The COVID-19 pandemic is the defining global health crisis of our time. Since COVID-19 first emerged towards the end of 2019, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared it a pandemic on 11 March 2020, it continues to have significant social and economic consequences for all sectors of African society, including civil society organizations (CSOs).
The immediate impact of COVID-19 on African CSOs was swift, widespread and destabilizing. This was one of the main findings of the Africa CSO COVID-19 Survey that @AfricanNGOs and EPIC-Africa conducted from 28 April to 15 May 2020. 98% of respondents confirmed that they had been adversely affected, while 55.7% indicated that they had already experienced a loss of funding at that stage.
A year later, the impact of COVID-19 on African CSOs continues to be far-reaching.
EPIC-Africa and @AfricanNGOs conducted a second survey from 1 June to 5 July 2021, which was the most comprehensive intervention to date aimed at analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on CSOs anywhere in the world. A total of 1 039 CSOs from 46 African countries participated in the survey.
Click here to download the report which is based on the survey findings, “The Impact of COVID-19 on African Civil Society Organizations – Ongoing Uncertainty and a Glimmer of Optimism”.
The report draws attention to the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on African CSOs and the dual challenge confronting them, namely keeping their organizations afloat while also responding to the growing needs of the communities in which they operate.
The overall impact of COVID-19 on African CSOs continues to be overwhelmingly negative and widespread. 97.8% of CSOs indicated that COVID-19 impacted and disrupted their operations in one or more ways since the start of the pandemic.
The loss of funding by African CSOs is still one of the most significant consequences of the pandemic. The financial health of African CSOs was problematic before the pandemic, and this situation has further deteriorated. 68.1% of CSOs reported a loss of funding since the start of the pandemic, and 57.5% expect further losses over the next 12 months. In addition, only 8.4% of CSOs received funding support from a government emergency relief fund during the pandemic.
82.8% of CSOs indicated that COVID-19 had exacerbated many historical organizational and operational challenges facing the sector. As a result, 80.9% of CSOs felt that they were not prepared to cope with the disruption to their operations caused by COVID-19. To make things worse, 45.5% of CSOs reported that they experienced increased costs since the start of the pandemic.
Staff wellness emerged as a new frontier that CSOs are learning to navigate. 31.5% of CSOs identified it as one of the most significant organizational shortcomings experienced during the pandemic. 87.1% reported increased anxiety and stress levels among staff, while 83% mentioned increased pressure and workload demands on executive leadership. 37.1% had one or more staff test positive for COVID-19, while 7.6% indicated that this resulted in one or more staff deaths. 64.9% of CSOs have already added new measures to address staff wellness.
Reflecting on the past 18 months, 80.9% of CSOs indicated that they were not prepared to cope with the disruption to their operations caused by COVID-19. 63.4% of CSOs reduced their programs due to COVID-19, while 75.3% felt that COVID-19 would have a devastating impact on the sustainability of many CSOs. Most concerning, unless there is a drastic improvement in the conditions impacting CSOs, 5.1% of CSOs expect to cease operations.
However, despite these challenges, African CSOs continue to play an active role in response to COVID-19 and take on expanded roles as demand for their services increases. 83.4% of CSOs introduced new program activities in response to the pandemic. 27.6% increased their programming to deal with the impact of COVID-19, while 34.3% changed the focus of their programs by shifting to COVID-19 from other areas. 46.2% of CSOs have accessed new funding to support their COVID-19-related interventions, while 79.7% of CSOs reported working with other CSOs in responding to COVID-19.
Looking ahead, African CSOs acknowledge that the sector needs to be better organized, collaborate more, and build more robust networks and platforms. Similarly, the lessons learned since the pandemic started should inform the efforts of governments, funders and other stakeholders in strengthening and revitalizing the sector.
With millions of people depending on the vital services provided by African CSOs, the sector is simply too important to fail.
(@AfricanNGOs is a Twitter account, moderated by David Barnard, that covers news and information for and about NGOs in Africa & EPIC-Africa is a Senegal-based, pan-African organization that seeks to strengthen the ecosystem for philanthropy in Africa)