The Impact of COVID-19 on African Civil Society Organizations

A new survey of over 1,000 African civil society organizations across 44 countries shows the profound impacts the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the sector.

“The immediate impact of COVID-19 on African civil society organizations (CSOs) was swift, widespread and destabilizing.”

This is one of the main findings of the Africa CSO COVID-19 Survey that @AfricanNGOs and EPIC-Africa implemented between April 28 and May 15, 2020.

A total of 1,015 CSOs from 44 African countries participated in the survey. Based on the survey findings, we are pleased to release, “The Impact of COVID-19 on African Civil Society Organizations – Challenges, Responses and Opportunities”, the first report that focuses exclusively on the impact of COVID-19 on African CSOs.

The report presents an overview of the dual challenges confronting African CSOs of keeping their organizations afloat, while also responding to the needs of the communities in which they operate. It also highlights opportunities that emerged from the crisis, and crucial challenges that need to be addressed in support of the recovery and sustainability of African CSOs. It fills a critical knowledge gap and offers funders, governments, the private sector and other strategic stakeholders the necessary data-based evidence to inform their engagement with African CSOs, both during and after the pandemic. The report also provides CSOs with a tool to help strengthen solidarity and inform advocacy for greater recognition and support for the sector.

“The majority of respondents (84%) confirmed that they were not prepared to cope with the disruption caused by the pandemic. Nearly 70% had to reduce or cancel their operations, while 55% expect this to continue over the next 3 to 6 months.”

Some of the key findings from the survey are the following:

  • 98% of respondents confirmed that they had been adversely affected.
  • 56% have already experienced a loss of funding, while 66% expect to lose funding in the next 3 to 6 months.
  • 50% have introduced measures to reduce costs because of the loss of funding, or the uncertainty about future funding.
  • 78% of respondents indicated that COVID-19 would have a devastating impact on the sustainability of many CSOs.

The majority of respondents (84%) confirmed that they were not prepared to cope with the disruption caused by the pandemic. Nearly 70% had to reduce or cancel their operations, while 55% expect this to continue over the next 3 to 6 months.

Adding to the challenges facing them, CSOs are also not receiving the necessary support from national governments. In addition to the fact that CSOs are often excluded from emergency funding mechanisms, 72% of respondents believed that governments had failed to recognize and utilize local CSOs’ skills, experience, and networks in response to COVID-19.

Still, despite the impact on their operations, African CSOs have been at the forefront of the response to the pandemic. 85% of respondents introduced new program activities, with 72% self-funding these activities. At the same time, 85% stated that they could have done more if capacity or funding constraints were not a barrier.

African CSOs are also demonstrating resilience and agility as they adapt to changing circumstances. They have identified some key opportunities as they seek to cope with the pandemic. These include leveraging domestic funding sources, building sector solidarity and accelerating digital transformation.

“If left unattended, a significant number of CSOs will close down, people working in the sector will lose their jobs, and the various constituencies that depend on CSOs’ services and advocacy interventions will suffer the consequences.”

It is still too early to comprehend the full impact of COVID-19 on African CSOs, especially as the pandemic is still spreading. However, the impact will be long-lasting as COVID-19 has exacerbated historical and ongoing challenges that hamper the sector. If left unattended, a significant number of CSOs will close down, people working in the sector will lose their jobs, and the various constituencies that depend on CSOs’ services and advocacy interventions will suffer the consequences.

Still, many CSOs remain optimistic about the future. 45% of respondents felt that they would emerge stronger and more agile after the pandemic, while 68% felt that COVID-19 would result in greater public appreciation for their work.

@AfricanNGOs and EPIC-Africa are planning to implement a follow-up survey in late 2020 to assess the evolving impact of COVID-19 on African CSOs.

 

About the author

David Barnard is a development consultant with extensive experience in NGO, philanthropy, and information and communication for development (IC4D) issues in Africa. He also moderates the @AfricanNGOs Twitter feed.

A version of this post previously appeared on David’s website, Desert 2 Desert, and is republished here with permission of the author. 

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COVID-19 Africa Watch tracks major developments and policy announcements from across the continent and also offers a curated selection of analysis on how the pandemic will impact African economies and development efforts. The site is a project of the Milken Institute’s Global Market Development Practice.

The views and opinions expressed in this publication are solely those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of COVID-19 Africa Watch or any affiliated organization.

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