COVID-19 puts the Spotlight on the Relevance and Effectiveness of Civil Society

COVID-19 puts the Spotlight on the Relevance and Effectiveness of Civil Society

Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the world has witnessed a tumultuous couple of months. This pandemic has changed in diverse ways relations and interactions among community citizens and between citizens and institutions. Most countries have been at the mercy of this rampaging pandemic and a key sector that has been put in the spotlight is civil society.

It is important to state that the intrinsic value of civil society is attributed to its mission and power to mobilise citizens and communities to support social causes. COVID-19 has presented an existential threat to civil society’s relevance and legitimacy. These are key principles that enables the sector find expression, meaning and impact.

There have been several discussions and conversations on various virtual platforms about the response of civil society to the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of adaptation of operations but also how effectively the sector is engaging with communities. The question that needs to be interrogated is, to what extent is civil society representative, responsive, collaborative, resilient and influential? And, how do these elements relate to the sector’s effectiveness?

1. Representation
There are a serious of questions that need reflection and consideration as civil society seeks to ensure that representation brings tangible benefits to communities in these difficult times. They include, but are not limited to:

· Has civil society responded to the crisis in a way that shows that it is representing the interest of communities?

· To what extent has civil society been able to “listen” to communities that it represents and integrate these engagements and ensure they are reflected in initiatives, programmes, and projects to respond to the needs of these communities?

· What does representation mean in a pandemic situation?

· Is representation only about numbers and metrics? Does it go beyond the notion that civil society gives voice? and what does it mean to give voice to marginalised groups within a pandemic scenario?

· Can we continue to do business as usual advocacy, or we need to think like “there is no box” and create new engagement tactics to navigate this uncertain future?

· What are the new forms and strategies for building solidarity that we need to employ?

While reflecting on these questions, it will be pertinent to recognise that civil society as a sector encompasses a wide range of actors.

Whereas, diversity should have been synonymous with strong representation power, the lack of clear and consensual standards and mechanisms by which citizens can authorise representation and ensure accountability and responsiveness constitutes a major impediment to the sector’s representativeness.

2. Responsiveness
Several actors have argued that in the first two months when the pandemic garnered global attention, civil society was in a “coma” like state. The sector was clearly at a loss as to how to react, help and engage with its various partners and communities. Even though projects implemented by civil society usually have a component of risk management, the ongoing pandemic can be described as a black swan, a metaphor that often describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect,

Admittedly, some projects may have included in their risk assessment the possibility of a local epidemic outbreak as a major risk that could affect project outcomes. However, it would be highly unlikely that project designs considered the possibility of a global pandemic and mitigation strategies to respond to it.

Therefore, it has become apparent that civil society must develop a collaborative to conduct scenario analysis and emergency response planning quickly. It also appears that civil society as a sector has a lot to learn. Therefore, there is a need to ensure that there is comprehensive learning and documentation of the current COVID-19 responses to guide more effective and responsive future interventions in crisis situations.

3. Collaboration
COVID-19 has clearly demonstrated that pockets of excellence and passionate individual efforts are welcome but are not enough. The pandemic has shown that the greatest possibility for change will be civil society’s collective efforts. Civil society is being challenged to elevate its ways of working and operational strategies. Civil society must deepen its partnerships and work more intimately beyond thematic and cluster interests.

The challenge is for social justice, humanitarian, and environmental groups to work together in a seamless and coordinated way to leave no one behind. Certainly, this is a time for a cohesive and coordinated response to the issues that affect humanity. Civil society should not approach issues in an insular manner, but work collectively using individual strengths, with mutual respect and most importantly bringing communities along, ensuring they are at the forefront of the changes that need to happen. This is the season to develop cross-sector innovative partnerships with government and the private sector that stretch beyond civil society’s inner circles.

4. Resilience
Civil society can achieve the above milestones if the sector itself is resilient. To do so, means groupings in both organic and organised forms are strong and robust. This includes having the capability to adapt quickly to emergency situations, sustain their causes and more pertinently the “engine” for achieving these social outcomes. Therefore, the issue of financial and non-financial resources becomes extremely important. The challenge is for civil society especially in the global south to explore different avenues for mobilising funding and expertise, reducing the dependence on external aid but looking internally, building capacities to access funding from domestic communities. This would help to build sustained resilience, not resilience to implement projects but resilience to sustain social change.

5. Influence
Positively, civil society continues to influence major social and policy changes in communities around the world. However, the impacts of COVID-19 challenge civil society to scale up its influence and ability to make a significant dent on reducing poverty and inequality in communities. It has become crystal clear that as a sector, civil society cannot achieve major transformations working alone.

For civil society to contribute significantly to the achievement of the sustainable development goals and to ensure that no one is left behind, the sector must engage in a robust, respectful and collaborative manner with governments, the private sector, traditional communities, religious bodies and family associations.

Civil society’s ability to act as a catalyst and as a platform for citizens to share their views is vital. The sector must ensure that its influence shapes the culture of governance, democratisation, and the promotion of basic freedoms. Civil society’s influence must extend beyond policy prescriptions, communiques, open letters, advocacy campaigns and reports to be real, relevant, and tangible progress, especially of marginalised communities.

6. Opportunity in Uncertainty
History has shown us that within times of uncertainty; there is always opportunity. These are challenging times, but it also presents an opportunity for civil society to harness its years of experience of organising, enabling community engagement, holding government and stakeholders accountable to step up to the current challenges. Civil society must respond to this “new normal” to ensure that beyond rhetoric, it leverages its assets, including its representative and responsiveness nature, collaborative potential, resilience, and influence. This is the time for civil society to cement its position as an indispensable catalyst for sustained social change and community-led action.

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Head, Capacity Development Unit at WACSI | + posts


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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 10 years progressive experience in development programming targeted at strengthening civil society in West Africa. She joined WACSI in November 2009 as an Advocacy Consultant. And later became the first Policy Advocacy Officer in 2010 and Head of Policy Influencing and Advocacy unit in 2015. As head, she offers strategic direction to the institutes’ ambitions to connect and convene groups of organized 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.

Previously, Omolara 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. She also served as a Programmes Associate with the Women in Peace and Security Network-Africa where she teamed up to design and implement two programmes on—multidimensional peace support operations and gender mainstreaming in security sector reform in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia.


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.