Civil society playing essential role in world’s COVID-19 recovery
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has opened a Pandora’s box of complex problems, affecting all populations and sectors around the world.
Economic activities have been hit hard by the lockdown measures imposed by governments, with closures hitting every part of the economy. Consequently, millions of employees have lost their jobs and suffered income losses through no fault of their own, plunging them into financial insecurity or poverty. Migrant, ethnic and informal workers are among those most affected by the pandemic, as the nature of their work involves frequent contact with individuals, leaving them more vulnerable to being exposed to the virus. Many schools and universities have switched to online education, leaving millions of students unable to continue their education because of a lack of access to technology and an inability to afford tuition fees due to their families’ financial circumstances.
Additionally, many patients have had to defer essential medical treatments due to overwhelmed health systems, expensive bills or the risk of contracting the virus, leaving them succumbing to their ailments without adequate support. The elderly are facing depression, neglect and loneliness as they self-isolate due to them being considered high-risk. Women and children are also exposed to greater risks of domestic abuse and violence from partners during their time in quarantine.
Many communities around the world are facing dire food insecurity due to reduced earnings and higher retail prices. While governments scamper to assist their citizens with services and relief efforts, the truth of the matter is that their resources are constrained due to the large populations affected and the breadth of interventions needed in all sectors in the economy.
However, during the pandemic, many civil society organizations have played a vital role in the recoveries of marginalized communities. For example, they have been at the forefront of providing essentials, such as food, shelter and health care. Furthermore, they have strived to uphold the rights of dismissed employees, ethnic minorities and vulnerable groups, such as ethnic minorities, migrant workers, people with disabilities, women, children, and the elderly. That is why it is important we highlight the active and positive role of civil society organizations in fighting the pandemic’s effects.
A cluster of organizations fall under the civil society sector, including nongovernmental or nonprofit organizations, think tanks, faith-based organizations, labor unions, social entrepreneurs, grassroots or community groups with local activities, and cooperatives. Civil society members aspire to create social value with their work, bringing together experts and volunteers to address a number of complex issues, such as poverty reduction, social cohesion, social inequality, environmental conservation, health, education, and welfare systems.
They play a number of roles not filled by public or private sector organizations and perhaps this is what makes them truly stand out in the grand scheme of things. Their devotion to their causes and their deep knowledge of local communities give them an advantage over other actors in galvanizing much-needed change. They engage in a wide range of activities, including conducting insightful research and formulating viable solutions that shape public policies, representing marginalized communities’ needs, raising awareness on important societal issues, engaging citizens in social causes and movements, advocating for change, delivering essential services to communities, and responding to emergencies or disasters with relief efforts.
One of the effects of the pandemic is the exponential surge in people facing food insecurity. That is why many NGOs and food banks have been on the frontlines providing food to affected communities. For example, women’s self-help groups in India are supported under a governmental project, the National Rural Livelihoods Mission, which is co-financed by the World Bank. About 67 million women across India have registered with these self-help groups. During the pandemic, the women have set up more than 10,000 community kitchens to feed the poor, vulnerable families and stranded workers.
Additionally, many civil society organizations have been assisting vulnerable families in terms of safeguarding mental health, protecting against violence and domestic abuse, and delivering essential social services. For example, the Singapore Children’s Society has been providing important mental health services to children and their caregivers during the pandemic. Among their initiatives are an online newsletter with advice on how to manage difficult emotions, a hotline that families can call for support or advice, and resources that inform children if they are unsafe in their homes and who to contact for help. In Austria’s local communities, volunteers have offered services to isolated residents over the age of 65, including delivering prescription drugs to their homes, grocery shopping, and helping with errands.
It is important we highlight their active and positive role in fighting the pandemic’s effects.
Furthermore, avant-garde think tanks have been publishing important research and policy proposals on how to expedite the COVID-19 recovery. Their comprehensive and innovative approaches are supporting governments in arriving at effective solutions for a multitude of current and looming challenges. For example, Urban Institute, a think tank based in Washington, has been updating a special online feature titled, “COVID-19: Policies to Protect People and Communities,” which includes robust research and evidence-based solutions for some of the toughest issues facing the US as a result of the pandemic. Examples include guidance to schools for students with disabilities, teaching effectively throughout the pandemic, supporting immigrants and ethnic minorities, shifting social services digitally, and emergency rental assistance.
As these examples show, civil society organizations are playing an essential role in the world’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and this role should be recognized and magnified.
- Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature.