Civil Society during and post pandemic: A period with clouds and uncertainties
As COVID-19 has brought our world to a standstill, the weather has never been cloudier. Major uncertainties prevail around the course of the pandemic as well as the measures that will be taken to mitigate its effects. We, at the Third Sector Foundation of Turkey, have been engaged in listening, watching and monitoring what’s going on in the field in terms of reaction, activity and adaptation.
Our COVID-19 response included securing the well-being and safety of the team and adapting our work to the new conditions, strengthening our relationship with our community and advocating around issues that are important to protect civic space.
We observed an increased need for connection and solidarity in the field. Therefore, as a convener, we organised online meetings with our members, as well as affinity groups (such as lawyers, grant makers and philanthropy professionals) to keep them motivated and continue supporting their work.
On the advocacy side, we issued a statement emphasising the need for increased collaboration between civil society and public administration during this difficult time. We wrote letters to government officials to demand civil society to be included in all incentives and protection measures which were initially designed to support the business sector.
Next, we decided to dig deeper and collect data on how the crisis affected the work of civil society organisations (CSOs), how much they were able to adapt themselves, how responsive were their funders and what they need to continue their important work. So, we implemented the Impact of COVID-19 Outbreak on Civil Society Organisations Operating in Turkey Survey between April 10-15th. 170 CSOs responded and we announced the results on April 27th.
Key results from this survey were as follows:
- The vast majority of CSOs stated the direct impact of the pandemic on their activities via cancellation of seminars, conferences and trainings. About one-third (28%) reported that they had to stop all activities.
- CSOs were asked how much the need for their services increased in this period. 62% of them reported an increase or dramatic increase. This indicated that CSOs are aware of their increased role and responsibility during this time
- 43% stated that they will need to incorporate new areas in their work (such as poverty, health and unemployment)
- 81% of the respondents think that donors will change their priorities (worrying that certain topics may fall back in their agenda)
- 70% of the respondents think that donors were flexible or very flexible in this period
- We asked them about their donations. 49% stated that the donations they receive already declined.
- 28% of the CSOs said they might have to dismiss employees if the pandemic continues
- In terms of sustainability, the responses are concerning – 46% saying less than 6 months, 80% saying less than 1 year, with current staff and resources
- Core funding was unsurprisingly the top answer for support with 65%, followed by effective public-civil society cooperation with 57% and flexibility of donors with 56%
“Whereas many see the Covid-19 virus as a great disaster, I prefer to see it as a great corrector”
The role of civil society is critical to support government efforts in responding to COVID-19. However, civil society it is under immense pressure since resilience is weak. Fundraising has become much harder. In this environment, transformation seems to be inevitable.
We need to rethink how civil society is structured and find new and creative ways to keep civic initiatives working. The crisis showed the importance of flexibility, adaptability and change. From the “death” of rigid structures, new forms will arise. The ecosystem will correct itself and redefine the boundaries of civic involvement. While doing this rethinking, we should always keep in mind it is the same cracks we consider as weaknesses that let the light in.