Scholars have extensively written about the role and the relevance of civil society in democracies. They are an integral part of a functioning democracy. They offer the ‘third space’ of possible association beyond the state and the market. A space that fosters public trust and stimulating social cohesion while promoting opportunities for advocacy and expression.
Organisations depend on resources, i.e. financial resources and/or volunteers for their functioning and survival. These different forms of resources are usually found outside the organisations and are built on a relationship of credibility with their constituency. Development organizations are often quite specialized in their focus as well as strategies. They accomplish their goals with the resources available to them. Covid-19 has challenged traditional development organizations in their ability to deliver against their goals both towards their funders as well as their constituencies.
2020 was the year of the pivot for civil society organizations and I posit it is the year the international aid community must pivot to different approach of funding them. Building a resilient civil society organization that can withstand the demands that have been put on them in light of Covid-19. This is not to say that they need to transition into a humanitarian organization but that they should be supported to pivot when a change in their external environment demands so that they can continue to provide for their constituencies.
As we look at ‘recovering better together’ we need a ‘whole of society approach’. This includes, while supporting the government and institutions we must also invest resources in building capacities of civil society organizations that are also implementing on the ground and often hold their local officials accountable to delivering for those furthest behind. In this case the beneficiary is the organization itself – the ability for the organization to transition so that they can continue to service the communities they work with.
Recognizing that often CSOs are funded just for running programmes that leaves little resources for them to equip themselves with the necessary digital technology, structured organisational and strategic capacity to ensure that they can continue to deliver during a development emergency.
CSOs need resources so that they have the capacities to counter disinformation and fake news, and promote access to reliable information on development emergencies and its impact on communities. This has to be contextualized in the long term implications of mis/dif-information that has been experienced in the face of Covid-19 response across different contexts around the world. This mis/dis-information will need to be countered by those who are trusted and are closest to the ground. Its not just in Covid-19 response but also in the vaccination roll out that this mis/dis-information can continue to wreck havoc in societies.
Lastly, supporting CSOs to strengthen their capacities to build consortium, network/exchange and cooperation amongst them to build on their niche/ areas of expertise/focus. Finding and building these networks/consortiums during a development emergency is not possible but investing in them as part of the resilience strategy going forward is an essential component to them being available to be activated when needed.