• Home
  • Insights
  • The impact of COVID-19 on African CSOs - Ongoing uncertainty and a glimmer of optimism

The impact of COVID-19 on African CSOs - Ongoing uncertainty and a glimmer of optimism

David Barnard

The COVID-19 pandemic is the defining global health crisis of our time. Since COVID-19 first emerged towards the end of 2019, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared it a pandemic on 11 March 2020, it continues to have significant social and economic consequences for all sectors of African society, including civil society organizations (CSOs).

The immediate impact of COVID-19 on African civil society organisations (CSOs) was swift, widespread and destabilizing. This was one of the main findings of the Africa CSO COVID-19 Survey that EPIC-Africa and @AfricanNGOs conducted from 28 April to 15 May 2020. 98% of respondents confirmed that they had been adversely affected, while 55.7% indicated that they had already experienced a loss of funding at that stage.

A year later, the impact of COVID-19 on African CSOs continues to be far-reaching.

EPIC-Africa and @AfricanNGOs conducted a second survey from 1 June to 5 July 2021, which was the most comprehensive intervention to date aimed at analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on CSOs anywhere in the world. A total of 1 039 CSOs from 46 African countries participated in the survey.

This report draws attention to the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on African CSOs and the dual challenge confronting them, namely keeping their organizations afloat while also responding to the growing needs of the communities in which they operate.

The overall impact of COVID-19 on African CSOs continues to be overwhelmingly negative and widespread. 97.8% of CSOs indicated that COVID-19 impacted and disrupted their operations in one or more ways since the start of the pandemic.

The loss of funding by African CSOs is still one of the most significant consequences of the pandemic. The financial health of African CSOs was problematic before the pandemic, and this situation has further deteriorated. 68.1% of CSOs reported a loss of funding since the start of the pandemic, and 57.5% expect further losses over the next 12 months. In addition, only 8.4% of CSOs received funding support from a government emergency relief fund during the pandemic.

82.8% of CSOs indicated that COVID-19 had exacerbated many historical organizational and operational challenges facing the sector. As a result, 80.9% of CSOs felt that they were not prepared to cope with the disruption to their operations caused by COVID-19. To make things worse, 45.5% of CSOs reported that they experienced increased costs since the start of the pandemic.

Staff wellness emerged as a new frontier that CSOs are learning to navigate. 31.5% of CSOs identified it as one of the most significant organizational shortcomings experienced during the pandemic. 87.1% reported increased anxiety and stress levels among staff, while 83% mentioned increased pressure and workload demands on executive leadership. 37.1% had one or more staff test positive for COVID-19, while 7.6% indicated that this resulted in one or more staff deaths. 64.9% of CSOs have already added new measures to address staff wellness.

Reflecting on the past 18 months, 80.9% of CSOs indicated that they were not prepared to cope with the disruption to their operations caused by COVID-19. 63.4% of CSOs reduced their programs due to COVID-19, while 75.3% felt that COVID-19 would have a devastating impact on the sustainability of many CSOs. Most concerning, unless there is a drastic improvement in the conditions impacting CSOs, 5.1% of CSOs expect to cease operations.

However, despite these challenges, African CSOs continue to play an active role in response to COVID-19 and take on expanded roles as demand for their services increases. 83.4% of CSOs introduced new program activities in response to the pandemic. 27.6% increased their programming to deal with the impact of COVID-19, while 34.3% changed the focus of their programs by shifting to COVID-19 from other areas. 46.2% of CSOs have accessed new funding to support their COVID-19-related interventions, while  79.7% of CSOs reported working with other CSOs in responding to COVID-19.

Looking ahead, African CSOs acknowledge that the sector needs to be better organized, collaborate more, and build more robust networks and platforms. Similarly, the lessons learned since the pandemic started should inform the efforts of governments, funders and other stakeholders in strengthening and revitalizing the sector.

With millions of people depending on the vital services provided by African CSOs, the sector is simply too important to fail.

Click here to download the report based on the survey findings, “The Impact of COVID-19 on African Civil Society Organizations – Ongoing Uncertainty and a Glimmer of Optimism”.

David Barnard

David Barnard is a development consultant with more than 25 years’ executive and senior management experience in leading and supporting development organisations and programs across Africa. He moderates the @AfricanNGOs Twitter account that covers news and information for and about NGOs in Africa.

Related articles


A passion for supporting and developing people: Meet Omashani Naidoo, SchoolNet South Africa
Insights
SchoolNet SA’s purpose is to act as a catalyst and an enabler of positive change for the education system. Omashani Naidoo talks to me about her journey to lead this public benefit nonprofit company that focuses on ICT in education for teaching and learning.  What was y...
Making a daily difference on two fronts: Meet Andy Du Plessis, Managing Director of FoodForward SA
Insights
Established in 2009 to address widespread hunger in South Africa, FoodForward SA connects a world of excess to a world of need by recovering quality edible surplus food from the consumer goods supply chain and distributing it to community organisations that serve the poor. More than 80% of t...
Kolisis call for fresh thinking after “a time of mayhem”
Insights
“We need to listen to what people dealing with challenging circumstances really need,” says Rachel Kolisi, co-founder of the Kolisi Foundation. This and other fresh new thinking is being championed by young philanthropists such as Kolisi and her husband Siya as key ways in which to meet the count...
Make your voice heard: Proposed Amendments to the NPO act
Insights
Those of us who work in the sector estimate that we have seen (and been involved with some parts of) about four or five processes of development of amendments to the NPO Act but none of these has seen the light of day, as new brooms have swept (not clean, that phrase is not appropriate) but they ...
NPO sector needs rebranding badly to increase its impact
Insights
The nonprofit sector is the only one with a name starting with a negative, communicating what it is against, not what it is for. Shakespeare once wrote: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.  This is true for many things in life - freshly baked bread, popcorn at the movies, and t...
How to stop the degradation of our museums and cultural infrastructure
Insights
We are witnessing the collapse or near-collapse of key museums and heritage institutions in South Africa. How do we remedy this? This year is the African Union year for Arts, Culture and Heritage. This week the African Experts’ virtual meeting on Sites of Memory and World Heritage Convention in ...
NGOs must be part and parcel of achieving global SDGs
Insights
Social impact organisations’ engagement with the UN’s sustainable development goals is critical since their agendas are ultimately the same. While the Covid-19 pandemic rages, we often focus all our attention on surviving the day-to-day struggles while neglecting crucial global long-term...
Meet Bev Russell, CEO of Social Surveys
Insights
In today’s data driven world, sound public policy and civil society initiatives must be informed by accurate information. However, information on society’s marginalised and most vulnerable is often incomplete, inaccurate, or non-existent. For over 30 years, Social Surveys has helped policy leader...
Why your nonprofit needs a communications budget
Insights
In Nonprofits: We Must Break Out of the Scrappiness Cycle, Vu Le talks about the extremely frugal nature of most nonprofits. “We are always scrimping, trying to find the best deals, trying to get stuff discounted or preferably free. …  It has become a mindset that is ingrained...
Philanthropy and dubious donors: Should non-profit organisations take the money and run?
Insights
The world has become increasingly transparent with the advent of the internet and social media. We can, after all, see child labour and slavery, carbon emissions, river pollution, the impact of plastics and the disappearance of forests through logging and farming. We have access to more informati...


© All rights reserved. 

Back to Top