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African civil society organisations face acute resource shortfalls at a time of increasing demand for their services, finds new report

New report calls on governments and funders to partner with African CSOs to better serve communities

SIGNIFICANT losses of funding have limited the ability of African civil society organizations (CSOs) to meet the needs of their communities at a time when Covid-19 has pushed demand for their services to unprecedented levels, according to a report released today by EPIC-Africa and @AfricanNGOs. The report, The Impact of Covid-19 on African Civil Society Organisations: Ongoing Uncertainty and a Glimmer of Optimism, is based on a survey of 1,039 CSOs in 46 African countries in June and July of 2021. It follows the groups’ 2020 report, which surveyed African CSOs in the early days of the pandemic.

Despite these challenges, African CSOs have taken on expanded roles during the Covid-19 pandemic, with more than 80 percent of the organisations surveyed introducing new programme activities to respond to the social and economic needs of the most vulnerable populations. Yet, CSOs themselves have been hard hit by the pandemic and face considerable uncertainty as the global crisis deepens. Of the organisations surveyed, 68.1 percent experienced a loss of funding since the start of the pandemic (up from 55 percent in 2020) and only 8.4 percent received any funding support from a government emergency relief fund in their country.

This lack of funding, according to the report, has resulted in citizens being denied vital services such as educational programs for children and adolescents, life-saving medication for HIV+ people, shelter for victims of domestic violence, rape and other atrocities, and the muting of citizens’ voices in matters of social and economic justice.

‘The findings of this report make it crystal clear that governments and funders must recognize, partner with and support African CSOs, whose actions are critical to driving a comprehensive response to Covid-19,’ said EPIC-Africa Co-founder, Rose Maruru. ‘Since the onset of the pandemic, African CSOs have demonstrated great adaptive ability and creativity in meeting the needs of their communities, and this makes us optimistic that the sector can recover and build a better future.’

Too important to fail

The report notes a marked increase in demand for the services that African CSOs provide: from 31.5 percent in 2020 to 40.7 percent in 2021. In response to the pandemic, 83.4 percent introduced new program activities, 27.6 percent increased their programming to deal with the impact of Covid-19, and 34.3 percent changed the focus of their programs to Covid-19 from other areas. As the report shows, they are providing these services under strain, with 87.1 percent reporting increased anxiety and stress levels among staff. The situation is made worse by long-term under-resourcing and restricted civic space in many countries that pre-date the pandemic.

‘Covid-19 has laid bare some of the major challenges facing African CSOs,’ said David Barnard, of @AfricanNGOs and co-author of the report. ‘This report is an opportunity to think through the solutions that will ensure a post-pandemic future with resilient and sustainable CSOs. With millions of people depending on the vital advocacy and daily services provided by African CSOs, the sector is simply too important to fail.’

The role of funders

This new report also includes the findings of a complementary survey of funders of African CSOs, which sought to understand how the pandemic impacted their organisations and the implications for their future engagement with African CSOs. The findings show that many funders have demonstrated unprecedented flexibility, provided additional resources, and in some cases, ceded more decision-making power to their grantees. When asked to describe the lessons of Covid-19 and what funders can do to enable CSOs to recover and emerge stronger from the crisis, one funder stressed the importance of general support: ‘Multi-year flexible grants gave many of our partners the space to react to changing situations. This past year has highlighted the importance of investing in infrastructure; partners benefit from having additional funds to build out their infrastructure so they can remain resilient in changing environments.’

A way forward

According to the report, African CSOs acknowledged that the sector needs to be better organized, collaborate more, and build more robust networks and platforms. The report notes that Covid-19 has ignited an inflection point and recommends that funders, governments and CSOs carry out initiatives to revitalize the sector, with support for institution-building, including strengthening infrastructure for local philanthropy. It recommends that governments include CSOs in national emergency responses and long-term development efforts and that CSOs strive to diversify funding and explore new organisational and funding models.

Dr. Bheki Moyo, Director for the Centre on African Philanthropy and Social Investment (CAPSI) at the University of the Witwatersrand said: ‘This report gives us important data and knowledge on the impact of COVID-19 on African CSOs and on how the crisis has exacerbated some of the structural issues that existed pre-pandemic. We have a unique opportunity to think together about how to translate the recommendations from this report into action that benefits the millions of people who depend on African CSOs to weather this and future crises.’

About the report

EPIC-Africa and @AfricanNGOs conducted the survey that informed this report from 1 June to 5 July 2021, with responses from CSOs from all regions of the continent. It is one of the most comprehensive analyses of the impact of Covid-19 on CSOs anywhere in the world. Given the historical challenges facing African CSOs, and the severity of the impact of Covid-19 on the sector, the survey aimed to:

  • Capture the ongoing impact of the pandemic on African CSOs, how CSOs are responding, and emerging trends and lessons that may help to predict and prepare for the future.
  • Acquire information at the sectoral and regional levels to conduct pertinent cross-sector analyses and present a more granular picture of how African CSOs are coping.
  • Compare the findings from the 2020 survey with the current situation and generate data and knowledge to inform and widen the discussion on building resilience in the African CSO sector.
  • Building on the survey responses and feedback received from various local and international stakeholders in response to the first report, this report includes two new components:
  • Cross-country and cross-sectoral comparisons to surface critical gaps and priorities among CSOs in different parts of the continent.
  • Insights from a complementary ‘mini-survey’ of funders of African CSOs on how Covid-19 has impacted them, and how that impact will affect their future engagement with African CSOs.

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