A silver lining:  COVID-19 is an opportunity for civil society to explore new and innovative funding forms  

A silver lining:  COVID-19 is an opportunity for civil society to explore new and innovative funding forms  

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When COVID-19 hit  NORSAAC, a NGO working in Ghana, lost over 185,000 Cedis ($32,173 USD) from ActionAid Ghana and Tools for Self Reliance. It’s a substantial amount of donor income, which makes up a staggering 93% of their budget. Fortunately, since 2015 they’ve been piloting three alternative and innovative revenue models – a revolving fund, a village savings and loans associations (VSLA) scheme, and their NORSAAC Industrial Village (NiV), a subsidiary profit-making enterprise. Through the latter, which is believed to be the first of its kind, skills such as bead making and smock weaving are provided on a commercial basis. Although only making up the remaining 7% seven per cent of their income, these three models have surprisingly helped NORSAAC to weather the current pandemic, preventing them from being forced to furlough staff, while ensuring survival of the organisation.

As we confront coronavirus, the irreplaceable role of civil society cannot be underestimated. But in a survey conducted between 29 April and 15 May 2020 by AfricanNGOs and EPIC-Africa on the impact of COVID-19 on CSOs on the continent, more than half (55.69%) reported losing funding. About a staggering two-thirds (66.46%) expected to lose it in the next three to six months. There’s a silver lining here: while less money is available for development initiatives, this provides an opportunity for us to consider new forms of revenue. In fact, we’ve been having a conversation about this over the last decade, as  donors have started reducing their financial support because of shifting priorities and some CSOs have moved to lower their donor dependence to improve and maintain financial sustainability. Civil society in Africa is now leading the way on finding and using different funding approaches to achieve this.

Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF)  had watched the steady decline in official development assistance for India unlike Kenya that was receiving funds on an increasing basis around the time it was founded. Given the economic indicators, they knew that this trend would eventually catch up with Kenya. “We needed to have a head start in securing varied income sources not dependent on foreign aid trends and an endowment fund was one feasible model,” says KCDF programmes director Caesar Ngule. In 2002 they purchased a fund that invests in Kenya’s stock exchange. Through this they have some resources to implement innovations before pursuing bigger funding for scale-up. Today KCDF are receiving just over 75% of their funding from the global North but they are not as vulnerable as other organisations who are 100% reliant on it.

Some organisations are mixing their revenue streams. When Nathalie Dijkman set up SEMA, the We-Account Innovation Challenge winner of 2018, in east Africa, she knew that no funding model was truly sustainable. Donors can pull out suddenly, as has happened during the Trump administration, affecting USAID grants. But what about ownership? The moment someone or an entity pays for a service part of it becomes theirs, points out Nathalie. “Free services do not lead to a sense of ownership,” the CEO says. Therefore, if SEMA wanted to improve public services through citizen feedback, it needed to be the public services themselves that bought into it. SEMA, a social enterprise and for-profit entity explicitly set up to drive both a social impact while making a profit, currently relies on 30% public funds, 5% on private funds, and 65% on donor funds. It aims to annually increase the percentage for the first two so their donor dependency decreases.  While creating local ownership for their services has been the biggest benefit of exploring an alternative funding model, the biggest challenge of using this for SEMA has been making users aware of its value. Non-conventional actors used to receiving a service for free or having someone else pay for it have had to be persuaded that it’s worth doing this, says Nathalie.

In west Africa in particular, COVID-19 has exposed CSOs’ over-dependence on external donors, a lack of sufficient reserves and a visibly weak technology infrastructure, according to research conducted by West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) between July to September 2020. Findings from a report, to be released in March 2021, revealed that 55% of CSOs lacked the capacity to mobilise domestic resources, while 79% had no financial reserves at all. But what has been the experience of those in the region who decided to strike out completely alone from the get-go? When Dennis Ekwere set up the non-profit Children and Young People Living for Peace (CYPLP) in Nigeria in 2010, he did so without any donor funding at all. Instead he used crowdfunding and consultancy services. “Everyone told me that CYPLP wouldn’t last,” says Dennis. A decade on, an organisation with just three paid staff that relies on 80 volunteers is going from strength to strength. In 2020, the CSO raised over 1.5 million Naira ($4,000 USD) through crowdfunding via Facebook and a donation page on their site. With their consultancy services tied to the local economy, this has been impacted during COVID-19 lockdowns. But had CYPLP been dependent on donors, Dennis says things would have been much worse. During COVID-19, CYPLP have diversified and started offering online training, as well as selling a range of eBooks on business and agricultural topics and organic products to local farmers. They are hoping to soon launch an ecommerce store and create an online export platform bringing together local farmers and international buyers to provide them with market information and analysis. `

The range of alternative funding models available for civil society are increasing all the time. One of the most promising opportunities is green bonds. Almost unknown a decade ago, they now stand as a key private sector solution helping finance the world’s transition to a low-carbon future, according to Bank Windhoek. They issued  Namibia’s first Green Bond in December 2018, becoming the first bank to do so domestically across southern Africa. Beyond the continent, in the Asia-Pacific region, CSOs are piloting a wide-range of business and funding models including fees-for-services and others encompassing the sharing economy.

During COVID-19, civil society’s work on the frontlines of the pandemic has been vital. But with donor priorities changing, so will funding. We need to not only survive, but to thrive and innovate to respond to the next pandemic. There may come a day when there is no external funding available for us. The future of the sector therefore depends on us turning to alternative funding models to reinvent ourselves.

Charles Kojo Vandyck is the Head of Capacity Development for the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). Njambi Wagacha is the Regional Manager for the Innovation for Change (I4C)- Africa Hub. The Alternative Funding Models Guidebook for Civil Society Organisations in Africa, published by WACSI and I4C, is available here: https://innovationforchange.net/en/toolkit/guidebook-on-alternative-funding-models-for-civil-society-organizations-in-africa/


This article was originally published on the Innovation for Changes’ website


About the author

Head, Capacity Development Unit at WACSI | + posts

Charles Kojo Vandyck is a dynamic development practitioner and thought leader who is driving transformative change within civil society. As a Founding Member of the prestigious International Consortium on Closing Civic Space (iCon), spearheaded by the renowned Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Charles is at the forefront of transforming citizen participation worldwide. With positions as a Trustee of INTRAC and an Advisory Board Member of Disrupt Development, he is shaping the future from Oxford to Amsterdam. Charles's remarkable contributions continue as a Core Team Member of the game-changing Reimagining INGOs (RINGO) initiative and as the Head of the Capacity Development Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). Recognised by the Development Studies Association, Charles is also a certified Change the Game Academy Master Trainer and an IFC-Learning and Performance Institute Trainer. Prepare to be inspired by Charles as he paves the way for a more resilient, sustainable, and empowered civil society.

Programme Manager, Innovation for Change-Africa Hub.
Multi-lingual humanitarian and development professional with over ten years’ experience in project and programme management, operations and communications within the UN and NGO sector. Enjoy big-picture, forward-thinking and inspired and energized by working collaboratively with others in a multicultural environment to seek sustainable solutions to development and humanitarian challenges.

Specialties: policy analysis, project and programme management, monitoring and evaluation, strategic communications, reporting, media and public relations, information communications technologies (ICTs), behaviour change communications (BCC), supply chain management, human resources, budgeting, fundraising, grants management, event planning.


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Fiifi is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Communications and Information Officer at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. He joined the Institute in December 2020.


Nancy is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Programme Officer in the Knowledge Management unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. She joined the Institute in January 2021.


Agnes is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Head of the Administration unit in the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2021.


Doris holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social sciences (Economics and Sociology) from the University of Cape Coast. She is passionate about impacting young lives hence co-founded Impart Foundation. A non-profit organization which seeks to empower young lives through education, technology and entrepreneurship.


Prince Akowuah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Assistant in the Translation Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


Maxwell Apenteng is a Ghanaian and joined WACSI in September 2010. He provides gardening and janitorial services at the Institute.


George Adu-Mintah is a Ghanaian and currently the Protocol Assistant/Driver at the West Africa Civil Society (WACSI). He joined the Institute in October 2006.


Ibrahim Kwaku Gbadago is a Ghanaian. He joined the Institute in 2008 and provides janitorial services and assisting the institute's errands. Before joining the Institute, he worked at the Palestinian embassy in Accra, Ghana.


Ruth Yakana is from Cameroon and currently the Receptionist at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


Bethel is a Ghanaian. He provides technical and IT related support to the Institute. He joined the Institute in October 2006.


Whitnay Segnonna holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Management from the University of Benin. With 2 years of experience, she has a strong knowledge of organizational and project management. Combined with her bilingualism, she is very passionate about her work. She joined WACSI as Project Assistant on Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) for the Capacity Development Unit.


Stella Yawa Wowoui holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation Studies. She has a perfect grasp of both French and English, as well as an intermediate level in Spanish. She is currently working as a Project Assistant on the Techsoup Project.


Kwame is an experienced IT Consultant/Software Developer. He is skilled in Web Applications Development, Digital Security, Database Management, Digital Marketing and Brand Management. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology and is a Microsoft Programme Alumni. He is currently serving as a Marketing and IT Officer on the Techsoup Project.


Grace Akpene Ziggah is a Togolese and currently the Logistics Officer and also assists in administration duties at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in June 2009.


Lilian Dafeamekpor is a Ghanaian and currently the Assistant to the Executive Director at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


John P. Frinjuah has expertise and interests in civil society, international development, democracy and governance, conflict, crisis, and security. He has extensive experience working with civil society and international development organizations where he supported and managed research, programmes, and provided technical assistance on a variety of themes around public policy, governance, and development. He is an alumnus of the University of Ghana and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy - Tufts University in the United States, with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from two institutions respectively. John speaks English, French and several Ghanaian and regional West Africa languages.


Gervin has extensive international development experience, including 5 years of policy advocacy and capacity building of grass root organisations. He has implemented over the years a combination of agriculture value chain, livelihood, food security and governance and rights programmes.
Prior to joining WACSI, Gervin worked on two USAID projects focusing on agriculture value chain development and governance in northern Ghana
Gervin holds a master’s degree in development & Governance from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany as well as a Masters in Global Studies from the Universities of Vienna (Austria), Leipzig (Germany) and California (Santa Barbara), USA. He is passionate social justice and inclusion.


Leandre Banon, Beninese, joined WACSI in September 2014 as Capacity Development Programme Assistant. Since then, he has worked in various units within the Institute to support operational and institutional capacity strengthening programmes for civil society in the region. Currently serving as Capacity Development Programme Officer at WACSI, his main responsibilities involve designing, planning, implementing and monitoring capacity development programmes for civil society constituents and grouping across the West Africa. Leandre is a certified Change the Game Academy Programme Trainer. His background lies in the areas of economics and development planning.


Samuel Appiah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Officer in the Finance and Administrative Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in May, 2016.


Jimm Chick Fomunjong, Cameroonian, joined WACSI in May 2018 as the Head of the Knowledge Management and Communication Units of the Institute. He has over ten years’ experience as a journalist and a development communications expert. He has a vast experience in supporting African organisations to strengthen their internal and external communications, building and sustaining relationships with the media and, leveraging on the power of social media to promote their mission. He is also excellent at supporting organisations to set up and operationalise functional communications and knowledge management systems. He has a deep passion and expertise in supporting Africans and African civil society organisations to document their praxis, share and learn from experiences documented from the African civil society sector.


Franck Sombo is a development practitioner with the drive to lead self and others to influence productivity and efficiency. His work involves supporting organisations to develop strategic plans, design monitoring and evaluation systems, develop and use relevant performance measurement tools to track progress, assess organizational growth and institutionalise learning. Franck has eight years of experience working with WACSI where he currently serves as the Head, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning. His academic qualifications include Masters in Organisations’ and Projects’ Management, and in Business Sciences and a High National Diploma in Finance and Accounting.

Franck is a Fellow of the International Program for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET) and a graduate of the Graduate Training Institute (GTI) - Ghana with specialization in Strategic Management and Corporate Leadership. He has a rich experience in Project Management, Capacity Development, Strategic planning, Data Analytics, Monitoring and Evaluation, Training and Facilitation, Mentoring and Coaching among others.


Omolara is a development practitioner and advocacy strategist with over 15 years of progressive experience in development programming targeted at strengthening civil society in West Africa.

She joined WACSI in November 2009 as a Regional Advocacy Consultant and later became the first Policy Advocacy Officer of the Institute in 2010.

She was promoted to Head of the Policy Influencing and Advocacy (PIA) Unit in 2015. As the Head of the PIA unit, Omolara offers strategic direction to the Institutes’ ambitions to connect and convene groups of organised and organic civil society actors; and influence regional and global discourses on crosscutting policy issues including—civil society regulations, sustainable development goals, civic space and enabling environment, aid effectiveness, gender equality, and civil society accountability.

Previously, Omolara served as a Programmes Associate with the Women in Peace and Security Network-Africa (WIPSEN-Africa), where she worked with her team to design and implement pan-African programmes on—multidimensional peace support operations and gender mainstreaming in security sector reform in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

She also served as a Service Development Marshal at TVQ Consulting Group, a customer service firm focused on designing strategic customer relationship and business growth plans for private and public financial institutions in Nigeria.

Omolara is a social justice advocate, a network weaver, and a convener. She has a postgraduate degree in Peace and Conflict Studies; a degree in International Relations and History, from the University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria respectively.

She also holds executive certificates in Behavioral Science in Public Policy from Harvard University Executive Education in Cambridge and in Citizen Advocacy from the Coady International Institute, St Francis Xavier University in Canada.


Kwabena Kroduah is a Ghanaian and currently heads the Finance Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in January 2008.


Charles currently serves as the Head of the Capacity Development Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). Charles has over 10 years of experience working in international development and social justice issues in Africa. Charles has expertise in strengthening civil society and public agencies including the design and implementation of governance and leadership programmes, development of knowledge pieces and policy advice. Charles was the founding Board Chair of Innovation for Change (i4C)-Hub Afrique, as well as the founding member of the International Consortium on Closing Civic Space (iCon), an initiative of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC. Charles currently serves as the Member of the Governing Board (Coordination Collective) of Africans Rising. He is a Member of the Development Studies Association, United Kingdom. Charles is a 2017 Stanford University Fellow for Nonprofit Leaders and a certified Change the Game Resource Mobilisation Trainer.


Nana Afadzinu is a Ghanaian and currently serves as the Executive Director of the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2010.