Norwegian Refugee Council


households registered for assistance


interactions within the first 12 months

NRC connects Ukraine’s refugees to cash support

People fleeing conflict rely on the support of organizations like the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), which has been standing up for those forced to flee since the end of the Second World War. With over 75 years of experience and operations across more than 40 countries, the NRC knows well that the best form for support to take depends on each individual’s unique situation.

During many crises, in-kind assistance in the form of food, tents and blankets is the most urgent need. At other times though, cash transfers represent a faster, more secure, and more transparent way to get assistance to displaced people. Cash provides refugees with greater choice, independence, and dignity – and this type of assistance has taken on a crucial role in supporting people impacted by the war in Ukraine. The NRC has been able to deliver cash support for refugees in the region more quickly and effectively than ever before thanks to building digital tools through Twilio Flex, transforming the landscape of humanitarian assistance.

Refugees fleeing homes near the frontlines often find themselves in towns and cities with shops and services – but with no means of paying for the goods and the support that they need, having left everything but basic necessities at home. The NRC’s multipurpose grant program provides cash and vouchers to help fill this gap. Thanks to Twilio, the program is accessible to anyone with a smartphone who can download either the Viber or WhatsApp messaging platforms. A perfect fit for Ukraine’s digitally native population, this tech-first approach helped the organization deliver much wider support than they could have done using traditional face-to-face programming.


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Photo credit: Christian Jepsen / NRC
Photo credit: Christian Jepsen / NRC
Photo credit: Christian Jepsen / NRC

Cash-based humanitarian assistance is a powerful way to restore choice and dignity to people in crisis. It enables us to be faster, more efficient and more transparent in the support that we give, and the accessibility that Twilio Flex provides is multiplying the impact it can have.


Christopher Hoffman Director of Digital Community Hubs, Norwegian Refugee Council

Transforming humanitarian support

The NRC uses social media advertising to reach out to those displaced by the conflict and raise awareness of the support available through the program. People in need of cash can register through a two-step process driven by Twilio Flex and the Twilio Conversations API, by messaging an NRC number and engaging in a chatbot experience. 

Using either WhatsApp or Viber, refugees choose a preferred language of English, Ukrainian or Russian, and answer initial questions that confirm they are seeking cash support. In the more detailed second step of the process, they share detailed information about themselves and their situation that helps assess their needs and suitability for a grant. For instance, heads of households that are supporting high-risk family members may score higher on the needs assessment.

This questionnaire has a crucial role to play in targeting cash support where it’s most needed. However, the NRC recognized the importance of removing friction from the task of typing out answers on a handset. Using the Twilio Content API, its team broke the needs-based questions down to a series of short WhatsApp messages with drop-down lists and call-to-action messages that can capture responses with just a click of a finger. The NRC stores this information securely in its CRM, ready for its agents to review and respond.

Within a year of the program launching, 650,000 households in the Ukraine region had registered for assistance. In total, the NRC’s cash registration service has generated over 230 million interactions during this period, taking on a vital role in supporting those in need. It’s the most widespread and prominent example yet of how the NRC is transforming its delivery of humanitarian support through Twilio.

Photo credit: Jeanette Fogstad / NRC
Photo credit: Jeanette Fogstad / NRC
Photo credit: Jeanette Fogstad / NRC

Scaling operations quickly by deploying Digital Community Hubs

The NRC’s ability to provide rapid access to cash support is, in large part, the result of another recent crisis: the Covid-19 pandemic. When lockdowns disrupted the supply of humanitarian aid through traditional channels, the NRC worked with Twilio to create the Digital Community Hub (DCH). Built using Twilio Flex, the hub takes the form of virtual contact centers for different countries that can scale operations rapidly and reach out to refugees through a range of channels, including WhatsApp and web chat, to provide health, housing, food, and legal assistance virtually. 

From the start, the NRC knew that its DCH strategy could do more than just fill the gaps in support created by the pandemic. Now established in 20 different countries, its virtual contact centers have become a flexible foundation for communications that enables refugees to engage through the channels available to them. This is starting to change the dynamic of humanitarian assistance by giving them a voice.

“Traditionally, humanitarian programming has been developed inside a bubble, with beneficiaries unable to engage with and influence the design of them,” says Hoffman. “We are looking to change that, creating a new future for humanitarian programming built on Twilio that is beneficiary-led and humanitarian-delivered. The DCH has the potential to take us there.”

The DCH centers are now enabling the NRC to stand up for those forced to flee across 20 different countries. They are able to deliver assistance in the most appropriate form for each situation, including support for shelter and settlement, legal assistance, education, sanitation and hygiene. By enabling two-way communications, NRC is able to listen to what each person needs individually, and to do this at scale across each region. The NGO uses the data, combined with its local knowledge of populations, to develop responsive humanitarian programs and appropriate channels for engagement. 

For instance, in Uganda where many lack access to smartphones, the DCH has enabled refugees to connect to NRC support agents via toll-free text. In Syria, it supported a WhatsApp chatbot able to distribute critical health information during the 2022 cholera outbreak. In Ukraine and several other countries, it enables batch messaging to groups of aid recipients via WhatsApp, SMS and voice messages. Reaching out across a range of channels ensures that those forced to flee by conflict don’t just receive a one-off grant. They benefit from an ongoing sense of connection, delivered digitally.