over the past 10 years, whilst the cost of humanitarian assistance has tripled. For this reason, the humanitarian world is undergoing a transformation in the way that aid is delivered. This transformation must not compromise the humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence.

Assistance must always reach the most vulnerable. An effective way to support people affected by natural disasters is through a combination of CBA and Forecast-based Financing (FbF). FbF allows for both decision-makers and people affected to better prepare for and cope with natural disasters and thus reducing needs when disaster strikes. CBA offers a more efficient and dignified means to deliver assistance, empowers people in need and fosters local economies.

Current challenges
However, these CBA programs face multiple challenges. Every disaster type and local context has its unique set of challenges and in turn a unique set of solutions. The scope of the current solutions differs dramatically from high digital connectivity to that of low or no connectivity. For this reason, we started with a common set of parameters that we want to improve on. These can be clustered as:

TIME: Depending on the location, getting CBA to the most vulnerable can be a slow process. We aim for a system to trigger fund release from anything up to 6 days to 24 hours before a natural disaster strikes (for early warning early action).

SAFETY: Both Red Cross field staff & volunteers, and the recipients of assistance are vulnerable due to the large amounts of physical cash involved in cash-based assistance.

COSTS: International bank transfers, hiring security and in-country logistical challenges creates high costs.

INCLUSIVENESS: Beneficiaries do not always have a proof of identity and are therefore not easily included in humanitarian aid across various humanitarian organizations.

SCALABILITY: Current solutions differ dramatically in each context.


Using Human Centered Design, we research and build the 121 system based on the desirability of it to stakeholders, the feasibility of the technology and viability of the humanitarian landscape. Combining the research results to create a successful implementable 121 system.

We gathered teams from tech start-ups and experienced cash delegates, system engineers, econometricians and social scientists. Through numerous sprints, we establish the current and potential user journeys for all stakeholders, highlighting challenges of registration of people affected due to a lack of proof of identity. Incorporating the knowledge of our 150 years of providing humanitarian aid, we look at the social & economic factors that affect the potential technological applications and inclusion and distribution algorithms that can help identify and ultimately reach the most vulnerable.


The ultimate goal is to develop a system that can adapt to any type of disaster in any location. In the interest of scalability, we are exploring very different local contexts and disasters & crises.

1: Hurricane-prone St. Maarten, with high digital connectivity

2: Flood-prone areas of Malawi & Ethiopia, with low to no connectivity

3: Internally displaced people in Ukraine, with mid to high digital connectivity


The project has reached the following steps Red Cross operations during 2018-2019.

  • SEP: St.Maarten: Co-Design with people affected who received aid
  • SEP: St.Maarten: Co-Design with field workers who gave aid
  • OCT: Ukraine: Co-Design with people affected who received aid
  • OCT: Ukraine: Co-Design with field workers who gave aid
  • NOV: St.Maarten: Wireframe Testing with people affected who received aid
  • NOV:Ukraine: Prototype Testing with people affected who received aid
  • NOV: Netherlands: Co-Design with people affected who received aid
  • MAR: Malawi: Co-Design with people affected who received aid
  • JUN: Ethiopia: Co-Design with people affected who received aid


At 510, we work on this project together with tech start-ups, focusing on different pilots with different consortiums. Read more about it on 121.global

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