Covid-19 in Africa: Impact on Civil Society Organisations

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Priscilla Baafi is a development student and practitioner who has been working with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Ghana since 2016. Her area of expertise is on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) particularly SDG 5 (Gender Equality) and SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions). In her most recent position, Priscilla served as a Programmes Assistant for an umbrella body of over 400 CSOs working on the SDGs in Ghana.

Priscilla holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and Geography with First Class Honours from the University of Ghana. She is currently pursuing a Master of Science degree in International Development with specialisation in Governance and State-building at the University of Birmingham after winning the prestigious Mo Ibrahim Foundation Scholarship for Africans in 2019.


The African continent has undoubtedly been heavily impacted by Covid-19. These Covid-19 consequences have been severely felt not only by governments but also the private sector and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). While CSOs are expected to ordinarily collaborate with governments to alleviate the plight of several Africans whose conditions have been worsened by Covid-19, CSOs themselves have not been spared from the devastating effects of the pandemic. A report by African NGOs and Epic-Africa has provided a clear picture of how CSOs have been impacted by covid-19. Drawing on survey data collected from 1,015 CSOs in 44 African countries between 29 April and 15 May 2020, the report offers some eye-opening statistics:

  • 98% of CSOs reported that Covid-19 impacted and disrupted their operations in one or more ways.
  • 69% had already experienced a loss of funding, while 66.46% expected to lose funding in the next 3-6 months.
  • 48% indicated that they were not prepared to cope with the disruption caused by Covid-19 to their operations.
  • 87% had already introduced measures to reduce costs because of the loss of funding, or the uncertainty about future funding.
  • 97% believed that Covid-19 would have a devastating impact on the sustainability of many CSOs.
  • 34% had to reduce or cancel their operations, while 54.94% expect this to continue over the next 3-6 months.
What does this mean?

The above findings show that African CSOs have been heavily hit by the pandemic. Although, African CSOs were experiencing funding difficulties before Covid-19 set in, more than half of  CSOs have already lost some form of funding and more were anticipating a loss in funding. Other country-based studies such as the one conducted on Zambian CSOs by the Zambian Governance Foundation paints the same gloomy picture for CSO finances. With African CSOs heavily dependent on foreign donor funding, CSOs have had no choice other than to initiate measures to cut costs. This has certainly created great concern among civil society practitioners about the sustainability of CSOs and may compel some CSOs to lay off staff although the services of CSOs are now more in greater demand.

Like the financial health of CSOs, their operations and programmes have also been gravely affected by the pandemic. In light of several restrictions imposed on African countries to curb the spread of Covid-19, the operations of CSOs were severely hampered as evidenced by 98% of African NGOs and Epic-Africa’s study respondents. The pandemic has tested the traditional modes of operations of CSOs. The staff of CSOs can no longer move freely from place to place to carry out their duties as they used to, nor have face-to-face interactions with their beneficiaries. Those implementing health, education and social protection projects in local communities may also face the additional challenge of incorporating physical distancing measures during field activities. These disruptions to operations have generated new challenges for CSOs as they need to identify new ways of operating and undertaking activities virtually and remotely as well as gaining access to digital resources to undertake such virtual operations.

What is the way forward?

Despite the unprecedented challenges posed by Covid-19 to the finances and operations of CSOs in Africa, all hope is not lost. Some measures can be instituted to ameliorate the situation.

To make up for the shortfall in finances, CSOs could utilise the internet to raise funds in the short term. They should create awareness about the critical roles they are playing in national covid-19 responses and use this as an opportunity to generate interest in the work they are doing and raise funds through crowdfunding and online platforms to further their cause. Also, they should be encouraged to communicate with their donors about their funding situation. In the long term, African CSOs should invest in diversifying their sources of funds. Funds for implementing projects should not come from foreign donors alone. Rather, funds could be raised through alternative funding models for CSOs such as consultancy services, social enterprise models, for-profit subsidiaries, innovative partnerships with the private sector, microcredit and social investments.

Regarding operational challenges, CSOs should adopt adaptive management strategies to ensure that their activities can go on with as little disruptions as possible. The staff of CSOs should be given the necessary support to work in any way be it remotely or a mixture of remote and office working to enable them to discharge their responsibilities with minimal disruptions. Also, CSOs should communicate with their donors about interruptions to their activities and propose new timelines for delivering projects. If some project activities do not require face-to-face interaction, they should be undertaken through the various virtual and social media platforms in order to minimise the interruptions to their activities. In the long run, CSOs should explore the use of the internet for implementing some of their projects and invest in digital tools for themselves and the communities where they implement projects in order to ensure that this approach works effectively.


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