NGOs and the Response to COVID-19

28, Apr 2020
NGOs and the Response to COVID-19

In today’s day and age, non-governmental organizations, aka NGOs, have become prominent mainstays of development on a global scale. As advocates for meaningful social causes, greater economic freedom, and improved access to health and education, NGOs have emerged from the perseverance and dedication of community members who strive to initiate meaningful and long-term change. Further, in the face of regional instability, NGOs step up to restore civic equity by advocating for policy change geared towards stability in developing countries.


With the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the very survival of thousands of NGOs are at risk of closing due to operational constraints from severe budget and donor funding cuts. Yet, the global imbalance of social and economic equity is growing daily, as countries continue to impose strict measures that include lock-downs, and the closure of non-essential businesses to stop the spread of the virus. And with a reported three million confirmed cases, and 200,000 deaths NGOs are needed to meet both the shorter and longer-term needs of communities across the globe.


NGOs Across the Globe: At a Glance

While it is impossible to provide a comprehensive outlook into the state of non-governmental organizations around the world, or even in a local context due to limitations of available research and statistical figures, back in 2015, the Global Journal reported that there was an estimated 10 million NGOs worldwide. Further, in 2014 the number of people donating to NGOs was at 1.4 billion, which is projected to reach 2.5 billion by 2030.


It is also important to note that there isn’t an accurate depiction of the amount contributed by the donor community to NGOs. Yet, COVID-19 has proven that NGOs cannot solely rely on donor aid, and many integrate sustainability measures into their operational mandate to ensure survival amidst a tenuous funding landscape. The same is especially true for NGOs in Palestine as well as across the Middle East that work to provide essential humanitarian, development, and otherwise services to approximately 425.46 million people.


The Survival of NGOs Amidst COVID-19

NGOs have become a mainstay in the world of development. The emergence of COVID-19 has put NGOs everywhere at risk, pushing them to their breaking point. Despite this, NGOs are important now more than ever, as they are implementing recovery initiatives and responding to the immediate and longer-term needs of communities and people affected by the pandemic.


With the world virtually in shutdown, putting all trade at a standstill, many NGOs are forced to adapt to a new normal. One in which donor aid and funding are vicarious at best, due to the projected economic recession which will have economies around the world reeling in the aftermath.


Amidst the economic standstill, governments around the world are struggling to cope with growing unemployment, steep-pay cuts for public and private sector employees, and putting all their resources towards maintaining overtaxed healthcare systems that are at the forefront of the COVID-19 response.


Brookings reports that emerging markets are anticipated to be hit the hardest. Global financial and corporate sectors are also set to suffer large scale deterioration, putting markets under extreme stress. Further, increased bankruptcies, and “increased risk aversion among investors” has led to an unprecedented stop in the flow of capital to emerging markets. Ultimately, this will severely affect the sustainability of NGOs, and their ability to acquire the donor support needed to stay afloat during these trying times.


What This Means for Marginalized Communities?

For marginalized communities, the spread of COVID-19 has only intensified the socio-economic divide and inherent inequalities. NGOs are essential in these communities as they play a crucial role in the development process, as governments in many developing (low and middle income) countries lack the capacity to do so. As such, local and even international NGOs work to fill in the gaps.


However, NGOs that provide essential humanitarian services will no longer have the capacity to support these communities, due to severe budget and funding cuts and the lack of donor aid.


Collaborative Approach to Fill In the Gaps

Developing countries that are either low or middle income, need health, humanitarian, and development support amidst the pandemic. However, this requires donor support, which will take years to get back to where it was previously. What is needed in this context is a unified and collaborative approach between the public and private sectors.


On the private sector front, this includes strategic partnerships between NGOs with local companies and businesses. Not only does this include providing emergency funding towards refocused project goals and priorities, but to help NGOs scale their services to reach those in need. As such, collaborations that set the precepts for emergency funding, refocusing, goals, and priorities to ensure that organizations operate as efficiently and effectively as possible.      


While on the public sector front, collaborations will help NGOs and government institutions work on policies that promote meaningful institutional-based development. This includes healthcare, education, public governance, access to resources, and public expenditure in general.


As COVID-19 severely limits the ability of private-sector NGOs to operate, collaborating with the public governance sector will help them remain relevant by adapting to the ever-changing landscape of limited donor aid and prolonged economic downturn.


How You Can Help?

In Palestine, COVID-19 has caused a financial disaster. Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Shtayyeh announced that treasury revenues declined from 50 to 70 percent, and have cost the country 300 to 400 million shekels.  As a result, revenues have been shrunk by half, forcing many private and public sector workers to go without a full salary, while others must do without their paychecks indefinitely. 


To this effect, the donor community cannot afford to wait for the new normal but adjust and partner with local NGOs and CBOs to come up with innovative approaches that address both immediate and medium-term needs. The relevance of pre-COVID-19 drafted development plans is fast-becoming obsolete under this global threat, which has left tens of thousands on the brink of poverty worldwide. Waiting for the pandemic to subside or outright end will be more costly in terms of people’s lives, livelihoods, and well-being in the long-run.  


As such, NGOs need to adapt and develop risk framework mechanisms that allow for greater risk-sharing to ensure that organizations are not alone in their COVID-19 humanitarian response. Further, the World Economic Forum calls for NGOs to establish liquidity funds to cover short-term overheads, due to a shortage of funding this will help organizations stay remain active during times of crisis. Online conferences will also help donors, their NGO partners, and community stakeholders devise strategies that lead to productive and collaborative plans.


Ultimately, the effects of COVID-19 will last long after the virus has faded. And while NGOs are witnessing severe budget cuts due to stagnating donor aid and lack of funding, these organizations are critical. NGOs will be expected to not only provide essential services to targeted communities but to protect the most vulnerable via humanitarian operations.


For Palestinian’s dependency on foreign aid and donor funding is nothing new. With the emergence of COVID-19, thousands will struggle to return to a sense of normalcy as the global recession will limit the in-flow donor aid and remittances from expatriates and the diaspora community abroad. Most at-risk are humanitarian services, civic governance, and financial freedom, which will lead to growing levels of inequality and severe levels of poverty.


The time for the donor and NGO community to act is now. They must work together along with public and private sector stakeholders to refocus their goals and present a unified front to deliver the urgent humanitarian assistance now needed by thousands suffering from the immediate and potentially longer-term effects of COVID-19.