The response of civil society organisations to face the COVID-19 pandemic

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European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), at the request of the Diversity Europe Group, has commissioned the study The response of civil society organisations to face the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent restrictive measures adopted in Europe, with the twofold aim of mapping “the responses of European CSOs to the COVID-19 crisis in order to identify their inputs and contributions and learn from possible shortcomings and to outline major consequences and challenges for CSOs in the aftermath of the crisis.”

Why is this important for Social Hackademy project?

#HackAD project aims to support civil society in this process of empowerment and recovery by providing the new generation with a various range of digital competences. With the launch of the Social Hackademy Labs, the project’s goal is to equip young people with tools in order to foster digital transformation and innovation in the social sector responding to the needs highlighted also by CSOs in EESC’s study. By creating a wider and young pool of innovators, specifically trained on the development of services for the social sector, not only provides CSOs with new resources, but will also contributes to the creation of new occupation opportunities.

European Economic and Social Committee Diversity Group

EESC Diversity Group is one of the three pillars of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), a consultative body of the European Union, representing the voice of organised Civil Society members, and non-members CSOs similar in scope and mission. According to the EESC, “civil society is a collective term for all types of social action, by individuals or groups, that do not emanate from the state and are not run by it and the uniqueness of this concept is its dynamic nature, that creates an opportunity to strengthen confidence in the democratic system, favouring the climate for reform and innovation.

The study

The approach chosen for this particular mapping, was thematic and content-based, rather than by sector and by country. Six EESC categories were selected for the study: Associational LifeConsumers and EnvironmentFarmers Liberal ProfessionsSMEs crafts and family businessSocial Economy.

The mapping was the result of a triangulation of new and adapted services and initiatives carried out by the CSOs participating in the study, with the findings of several recent studies and reports. This allowed the researchers to understand the main challenges faced by the CSOs, their members and users, and to highlight the huge contribution made by CSOs in supporting the population and society to cope with the pandemic crisis. Moreover, the study could also trace another challenging factor: the incapability of taking full advantage of the ongoing digital transformation to leave no one behind, due to lack of skills, resources and legal frameworks.

The findings, based on a survey carried out through a methodology combining quantitative and qualitative methods of data collection and analysis, were developed and disseminated between the end of August and October 2020, gathering 112 eligible CSOs across Europe in 26 EU member countries and other additional non-EU members European countries.

During the survey, the consulted CSOs highlighted different society challenges as a result of the Covid 19 spread and consequent restrictions. Among them: (1) the interruption of essential services with specific emphasis on health and care services; (2) increase of people in vulnerable socioeconomic situations; (3) the accentuation of discrimination phenomena; (4) the lack of protection against domestic violence; (5) the worsened conditions of people suffering from intellectual, mental, physical and learning disabilities; (6) the effects of digital divide, digital illiteracy and correlated inequalities in access and capacity to take advantage of the remote opportunities for learning, working and service provision across the population; (7) the threats on food supply and agricultural workforce; and, overall, (8) the disruption of economic activities having a heavy impact on SMEs and liberal professions, as well as trade relations and consumers’ habits.

The main challenges faced by the CSOs’ operations and mission included: (1) the shift to telework and the varied degree of preparedness, which in some cases was affected by the low digital literacy of workers and users and the lack of appropriate digital tools, equipment and infrastructure; (2) the sudden increase of the demand for basic services in their communities, as well as he interruption of many health and social care; (3) the need to produce or reinforce information due to the huge increase of requests for clear, up-to-date and easy-to-access information about the pandemic evolution, the restrictions, and the extraordinary services and aids put in place.

In this context, CSOs are also facing a reduction in donations, impossibility to organize and run activities for fund-raising, which weakens their ability to response. Therefore, “CSOs across Europe are calling the attention of European institutions on the financing difficulties.” The study shows that 33% of the respondents CSOs have seen their operations strongly affected by COVID-19, 30% of them expect lower revenues in 2020 than in 2019, and 42% have flagged that they will meet higher costs for rise in demand of services or for the need to invest to adapt facilities, with IT or other physical equipment.

According to the picture the study is showing, European institutions and national and regional governments should concentrate their political efforts and financial resources on six main areas:

  • Foster and encourage new solidarity and new form of social activism while promoting links and cross-fertilisation mechanisms between newly emerged groups and established CSOs.
  • Tackle the risks and take advantage of the opportunities brought by digitalization.
  • Promote youth engagement and innovative programmes to encourage job creation linked to civic action.
  • Equip CSOs with the needed skills and resources to take the most advantage from networking, national and international cooperation.
  • Relieve bureaucracy and administrative burdens.
  • Engage CSOs in the design of climate- and environment-friendly recovery plans.

The analysis carried out by EESC have again underlined the CSOs’ role in the next recovery period and the need to reinforce their capability and sustainability towards the promotion of a fairer, more equal and sustainable society.

Author: Linn Rasimelli (EGINA)

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