COUNTING THE COSTS
Covid-19 takes its toll on African civil society organisations
In 2020, 98% of civil society organisations indicated they were negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and this year the figure was similar, at 97%, a recent report has found.
A report by Epic-Africa and African NGOs has shown how Covid-19 has hindered civil society organisations’ ability to provide services to those most in need.
The report is based on a survey of 1,039 civil society organisations (CSOs) in 46 African countries conducted in June and July.
Introducing the survey, David Barnard, the founder of African NGOs, said a similar survey was conducted in March/April 2020 and the finding was that the impact of Covid-19 was widespread and destabilising in terms of the services provided by CSOs.
He said that in 2020, 98% of CSOs indicated they were negatively affected by the pandemic, and this year the figure was similar, at 97%.
There was a significant loss of funding, with 68.1% of the CSOs reporting loss of funding, and 57% saying that they expected to lose more money in the next 12 months. This had far-reaching consequences in terms of the ability to provide communities with services.
The survey also showed that Covid-19 had made the already precarious financial health of CSOs even more so, with 5.1% saying they would cease to exist next year if there are no drastic changes.
Already, 63.4% had been forced to reduce their programmes, which negatively affected the communities they serve, and 70% reported restricted movement of staff, resulting in reduced community interactions.
The CSOs continue to be active despite the difficulties and have had to adapt their programmes to be responsive to Covid-19 restrictions and regulations.
“Despite the doom and gloom there are some positive trends,” said Barnard. He pointed out that the demand for CSO services had actually increased and that 41% of CSOs felt they would emerge stronger after the pandemic. The sector, he said, had demonstrated resilience under tough circumstances.
Rose Maruru, the co-founder and CEO of Epic-Africa, said that CSOs were historically under-funded, making them vulnerable to shocks such as Covid-19 and that organisational capacity had exposed pre-existing shortcomings like fundraising, staff wellness, risk management, communications and technology.
Maruru said the survey had underlined that the work of CSOs remained unrecognised by governments and sometimes citizens.
Maruru told those at the launch that only 8.4% of CSOs received funding from governments’ Covid-19 relief funds, despite them playing a critical role in the response to the pandemic. Several CSOs had expressed fear that containment measures of the pandemic may be permanent, curtailing their ability to do their work effectively.
One good thing that Maruru said Covid-19 had done for CSOs was to force some funders to listen more to grantees on where and how to support them. This may signal a shift in power between the two, making the grants process more participatory.
“Covid has shown that change is possible,” Maruru said.
Speaking on behalf of the Centre on African Philanthropy and Social Investment, Dr Bhekinkosi Moyo said the report revealed that during periods of uncertainty, what was needed were “liquid leadership skills”, meaning people who had the skills and disposition to navigate crises and adapt traditional forms of leadership and management.
Moyo said the report showed that what was missing was an investment in technology, because very few civil society organisations had thought it was an important focal area before Covid-19. Moyo said Covid-19 had shown that flexible working arrangements are the future and needed to be supported by remote-working policies.
He said that when reimagining CSO and donor relations there must be an investment in core support, long-term funding, social entrepreneurship, working closely with the private sector and leveraging philanthropy, because individual givers are the biggest givers globally and governments need to build an enabling environment for CSOs to do their work. DM/MC
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