African civil society organizations face acute resource shortfalls at a time of increasing demand for their services, finds new report

New report finds ongoing uncertainty yet also a glimmer of optimism in resilience shown by African civil society organizations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic;  New report calls on governments and funders to partner with African CSOs to better serve communities. Significant losses of funding have limited the ability of African civil society organizations (CSOs) […]


New report finds ongoing uncertainty yet also a glimmer of optimism in resilience shown by African civil society organizations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic;  New report calls on governments and funders to partner with African CSOs to better serve communities.

Significant losses of funding have limited the ability of African civil society organizations (CSOs) to meet the needs of their communities at a time when COVID-19 has pushed demand for their services to unprecedented levels, according to a report released today by EPIC-Africa and @AfricanNGOs. The report, “The Impact of COVID-19 on African Civil Society Organizations: Ongoing Uncertainty and a Glimmer of Optimism” (, is based on a survey of 1,039 CSOs in 46 African countries in June and July of 2021. It follows the groups’ 2020 report (, which surveyed African CSOs in the early days of the pandemic.

Despite these challenges, African CSOs have taken on expanded roles during the COVID-19 pandemic, with over 80% of the organizations surveyed introducing new program activities to respond to the social and economic needs of the most vulnerable populations. Yet, CSOs themselves have been hard hit by the pandemic and face considerable uncertainty as the global crisis deepens. Of the organizations surveyed, 68.1% experienced a loss of funding since the start of the pandemic (up from 55% in 2020) and only 8.4% received any funding support from a government emergency relief fund in their country.

This lack of funding, according to the report, has resulted in citizens being denied vital services such as educational programs for children and adolescents, life-saving medication for HIV+ people, shelter for victims of domestic violence, rape and other atrocities, and the muting of citizens’ voices in matters of social and economic justice.

“The findings of this report make it crystal clear that governments and funders must recognize, partner with and support African CSOs, whose actions are critical to driving a comprehensive response to COVID-19,” said EPIC-Africa Co-founder, Rose Maruru. “Since the onset of the pandemic, African CSOs have demonstrated great adaptive ability and creativity in meeting the needs of their communities, and this makes us optimistic that the sector can recover and build a better future.”

Too important to fail

The report notes a marked increase in demand for the services that African CSOs provide: from 31.5% in 2020 to 40.7% in 2021. In response to the pandemic, 83.4% introduced new program activities, 27.6% increased their programming to deal with the impact of COVID-19, and 34.3% changed the focus of their programs to COVID-19 from other areas. As the report shows, they are providing these services under strain, with 87.1% reporting increased anxiety and stress levels among staff. The situation is made worse by long-term under-resourcing and restricted civic space in many countries that pre-date the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has laid bare some of the major challenges facing African CSOs,” said David Barnard, of @AfricanNGOs and co-author of the report. “This report is an opportunity to think through the solutions that will ensure a post-pandemic future with resilient and sustainable CSOs. With millions of people depending on the vital advocacy and daily services provided by African CSOs, the sector is simply too important to fail.”

The role of funders

This new report also includes the findings of a complementary survey of funders of African CSOs, which sought to understand how the pandemic impacted their organizations and the implications for their future engagement with African CSOs. The findings show that many funders have demonstrated unprecedented flexibility, provided additional resources, and in some cases, ceded more decision-making power to their grantees. When asked to describe the lessons of COVID-19 and what funders can do to enable CSOs to recover and emerge stronger from the crisis, one funder stressed the importance of general support:Multi-year flexible grants gave many of our partners the space to react to changing situations. This past year has highlighted the importance of investing in infrastructure; partners benefit from having additional funds to build out their infrastructure so they can remain resilient in changing environments.”

A way forward

According to the report, African CSOs acknowledged that the sector needs to be better organized, collaborate more, and build more robust networks and platforms. The report notes that COVID-19 has ignited an inflection point and recommends that funders, governments and CSOs carry out initiatives to revitalize the sector, with support for institution-building, including strengthening infrastructure for local philanthropy. It recommends that governments include CSOs in national emergency responses and long-term development efforts and that CSOs strive to diversify funding and explore new organizational and funding models.

Dr. Bheki Moyo, Director for the Centre on African Philanthropy and Social Investment (CAPSI) at the University of the Witwatersrand said: “This report gives us important data and knowledge on the impact of COVID-19 on African CSOs and on how the crisis has exacerbated some of the structural issues that existed pre-pandemic. We have a unique opportunity to think together about how to translate the recommendations from this report into action that benefits the millions of people who depend on African CSOs to weather this and future crises.”

About the report

EPIC-Africa and @AfricanNGOs conducted the survey that informed this report from 1 June to 5 July 2021, with responses from CSOs from all regions of the continent. It is one of the most comprehensive analyses of the impact of COVID-19 on CSOs anywhere in the world. Given the historical challenges facing African CSOs, and the severity of the impact of COVID-19 on the sector, the survey aimed to:

Capture the ongoing impact of the pandemic on African CSOs, how CSOs are responding, and emerging trends and lessons that may help to predict and prepare for the future.
Acquire information at the sectoral and regional levels to conduct pertinent cross-sector analyses and present a more granular picture of how African CSOs are coping.
Compare the findings from the 2020 survey with the current situation and generate data and knowledge to inform and widen the discussion on building resilience in the African CSO sector.
Building on the survey responses and feedback received from various local and international stakeholders in response to the first report, this report includes two new components:
Cross-country and cross-sectoral comparisons to surface critical gaps and priorities among CSOs in different parts of the continent.
Insights from a complementary “mini-survey” of funders of African CSOs on how COVID-19 has impacted them, and how that impact will affect their future engagement with African CSOs.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of EPIC Africa.

For media requests, interviews with the authors or further questions please contact:
Chakera McIntosh
Communications Lead, EPIC-Africa
+221 77 157 1168 (WhatsApp)
[email protected]

About EPIC-Africa:
EPIC-Africa is a Senegal-based non-profit organization that seeks to strengthen philanthropic impact by filling critical data and capacity gaps in the African civil society sector. It envisages a vibrant civil society ecosystem with diverse, influential, sustainable African civil society groups at the center. EPIC-Africa contributes to this transformative vision by gathering, analyzing and sharing sector data, as well as providing services and tools that aim to set standards and ensure continuous improvement in performance and impact, champion new approaches, and advocate for better policies to support the sector. Founded in 2017, EPIC-Africa is led by Rose Maruru, with the support of a small in-house team and consultants based in Dakar, Dar-es-Salaam, Johannesburg, Nairobi and New York. EPIC-Africa also works through a vast network of CSOs and peer organizations in Benin, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda. For more information, please visit

About @AfricanNGOs:
@AfricanNGOs is a Twitter account that covers news and information for and about NGOs in Africa. It is moderated by David Barnard, a development consultant with more than 25 years’ executive and senior management experience in leading and supporting development organizations and programs across Africa. His expertise covers fundraising, strategic communication, stakeholder management, advocacy, governance, ICT4D and philanthropy. David currently acts as a consultant to various NGOs and foundations in Africa, and serves on the Africa Policy Advisory Board of the ONE Campaign. For more information, please visit

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