Adapting to COVID-19 For CSOs’ Long Term Impact and Viability

Adapting to COVID-19 For CSOs’ Long Term Impact and Viability

The past decade has seen considerable changes in civil society dynamics in Africa, with reductions in traditional forms of funding. In the middle-income countries shrinking space for civil society has been witnessed in many contexts and hence eliciting questions around the legitimacy and accountability of organisations dependent on aid investment.

These changes create multiple challenges for civil societies. For many organisations, movements and activists in Africa, the future is unclear.  This uncertainty has even been worsened as the world battles with the Coronavirus pandemic posing challenges on running programmes, coordinating staff, financial systems, planning, security, and communication. Yet CSOs are critical to humanitarian assistance in these times. However, as CSOs we are challenged today, probably more than ever, to remain able to deliver across communities. Therefore, organisations are being challenged to innovate to ensure that interventions are executed effectively and timely in the face of unprecedented disruption.

At WACSI, we recognise the urgent need for civil society to review their structures, roles and responsibilities with communities, governments and international and domestic funders to ensure their long-term sustainability. This will help civil society entities especially community-based organisations, grassroots associations and less-resourced CSOs to carry out such crucial activities as supporting the poor, the disenfranchised and the marginalised, enabling collective action and holding decision-makers and the private sector to account.

The institute envisages that the potential operational challenges that CSOs will face due to the coronavirus include:

  1. The strain on the traditional ways of working and programme delivery;
  2. Disruption to resource streams, financial systems and planning;
  3. Health and availability of staff;
  4. Communication and workflow challenges between staff members who are now all working remotely;
  5. Challenges with implementing programmes in communities in an environment of physical distancing particularly organisations which work in health, education and social protection.

It is essential that during these times, CSOs take practical steps to operate and respond to their constituencies. These are some proposed measures that can be taken to navigate this unprecedented experience.

Short-term (1-3 months, March-May, 2020)

Officially informing donor partners about disruption and obtaining consent to reschedule activities or revise aspects of project delivery

It would be advisable for organisations to send formal notices to various donor partners supporting various projects to ask for activities to be rescheduled and also continue to implement activities that do not require face to face engagements. In some cases, organisations could propose new delivery modalities including virtual and digital platforms. Donor partners have to show leadership by being supportive of CSOs on extraordinary measures to manage the complex situation. Also, CSOs ought to facilitate the ability for staff members to continue working remotely on activities that do not require face to face engagements.

Medium-Term (4-6 months, June-August, 2020)

Implement projects in alignment with rescheduled timelines or continue to engage with partners virtually/ digitally or through telephony, if the COVID19 situation persists

WACSI is anticipating that the situation may be under control within three months based on projections from various governments and scientific bodies across the world.

If this scenario plays out as projected, the institute advises that organisations should plan face to face engagements with their partners based on rescheduled timelines. However, if the Coronavirus situation persists, organisations ought to continue using virtual platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram to deliver support to their partners and maintain engagement. Also, find innovative ways of undertaking sensitisation campaigns, training and follow-up support for their partners. For grassroots organisations, WhatsApp notes are an effective communication tool to keep a respectable level of engagement with community members.

Long-term (6-10 months, September-December, 2020)

If the pandemic persists into August 2020, CSOs need to review their operating models, partnerships and engagement mechanisms

CSOs will have to look at their governance structure, staff requirements and their potential financial sources. CSOs will have to consider organising more virtual engagements with board members and may consider reinforcing them with additional experts to respond to this challenge. CSOs may have to consider revising their organograms and streamlining staff numbers and responsibilities to adapt to the current challenges. Strategic partnerships are also key to a CSO’s survival. More CSOs may need to consider non-traditional partners from the private sector and government agencies.

However, the biggest challenge CSOs will face is financial sustainability. Most CSOs in Africa are excessively dependent on external donor funding, countries which have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Most CSOs in Africa have an inadequate capacity in mobilising resources from their communities. This means this is the time to consider alternative financing models. WACSI in partnership with innovation for change developed an alternative funding models guidebook. There is no better time to utilise this resource than NOW! Organisations should consider utilising this resource effectively. Download here:  Additionally, Change the Game Academy’s innovative course on Local Fundraising, which is accessible online for free, is integral for CSOs looking to advance their knowledge and skills to overcome the shortages in funding that may arise due to the current situation.


CSOs must take deliberate actions to continue to pursue their strategies amid the COVID-19 pandemic challenge.  In these unprecedented times when COVID-19 continues to spread and to impact almost every individual and organisation across Africa directly or indirectly, an organisation’s operations will have to be revised to continue to support the sector in a robust and effective manner. At WACSI, we realise that preparedness and adaptation are key. Therefore, through virtual means, organisations are now more than ever challenged to continue to advance their work and actively engage with their constituencies.

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Head, Capacity Development Unit at WACSI | + posts


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