The Currency of Connections

The Currency of Connections is an ongoing research initiative between Mercy Corps and the Feinstein International Center at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, at Tufts University. Our research offers aid actors insights into localized social protection and support systems in South Sudan and the ways in which humanitarian aid can both complement and disrupt these systems. We hope that The Currency of Connections will enable donors and aid actors to design and deliver programs that strengthen existing social support networks and, at the very least, do not undermine them.

Why do social connections matter?

In protracted crises in which formal governance structures are weak to nonexistent, people depend heavily on local systems — both social and economic — to get by, often more than they depend on external aid. Households and economic actors may rely on their friends, neighbors and extended families for food, access to economic opportunities, and negotiation of safe passage when fleeing from conflict. In addition to social support networks, markets have been shown to play a critical role in enabling crisis-affected populations to cope with and recover from conflict, displacement and disasters.

Even throughout prolonged conflict, market activity is often persistent. Strong relationships and trust between individuals help crisis-affected households share knowledge, find income opportunities, borrow money and obtain other resources. It is thus critical that aid actors understand how social connections and markets interact and help conflict-affected populations in South Sudan cope and recover. Research shows that when humanitarian actors fail to understand these existing local coping strategies, they risk inadvertently undermining them.

The Reconfiguration of Social Connections in Bentiu, South Sudan

In this three-part installment to the Currency of Connections series, we examine the importance of social connectedness for communities inside and immediately adjacent to the Bentiu Protection of Civilians site (PoC). The detailed reports:

The Evolution of Pre-displacement Connections in Bentiu, South Sudan examines how social connections have changed in the PoC, and the strategies by which people establish new bonds with neighbors, friends, and those pursuing similar livelihoods. Our analysis sheds light on people’s own strategies of forming, preserving, and shifting their types and sources of social connectedness. Understanding these tactics may help equip aid actors to implement interventions which reinforce existing coping strategies. Our analysis also highlights the need to understand the effects of humanitarian crises at multiple levels of local systems. Read the report ▸

The Establishment and Reconfiguration of Informal Livelihood Groups in Bentiu, South Sudan discusses informal livelihood groups as a form of socioeconomic connectedness in the Bentiu PoC. This report explains various livelihood-based strategies that households rely on to cope and adapt during displacement and may help aid actors maximize the effectiveness of their interventions and support key sources of household resilience. Read the report ▸

The Impact of Weddings and Rituals on Social Connections in Bentiu, South Sudan examines changes to the nature of marriages in the PoC. We discuss the long-standing importance of marriage as the foundation of kinship networks and related social support systems in South Sudan and examine how the shift from a cattle-based economy to one entailing greater use of cash has affected these life events. Examining weddings and marriages provides a useful lens for identifying the effects of cash on social connectedness, as well as the loss of assets such as cattle on new and existing relationships. Read the report ▸

Read the brief ▸

Why Local Support Systems are Integral to Helping People Recover in South Sudan

Read the full report ▸
Read the brief ▸

The purpose of this report is to give aid actors insights into localized social protection and support systems in South Sudan and the ways in which humanitarian aid, including cash transfer programming, can both complement and disrupt these systems. We hope that this report, and others in this series, will enable donors and aid actors to design and deliver programs that strengthen existing social support networks and, at the very least, do not undermine them.

Key findings

  • Socially connected households rely on one another for food, shelter and help with economic activities such as land clearing and cattle keeping. This support forms an important social and economic safety net for these households.
  • Households are increasingly dependent on sharing humanitarian assistance, including food and cash, as a means of maintaining, strengthening and forging new social connections. This is especially true in the context of crisis-related declines in local agricultural and livestock production capacities.
  • Households are relying more on marketplaces for financial and nonmaterial support, including loans, goods on credit, information and advice. Gender roles that predate the crisis dictate that men have more control over assets, such as cash or cows. As a result, men can more easily form and maintain social connections in the marketplace, and they are better positioned to negotiate with traders to obtain in-kind goods or cash loans.
  • Household recipients of humanitarian cash transfers often face significant pressure to share cash with nonrecipients. However, sharing cash may be a relatively unreliable means of accessing reciprocal support. This is likely a result of Panyijar’s accelerating transition to a cash-based economy in which cash is in high demand but low supply.
  • Traders are often more willing to provide important financial assistance to household cash recipients than to nonrecipients because cash recipients are seen as particularly creditworthy borrowers.

Key recommendations

Aid actors should:

  • Build in overlap between short-term emergency relief and early recovery interventions.
  • Consult informal livelihood-based support groups when designing and implementing livelihoods programming.
  • Tailor cash distributions to meet the differing needs of men and women.
  • Improve women’s perceived creditworthiness and capacity to form relationships of trust with marketplace actors.

Donors should:

  • Provide aid actors with the flexibility to determine when and how to pivot from short-term emergency assistance to livelihood support.

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