Impact of COVID-19 for civil society organisations | Results survey
The COVID-19 crisis has changed the world, and forced the development sector to reconsider its means and targets. Many organisations have virtualised acitvities, switched to humanitarian assistance programs, or saw themselves forced to temporarily suspend their activities. In order to create a more accurate image of the impact the pandemic has left on South-based development organisations and their activities, Partos and Keystone set out a survey among a number of partner organisations based in the Global South. The results of this survey are summarised below.
*The data of this survey was processed using Nvivo qualitative data software. It should be noted that the data representation is subject to a degree of subjectivity, as the coding was defined based on the interpretation of data. Entries could be classified within multiple codes, so it is possible for percentages to exceed 100% without this indicating a flaw in calculation.
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The following findings were compiled surveying a number of organisations operational in the Global South, who are partnered with seven Dutch member organisations of Partos. The total number of entries was 112, out of which 88 completed the entire survey and 24 completed it partially.
Out of the surveyed organisations, a little over half were operational and located on the African continent (especially in East and West Africa). Another 22% was to be found in the Middle East, 10% in the South Asian region, and the remaining 10% was operational in Latin America and the other remaining regions. 81.3% of these organisations self-identified as NGO’s, 12.5% as Faith-Based Organisations, and the remaining typified themselves in other terms. The organisations ranged in size from less than 10,000 dollars in annual budget to over 5 million dollars in annual budget. Though the organisations with a budget below 10,000 dollars a year are slightly under-represented, generally the different sizes of organisations were present in fairly equal numbers.
Impact of COVID-19 pandemic
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has had a very serious impact on the operations of development actors and the populations they serve. Out of the polled organisations, 83.5% indicated that their operations have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. By contrast, 15.4% saw a positive impact whilst the remaining 1.1% said they had seen no effect on their operations. In response to the crisis, 23.7% of organisations had fully pivoted their operations, whilst the vast majority of 71% did so partially.
COVID-19 & Target groups
A question was included as to whether the organisations changed their target groups as a result of COVID-19. Besides the nearly 25% that answered no though, the remaining organisations instead detailed the changing condition of the populations they engaged with, and how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the organisation’s relationship with these people. Small encouraging signs can be found in the 8.6% of organisations who reported that social cohesion increased, and the noted increase in health awareness (7.4%) among society members. This is however largely overshadowed by more painful realities on the ground. The most frequent grievances were a general increase in tension and stress among community members, and a decrease in food security was mentioned frequently as well. Other frequent terms used were an overall increase in poverty, gender-based violence and unemployment, which all indicate a significant strain on many people’s livelihoods.
The general way organisations pivoted their activities included raising awareness (42.5%), distributing essential goods such as food packages (31.25%), and distributing supplies aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 (26.25%). Other creative ways of adaption included cash transfers, continuing programs though radio or online means, psycho-social service offering, and the incorporation of community members in the execution of aspects of the project.
The future of development organisations
With regards to the long term, 32% of organisations reported to already experience severe disruptions to their program and/ or services. 8.8% reported to be able to operate for another 1-2 months, 17.6% percent could last for another 3-6 months, and 15.4% could last for another 6-12 months. The remaining 25% said it could last beyond the next year given the current circumstances.
Long term effects
When discussing the long-term, a number of concerns and expectations were expressed. The most important anticipated problem is a loss of resources (48.2%), which should be understood as both financial resources and knowledge and expertise of staff, whom many organisations fear could be leaving. A painful paradox is found in the expectation that there will be an increased need for aid and development assistance (20%), yet a near equal amount of organisations anticipates a drop in quality of relationship with their community to the restricted access they are now facing (17.6%). Other expectations included an increase in technological components to be incorporated into programs, a reduction in the sustainability of outcomes, a shift in priorities, and the closure of the organisation all together (8.2%).
Relationship with members
As means of support, many organisations indicated that they received (continued) financial support from/through their Dutch partner organisations (54.8%). Around 26.2% received increased project flexibility, allowing them to re-design their programs and defer resources to causes that are more pertinent in the present context. Alongside this many instances of technical and in-kind support, usually in the form of online software licenses or COVID prevention equipment, were provided.
When reflecting on the relationship between the Dutch partner-organisations and the polled organisations based in the Global South, a couple of statements were met with quite significant support. A total of 67.8% agreed that COVID-19 increased the likelihood that locally-led priorities will be better understood and responded to in international aid. A similar 67.1% stated that the relationship with the Dutch partner organisation strengthens their resilience towards changes in foreign aid or external shocks, although 24.7% voiced their disagreement to this statement. The most resounding finding is that 75.2% of the polled organisations found that they have experienced a higher degree of equality between their organisation and Dutch partner organisation(s) as a result of COVID-19. Only 3.6% disagreed with this statement, whilst 21.2% stayed neutral, thus implying a very significant shift in experienced power imbalances.
When reflecting on the ways the increase in equality was experienced, many organisations noted a more cooperative planning and decision-making process (48.8%). Other aspects included an increased program flexibility, along with more technological integration of the offices in the Netherlands and abroad (e.g. through Teams). The organisations were asked about their perspective on localisation efforts, and how these could benefit or harm international development commitments in the future. Many (24.3%) said that they expected future projects and the project design process to be more tailored to the context, and another 23% said it would enhance the self-reliance of development organisations. Other expectations included improved ownership and sustainability, and a reduction in wasteful spending. Inversely, some concerns were raised regarding a decrease in accountability, and that local negative norms would not be challenged if a significant degree of autonomy were to be transferred. The ones echoing these concerns were less in numbers than the positive responses overall.