The Anxiety of the Twenty Twenties: The Quest For Relevance of Civil Society Organisations in a Digital World

29th May 2020 by Karl Steinacker

The roaring 20s are long gone. A century exactly. Todays’ Twenty Twenties add to the already existing anxieties of financial meltdowns, downward social mobility, random violence, unwelcome migration, and global warming that of fear of a virus stricken planet. But this fearful narrative knows a silver lining too: Digitalization. In the absence of a medical cure or preventive immunization, digitalization is regarded as the second best option: telework and video conferencing, virus tracking, and digital health.

Progrom against jews in medeval Europe during the times of “Black Death”
Progrom against jews in medeval Europe during the times of “Black Death”

Well, one might argue that hope is the better option in responding to collective anxieties given that desperation and conspiracy theories around pandemics have in history often ended in outbreaks of barbaric violence. Hope is not to be dismissed but a fundamental feature of continued human existence. Nevertheless, unkept promises and false expectations might exacerbate an already volatile situation. Where does this leave Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and where lies their relevance in a world of increasing anxieties and digitalization?

Digitalization before Covid-19

In recent years a number of ideas emerged on how digitalization and globalization, as intertwined processes, affect people. Short and sketchy theories were developed, such as on the Globals, Mobals, and Locals[1].

Stratification, as a result of both digitalization and globalization, has produced winners and losers: « losers of the globalization process seek to protect themselves through protectionist measures and through an emphasis on the maintenance of national boundaries and independence. Winners, by contrast, who benefit from the increased competition, support the opening up of the national boundaries and the process of international integration.»

The industrial revolution of the 19th century brought with it the labour movement, the trade unions, and collective bargaining.  The decreasing importance of industrial production in Western Countries, the ascent of a neo-liberal ideologies also helped CSOs to gain importance. These organizations fill the void left behind by a retreating State and a weakened labour movement. Bargaining power was replaced by advocacy while fund raising and private philanthropy took the place of welfare programmes financed by taxes.

The economic consequences of digitalization and neoliberalism have resulted in cultural and political conflict, amplified in digital spaces, whereby one side holds universalistic conceptions of community and advocates individual autonomy while the other emphasizes the right to preserve traditional communities and their moral understandings. In extreme cases this » nativism » combines nationalism and xenophobia. The antagonism between winners and losers of globalization has been described as a conflict between integration and demarcation.

Some scholars suggest that digitalization and globalization lead to a dual labor market: one consisting of insiders and outsiders. Insiders have long-term contracts and secure well-paying jobs; they support status quo. Outsiders, who are unemployed or in temporary work, form of the basis of populist reaction[2]. The social problems of the gig economy have been widely described and researched[3]. The gig economy is the frontline in the battle for the future of industrial relations. It is about the ability of employees to retain rights and benefits for themselves and their families. And there is little hope that advocacy[4] can do the trick: The gig economy needs new power relationships that allow for effective collective bargaining.

In the current Covid-19 crisis new cleavages have been observed between the (privileged) “Remotes” and the more disadvantaged “Essentials, Unpaid, and Forgotten”[5]. In France, the trade unions launched a public debate on the perceived injustice of white collar workers allowed to earn income by distancing themselves from potential infection, while blue collar workers are still called to the shop floor risking their health[6].

In short, at the outset of the 2020s, digitalization often drives discontent and resentment linked to modernization and globalization. It feeds anxieties. In fact, some analysts go even further and interpret the entire Covid-19 response policies in western countries as guided by the interest of an aging electorate imposing an economic lock-down policy to the detriment of younger and economically active segments of society and their children, for their own physical protection and channel resources into the build-up of extended health sector capacities for groups at risk, which means mainly for themselves[7].potential infection, while blue collar workers are still called to the shop floor risking their health[6].

 

20th Century Flashback

There have been times of collective anxiety and conflict before. And while we should not overstate the gravity of problems of our generation, such as a pandemic, an economic downturn and a serious ecological crisis, it might help to look back. Let’s remind ourselves that the 20th century wasn’t spared of crisis situations either and offers clues for today and the future. First, during that period of time, technological innovation continued and the industrial revolution wasn’t reversed despite all differences in ideology and governance. It was with regard to the latter, that major differences occurred: On the one hand, authoritarian and violent models that propagated class struggle, racism, and social Darwinism pitching, on the other hand, against capitalist expansion, a new deal and the idea of the welfare state, structural exploitation through markets, and social engineering that maintained democratic and participatory discourses. This in turn allowed for the inclusion of women and social minorities into the mainstream of socio-economic development.

It is important to stress that both 20th century solutions were State driven. It is the “strong State and big Government” that resolves anxiety and conflict weighing on the collective mind of societies.

 

Why people-centred digitalization?

If the Covid-19 pandemic is the defining moment of a new era of anxiety that will become the 2020s, then CSOs are facing a number of serious challenges: First and foremost, anxiety breeds the desire for a “strong State” which might be tempted to curtail the space for CSOs but not necessarily. Secondly, CSOs need to be aware that digitalization and globalization is not in all cases perceived positively by those marginalized groups they aim to serve. To the contrary, ICSOs may even be seen as part of the “integration camp”, i.e. experience problems of legitimacy, acceptance, and trust.

While it may be true that CSOs have subscribed to digital rights, ethical standards and alike, digitalization can’t be a purpose in itself but must take into account the real and perceived consequences it has on the people for which CSOs advocate, serve and seek to empower. Operationalizing a people-centred approach to digitalization and globalization is the only way to give credence to the universal principles driving the work of CSOs. They must address power imbalances in the digital space and try to create bargaining power. Advocacy that relies on the funds of the philanthropic power holders is unlikely to be successful. Hence, the digitalization efforts of CSOs should focus on advocating for, serving and empowering people. CSOs have an obligation to fight marginalization caused by digitalization. Digital tools have to serve the socio-economic inclusion and self-determination of otherwise disadvantaged and disenfranchised strata of the population. CSOs cannot accept a gig economy that is disempowering and a digital space where the individual is reduced to a digital consumer and/or worker rather than having the attributes of a cyber citizen.

 

Sectoral Issues: Covid-19 Response and Digital Health

The Covid-19 crisis is often cited as a water shed, showcasing the benefits and, thus, accelerating the digital transformation of our societies. That can only be true if CSOs succeed in operationalizing people-centred digitalization strategies.

Given the critical public health situation most countries are currently experiencing, it seems fitting to choose an aspect of digital health to explain what is meant in practical terms by people-centred digitalization. Well before the Covid-19 crisis, the promotion started of a “Consumer-centric Health Care System”: Rather than the inpatient, the outpatient setting will become the optimal medium of care. One’s home will become an important new location of care, and virtual care will broaden access to healthcare in rural areas, especially in emerging economies[8]. When the Covid-19 crisis hit the Italian town of Bergamo earlier this year, local doctors published an open letter stating:

“The example shows that leveraging innovation in digital health may lead to different outcomes:  The term consumer hints towards a concept that regards health care as a commodity, part of a value chain that delivers revenue while the open letter talks about patients and health workers. In the end terminology means little as long as it is understood that only digital health delivered in the framework of universal health care is empowering.« This disaster could be averted only by massive deployment of outreach services. Pandemic solutions are required for the entire population, not only for hospitals. Home care and mobile clinics avoid unnecessary movements and release pressure from hospitals … This approach would limit hospitalization to a focused target of disease severity, thereby decreasing contagion, protecting patients and health care workers, and minimizing consumption of protective equipment … This outbreak is more than an intensive care phenomenon, rather it is a public health and humanitarian crisis. It requires social scientists, epidemiologists, experts in logistics, psychologists, and social workers. We urgently need humanitarian agencies who recognize the importance of local engagement.[9]

The example shows that leveraging innovation in digital health may lead to different outcomes:  The term consumer hints towards a concept that regards health care as a commodity, part of a value chain that delivers revenue while the open letter talks about patients and health workers. In the end terminology means little as long as it is understood that only digital health delivered in the framework of universal health care is empowering.

And what applies to digital health is equally valid for other sectors, such as eLearning, digital identity, the digital labour market, etc., where people-centred approaches aim to empower many rather than generating revenues for few.

[1] www.binghamsplace.com/uploads/4/8/0/5/4805013/globals_locals_mobals.pdf

[2] Mayer, Nonna, Allison Rovny, Jan Rovny and Nicolas Sauger. 2015. “Outsiderness, Social Class, and Votes in the 2014 European Elections.” Revue européenne des sciences sociales 1(53)

[3] www.ft.com/content/ba7b6762-1b9c-11e7-a266-12672483791a and www.mitbestimmung.de/html/a-blow-against-bogus-self-employment-12816.html

[4] Check for global principles for fair work in the platform economy  https://fair.work/?lang=en

[5] www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/25/covid-19-pandemic-shines-a-light-on-a-new-kind-of-class-divide-and-its-inequalities

[6] www.latribune.fr/economie/france/covid-19-le-confinement-met-en-lumiere-un-fosse-entre-cols-blancs-et-cols-bleus-843187.html

[7] www.mediapart.fr/journal/international/240420/johann-chapoutot-merkel-parle-des-adultes-macron-des-enfants

[8] http://reports.weforum.org/digital-transformation/building-the-healthcare-system-of-the-future/

[9] https://catalyst.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/CAT.20.0080

Karl Steinacker

Digital Advisor

International Civil Society Centre

Karl joined the Centre in June 2019 after a professional career in institutions of German technical co-operation and as humanitarian manager in the United Nations. He spent years in conflict zones, such as the Gaza Strip, the Great Lakes region in Central Africa, and in the Sahel. He led multi-sectoral teams on data management, refugee registration and biometrics. At the ICS Centre he will work pro bono on issues relating to artificial intelligence, digital transformation, identity and trust as well as their impact on civil society in general and ICSOs in particular. Karl, born in 1960 in Germany, is a graduate of the Political Science faculty of the Free University of Berlin and studied Public International Law at Cambridge University.

COVID-19 Resources for Civil Society #9

28th May 2020 by Thomas Howie

This page is part of a series of COVID-19 resource pages that we are creating to help civil society actors.

Click here to view all available pages.

Click here for our latest events news.

On this page, you will find links to readings, podcasts and videos related to the latest COVID-19 news and analysis. If you have a recommendation or a suggestion, let us know. Many thanks to our volunteer researcher Ineke Stemmet.

The sections are:

Staying up-to-date: Links to sites that will keep you abreast of important developments related to our sector and the latest news.

Strategic: We look at the impact and responses to COVID-19 in a general and intersectional way (i.e. impacts on human rights, climate change, etc).

Policy: Civil society’s policies that respond to challenges posed by COVID-19.

Operational: A list of what your organisation can do now to navigate these unprecedented times.

    1. Staying up-to-Date

    2. Strategic

    Biodiversity and Climate Change

      Cities and Urbanisation

      • Building Better Cities After COVID-19 (Podcast) (Exponential View)
        How do we build better cities after the coronavirus crisis? The World Bank’s Sameh Wahba joins Azeem Azhar to discuss how the World Bank partners with technologists to help cities on the frontline of the pandemic, and how the dynamism of urban density can be harnessed to build the livable and inclusive cities of the future.
      • Coronavirus will reshape our cities – we just don’t know how yet (The Guardian)
        The development of cities has been by affected by the disease for centuries, so what legacy will COVID-19 leave on urban life?

      Civic Space and Human Rights

      • Coronavirus response in West Africa and the Sahel: Human rights must not be forgotten (The African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes)
        This article analyses the positive response of West African countries, countries in the Sahel, and the global community to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes responsible multilateralism and prioritising inclusion and equality.
      • Fit for the future: Can we emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis? (Alliance Magazine)
        Civil society was not ready for COVID-19. Benjamin Bellegy (WINGS), Chris Worman (TechSoup) and Lysa John (CIVICUS) discuss the investments needed in civil society and its philanthropic and technical infrastructure, and the actions we must take to emerge wiser and stronger from the current crisis and to be prepared for crises to come.

      Conflict and Humanitarian

      • How the coronavirus increases terrorism threats in the developing world (The Conversation)
        As the disease wreaks its havoc in areas poorly equipped to handle its spread, terrorism likely will increase there as well. Recent research identifies a potential link between the pandemic and an uptick in violence, as food insecurity makes citizens angry at their governments.

      Data and Digital

        Futures

        Gender Equality

            Governance

            Multilateralism and international cooperation

            • African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) Report comment: towards a new post-COVID-19 world order? (Institute for Security Studies)
              International relations experts agree the pandemic will be a major catalyst for new dynamics in the international system. The resulting shifts have the potential to redefine inter-state relations and global governance in ways that require Africa and the global South, in general, to reposition themselves. We are likely to see increased competition between the US and China, rising nationalism and weak global leadership.

            Narratives

            Pandemic Specific Consequences and Responses (economic, health & social impacts)

            Populism and Authoritarianism

            • Culling the Herd: A Modest Proposal (London Review of Books)
              A provocative commentary by Eli Zaretsky stating that the poor masses were wilfully deprived of health care in the same way it was made to believe that it had no right entitled to jobs, housing and good schools.

                  3. Policy

                 4. Operational

              ,

              Thomas Howie

              Communications Coordinator

              International Civil Society Centre

              Thomas joined the Centre in June 2017 as the Communications Coordinator. He is responsible for developing and implementing the Centre’s global communication strategy, as well as the Disrupt & Innovate platform – a place for civil society professionals and activists to discuss current innovations and future trends in the civil society sector. Prior to the Centre, Thomas worked for 5 years in the European Parliament firstly as the Digital and Social Media Coordinator for the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, and then, after the 2014 European elections, for Jude Kirton-Darling and Paul Brannen as Head of Communications, where he worked on issues such as the EU-US trade deal, issues around Brexit and as a specialist on the Petitions Committee. Thomas graduated from Bristol University with BSci in Geographical Sciences and holds an MA in Peace Studies from the University of Bradford, where he completed research into the role of civil society in the post war peace settlement in northern Uganda.

              Sharing lessons, in solidarity, more crucial than ever as COVID-19 makes acute situations for ICSOs worse

              26th May 2020 by Deborah Doane

              This blog is written by Deborah Doane, who along with Sarah Pugh, authored a series of pilot case studies on civil society solidarity. The six case studies analyse how civil society organisations and coalitions are developing resilience and showing solidarity in response to undue scrutiny and clampdowns.

              We heard last week that Oxfam was making drastic cuts to its organisation worldwide, – phasing “out 18 of its country offices”. This comes as a result of the compounding impacts of the 2018 Haiti safeguarding scandal, and the more recent COVID-19 pandemic. Both have resulted in exponential drops in income for the organisation. Tragically, it has had to make these cuts deeply and rapidly. Staff and partners will no doubt be reeling from the announcement, as other international civil society organisations (ICSOs) look on and perhaps wonder about their fate. 

              Many of the countries where Oxfam will be withdrawing from are experiencing shrinking civic space: Tanzania, Egypt, Burundi, amongst others. In these countries’ civic space environments, civil society is routinely attacked, restricted from operating in a way that enables them to do their work effectively. ICSOs were not immune to these attacks by governments, as some work – especially that with a rights-based lens — would have been difficult to continue on an ongoing basis, long before COVID-19.  

              Oxfam’s measures put into stark light the need for us to look at the role of international civil society on a broader basis. For people in southern civil society, they have increasingly been calling on ICSOs to work with them from a position of solidarity. In a time of rapid change in international civil society, and drastic cutbacks such as these, what would it look like? How can we ensure that an ICSO withdrawal doesn’t lead to even more rapid shrinking civic space, as we’re already starting to see with restrictions imposed as a result of the pandemic? Some national governments, worryingly, will be seeing Oxfam’s announcement as a vindication of their attacks on international civil society actors. 

              My colleague, Sarah Pugh and I, have been working with civil society and philanthropy for several years now, to understand how we can support the enabling environment for civil society more effectively. Last year, we worked with the International Civil Society Centre by creating a “Solidarity Playbook” that include pilot case studies of ICSO responses to closing civic space and learned some key lessons about what solidarity looked like in the face of it. What we found was that ICSOs played an important role in working in solidarity and partnership with local actors. We also found that some of these – if not all – do not necessarily require an in-country presence to support them. 

              I want to highlight some of the key findings from across the case studies were: 

              • Maintain solid defences. When governments attack, the basics are important. In India, for example, thousands of small civil groups were denied the ability to receive foreign funding just for failing to complete their paperwork correctly. In one of the case studies, Action Aid found this was critical for their survival when they were attacked in Uganda. All organisations can be ensuring that relevant legislation is adhered to and supporting their partners in this endeavour. Infrastructure and resources are needed for this – from accountants to legal advice, but our own learning from other work shows that these can be pooled and shared across civil society.  
              • Working with local civil society on joint strategies. Engaging in scenario planning about what closing space might be bringing can help to understand and manage these risks, and identify both contingencies and offence strategies – like joint advocacy and framing work to combat the threats. In Nigeria, the Action Group on Free Civic Space includes 60 organisations working to create a unified sector voice in the face of a range of restrictions on civic space, including in the digital sphere. Amnesty International in this case, played a role in supporting the formalisation of a cross-sector network of local and national actors, which worked hard to find common ground and approaches, so that when risks surface that threaten civic space, they can respond as one.
              • Raising awareness of the importance of civil and political space, and of why it should be defended and expanded. Organisations can’t do this in isolation: they need to work in coalition with others to address these risks, as in the face of closing space many of them are systemic. When Islamic Relief was targeted by smear campaigns in the US, which were motivated by Islamaphobia and aimed at removing their state funding, their membership in the Together Project and InterAction ensured a broad advocacy response from peers acting in solidarity. They succeeded in countering the damaging narratives being spread by those opposed to their operations, so that they, and others, can continue their important work in many of the most challenging and complex environments. Their ongoing work on fighting ‘bank de-risking’ is important across civil society globally, to ensure that funds can be received and local civil society can function. 

              Prior to COVID-19, challenges about responding to closing civic space were myriad, from getting institutional buy-in, to maintaining coalition work. On coalition work, in particular, which feels acutely important as organisations may be receding from the field, what we found was that while it was easy to galvanise coalitions in the immediate face of any government attacks, coalitions tended to drift after the threat subsided. Unfortunately, this gave governments an opening to come back down the line and seek to restrict space repeatedly. Organisations will now be dealing with the immediate issues of COVID-19. Thus, prioritising keeping collaborative relationships across civil society to respond to this as a collective will be an even greater challenge, but even more critical both for the emergency response and for the longer-term, too. 

              We know from countries where space closed, and where many international civil society actors had to withdraw, prior to things improving, such as Tunisia or Ethiopia, that survival of local civil society relied on ongoing relationships with international actors who worked with them in solidarity on a range of human rights and other issues. Service delivery may be closing for Oxfam in some countries, but solidarity itself, especially on an issue like civic space, can actually be strengthened. Indeed Oxfam’s work on inequality gives a good indication of what can be done. 

              When ICSOs are facing significant income loss and for many staff members, the loss of their own day-to-day livelihoods, or confronting COVID-19 in their own personal and professional lives, adding ‘closing civic space’ to the list of things they need to worry about, seems like a very tall order. But civil society’s survival relies on it being front and centre of any strategy right now and beyond. 

              ,

              Deborah Doane

              -

              -

              Deborah Doane is a writer and consultant, who has worked across civil society for over twenty years as a leader, campaigner and analyst, covering human rights, development, environment and economic justice issues. Most recently, she was the Director of the Funders’ Initiative for Civil Society, and now works in a portfolio capacity with a range of clients in philanthropy and civil society. She is a partner of RightsCoLab a think tank where she works on the future of civil society. She blogs regularly for the Guardian on International Development and civil society issues.

              COVID-19 Resources for Civil Society #8

              20th May 2020 by Thomas Howie

              This page is part of a series of COVID-19 resource pages that we are creating to help civil society actors.

              Click here to view all available pages.

              Click here for our latest events news.

              On this page, you will find links to readings, podcasts and videos related to the latest COVID-19 news and analysis. If you have a recommendation or a suggestion, let us know. Many thanks to our volunteer researcher Ineke Stemmet.

              The sections are:

              Staying up-to-date: Links to sites that will keep you abreast of important developments related to our sector and the latest news.

              Strategic: We look at the impact and responses to COVID-19 in a general and intersectional way (i.e. impacts on human rights, climate change, etc).

              Policy: Civil society’s policies that respond to challenges posed by COVID-19.

              Operational: A list of what your organisation can do now to navigate these unprecedented times.

                  1. Staying up-to-Date

                  2. Strategic

                Biodiversity and Climate Change

                  Civic Space and Human Rights

                  • How Africa can reduce COVID-19’s impact on displaced persons (Institute for Security Studies)
                    Africa’s 25.2 million refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons are some of the most vulnerable groups to COVID-19. This article explores the ways in which African states can protect these vulnerable groups.
                  • Imagining our Post-Pandemic Futures (Open Global Rights)
                    COVID-19 is challenging the human rights movement to adapt, transform, and look ahead—so as to meet urgent demands now while laying the groundwork for a better future. This Up Close series explores the glimpses this pandemic has provided of what a better future could look like and asks just what kind of human rights practice is needed now to get us there.

                  Data and Digital

                  Food security

                  Futures

                  • Four Pathways to Better Decisions (Global Dashboard)
                    How do you make good decisions when you’re playing (COVID-19) whack-a-mole? Here are four recommendations to improve decision-making: (i) form an independent red-team, (ii) empower a ‘mole-spotting’ unit, (iii) embrace foresight to manage risks and (iv) build in real feedback loops. This is how experimentation feeds learning and defers to frontline expertise.
                  • Why coronavirus may make the world more accessible (BBC Future)
                    For many people with disabilities, options like remote working have been needed for years. Workplaces around the world have now made this shift. Are there other ways the world could become more accessible, too?

                  Gender Equality

                      Pandemic Specific Consequences and Responses (economic, health & social impacts)

                            3. Policy

                        • A Call to Action on Open Budgets during the COVID-19 Response (From Poverty to Power)
                          Countries now have a choice about where their response to this crisis will lead — either to less transparency and trust or to more openness and accountability. More than 100 organisations have signed the Call to Action urging governments to choose the more open path.
                        • A Perfect Storm: Domestic violence, economic hardship and COVID-19 in Latin America (Care International)
                          We are faced with a historic responsibility to help shape whether COVID-19 is remembered as a moment in which global solidarity is forged and political will is mobilised in support of a more equal, inclusive, sustainable and just world order where women and girls are central to the response – or whether gender equality (in Latin America) is set back by decades.
                        • Corruption risks in Southern Africa’s response to the coronavirus (Transparency International)
                          Six Southern African chapters from Transparency International and the Botswana Center for Public Integrity are urging the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to accelerate governments’ response to the global pandemic and ensure that additional lives are not lost to corruption.
                        • COVID-19 and mixed population movements: emerging dynamics, risks and opportunities (UNHCR / IOM)
                          In this discussion paper, the UN agencies UNHCR (refugees) and IOM (migrants) take stock of what they are already observing and anticipate developing as the COVID-19 crisis evolves in countries of origin, countries hosting large refugee and migrant populations, countries of transit as well as countries of destination.
                        • Rethinking anti-corruption for COVID-19 (From Poverty to Power)
                          In many countries, corruption and governance constraints will limit the rapid scaling up of responses to COVID-19. This will not only undermine treatment responses but result in cycles of unsustainable lockdowns and massive economic deprivation.
                        • The COVID Crisis Is Reinforcing the Hunger Industrial Complex (MIT Press Reader)
                          In the United States, miles-long lines of motorists waiting for a few sacks of groceries have become seared into the public imagination demonstrating that charity has become the governing metaphor of the pandemic response, replacing justice, which itself has been placed on a ventilator.
                        • World leaders unite in call for a people’s vaccine against COVID-19 (Oxfam)
                          More than 140 world leaders and experts have signed an open letter calling on all governments to unite behind a people’s vaccine against COVID-19. The letter, which marks the most ambitious position yet set out by world leaders on a COVID-19 vaccine, demands that all vaccines, treatments and tests be patent-free, mass-produced, distributed fairly and made available to all people, in all countries, free of charge.

                          

                        ,

                        Thomas Howie

                        Communications Coordinator

                        International Civil Society Centre

                        Thomas joined the Centre in June 2017 as the Communications Coordinator. He is responsible for developing and implementing the Centre’s global communication strategy, as well as the Disrupt & Innovate platform – a place for civil society professionals and activists to discuss current innovations and future trends in the civil society sector. Prior to the Centre, Thomas worked for 5 years in the European Parliament firstly as the Digital and Social Media Coordinator for the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, and then, after the 2014 European elections, for Jude Kirton-Darling and Paul Brannen as Head of Communications, where he worked on issues such as the EU-US trade deal, issues around Brexit and as a specialist on the Petitions Committee. Thomas graduated from Bristol University with BSci in Geographical Sciences and holds an MA in Peace Studies from the University of Bradford, where he completed research into the role of civil society in the post war peace settlement in northern Uganda.

                        COVID-19 puts the spotlight on the relevance and effectiveness of civil society 

                        20th May 2020 by Charles Kojo Vandyck

                        Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the world has witnessed a tumultuous couple of months. This pandemic has changed in diverse ways relations and interactions among community citizens and between citizens and institutions. Most countries have been at the mercy of this rampaging pandemic, and a key sector that has been put in the spotlight is civil society. 

                        It is important to state that the intrinsic value of civil society is attributed to its mission and power to mobilise citizens and communities to support social causes. COVID-19 has presented an existential threat to civil society’s relevance and legitimacy. These are vital principles that enable the sector to find expression, meaning and impact. 

                        There have been several discussions and conversations on various virtual platforms about the response of civil society to the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of adaptation of operations but also how effectively the sector is engaging with communities. The question that needs to be interrogated is, to what extent is civil society representative, responsive, collaborative, resilient and influential? And how do these elements relate to the sector’s effectiveness?

                        Representation

                        There are a serious of questions that need reflection and consideration as civil society seeks to ensure that representation brings tangible benefits to communities in these difficult times. They include, but are not limited to:

                        • Has civil society responded to the crisis in a way that shows that it is representing the interest of communities? 
                        • To what extent has civil society been able to “listen” to communities that it represents and integrate these engagements and ensure they are reflected in initiatives, programmes, and projects to respond to the needs of these communities? 
                        • What does representation mean in a pandemic situation? 
                        • Is representation only about numbers and metrics? Does it go beyond the notion that civil society gives voice? 
                        • And what does it mean to give voice to marginalised groups within a pandemic scenario? 
                        • Can we continue to do business as usual advocacy, or we need to think like “there is no box” and create new engagement tactics to navigate this uncertain future?
                        • What are the new forms and strategies for building solidarity that we need to employ? 

                        While reflecting on these questions, it will be pertinent to recognise that civil society as a sector encompasses a wide range of actors. 

                        Whereas, diversity should have been synonymous with strong representation power, the lack of clear and consensual standards and mechanisms by which citizens can authorise representation and ensure accountability and responsiveness constitutes a significant impediment to the sector’s representativeness.

                        Responsiveness

                        Several actors have argued that in the first two months when the pandemic garnered global attention, civil society was in a “coma” like state. The sector was clearly at a loss as to how to react, help and engage with its various partners and communities. Even though projects implemented by civil society usually have a component of risk management, the ongoing pandemic can be described as a black swan, a metaphor that often describes an event that comes as a surprise has a significant effect.

                        Admittedly, some projects may have included in their risk assessment the possibility of a local epidemic outbreak as a major risk that could affect project outcomes. However, it would be highly unlikely that project designs considered the possibility of a global pandemic and mitigation strategies to respond to it. 

                        Therefore, it has become apparent that civil society must develop a collaborative to conduct scenario analysis and emergency response planning quickly. It also appears that civil society as a sector has a lot to learn. Therefore, there is a need to ensure that there are comprehensive learnings and documentation of the current COVID-19 responses to guide more effective and responsive future interventions in crises. 

                        Collaboration

                        COVID-19 has demonstrated that pockets of excellence and passionate individual efforts are welcome but are not enough. The pandemic has shown that the greatest possibility for change will be civil society’s collective efforts. Civil society is being challenged to elevate its ways of working and operational strategies. Civil society must deepen its partnerships and work more intimately beyond thematic and cluster interests.

                        The challenge is for social justice, humanitarian, and environmental groups to work together in a seamless and coordinated way to leave no one behind. Indeed, this is a time for a cohesive and coordinated response to the issues that affect humanity. Civil society should not approach issues in an insular manner, but work collectively using individual strengths, with mutual respect and most importantly bringing communities along, ensuring they are at the forefront of the changes that need to happen. This is the season to develop cross-sector innovative partnerships with government and the private sector that stretch beyond civil society’s inner circles. 

                        Resilience

                        Civil society can achieve the above milestones if the sector itself is resilient. To do so, means groupings in both organic and organised forms are strong and robust. This includes having the capability to adapt quickly to emergencies, sustain their causes and more pertinently the “engine” for achieving these social outcomes. Therefore, the issue of financial and non-financial resources becomes critical. The challenge is for civil society especially in the global south to explore different avenues for mobilising funding and expertise, reducing the dependence on external aid but looking internally, building capacities to access financing from domestic communities. This would help to build sustained resilience, not resilience to implement projects but resilience to sustain social change. 

                        Influence

                        Positively, civil society continues to influence major social and policy changes in communities around the world. However, COVID-19, and the impacts arising from the virus, challenge civil society to scale up its influence and ability to make a significant dent on reducing poverty and inequality in communities. It has become crystal clear that as a sector, civil society cannot achieve major transformations working alone. 

                        For civil society to contribute significantly to the achievement of the sustainable development goals and to ensure that no one is left behind, the sector must engage in a robust, respectful and collaborative manner with governments, the private sector, traditional communities, religious bodies and family associations. 

                        Civil society’s ability to act as a catalyst and as a platform for citizens to share their views is vital. The sector must ensure that its influence shapes the culture of governance, democratisation, and the promotion of basic freedoms. Civil society’s influence must extend beyond policy prescriptions, open letters, advocacy campaigns and reports to real, relevant, and tangible progress, especially of marginalised communities. 

                        Opportunity in Uncertainty

                        History has shown us that within times of uncertainty; there is always opportunity. These are challenging times, but it also presents an opportunity for civil society to harness its years of experience of organising, enabling community engagement, holding government and stakeholders accountable to step up to the current challenges. Civil society must respond to this “new normal” to ensure that beyond rhetoric, it leverages its assets, including its representative and responsiveness nature, collaborative potential, resilience, and influence. This is the time for civil society to cement its position as an indispensable catalyst for sustained social change and community-led action. 

                         

                        Charles Kojo Vandyck

                        Head, Capacity Development Unit

                        West Africa Civil Society Institute

                        The Author, Charles Kojo Vandyck is West Africa Civil Society Institute’s Head, Capacity Development Unit

                        Populism and Civic Engagement: Engaging citizens to strengthen Europe’s democratic foundations

                        14th May 2020 by Bernardo Jurema

                        Ahead of an upcoming update to our 2019 report on ‘Civil Society Innovation and Populism in a Digital Era’, the Centre has invited guest blogs from new contributors we have heard from about their interesting initiatives to respond to the challenges posed by populism. Since last year, The Democratic Society has been involved in the ‘Populism and Civic Engagement (PaCE)’ project running citizen ‘democracy labs’ across Europe. We asked Bernardo Jurema, Research & Project Officer, to tell us more about this experience so far.

                        A project to understand populist movements across Europe

                        The ‘Populism and Civic Engagement (PaCE)’ project, a Horizon 2020 project funded by the European Commission, involves us at the Democratic Society and eight other partners across Europe. We are aiming to understand different aspects of populist movements, identify and build upon lessons from positive examples of connecting with citizens, and through this play a part in constructing a firmer democratic and institutional foundation for Europe.

                        Over the last decade in Europe, particularly after the 2008 financial crisis, there has been a rise of political forces loosely labeled as “populist,” that question the prevailing liberal order of the last 40 years. PaCE intends to respond to the illiberal and un- or anti-democratic tendencies of these populist movements.

                        By involving people’s voices throughout the project, especially those of minorities and under-represented groups, in a transparent, open and welcoming way, PaCE aims to strengthen our research process and legitimise our results.

                        Putting dialogue and ‘democracy labs’ at the centre

                        The polarisation of societies across Europe at the root of populism — particularly between perceived “elites” and an imagined “ordinary people” – makes the need for a structured process for dialogue between decision-makers, researchers and the public especially necessary. PaCE has therefore put dialogue at the centre of our actions, recognising the general public and civil society actors as key interlocutors with legitimate views, concerns and claims that will benefit our research.

                        These dialogue forums, our ‘democracy labs’, seek to overcome the distance, whether actual or imagined, between the general public and the economic, political and intellectual elites that fuel populist movements. Through them, we aim to better understand how citizens’ attitudes towards democracy are shaped, how they access and evaluate which information they can trust, and how this process influences their voting decisions.

                        Local civil society organisations (CSOs) are key partners for our labs because of the role they play within local communities. As multipliers, they reach specific target audiences, and can also incorporate the research findings into their own work aiming at strengthening democracy across Europe.

                        The labs will take place in several European countries to both complement and disseminate our research findings. We have held two so far: one with under-represented members of the public in Messina, Italy, and one in Brussels, Belgium, with stakeholders from EU institutions.

                        Our first democracy lab with members of the public in Messina, Sicily, Italy

                        The last few decades in Italy has seen a decline in party-based representation, a rise in populist protest movements, and new media dynamics leading to personalisation and anti-intellectualism. Former Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has explained that the traditional political parties have failed to address citizens’ concerns whilst populist parties are seen as posing the “right questions”.

                        Since 2017, the island of Sicily has been governed by the Diventerà Bellissima party, a regional affiliate of the Brothers of Italy (FdI), the national party seen as the main heir to the Italian neo-fascist conservative movement. Messina, the third largest city on Sicily, was therefore a particularly interesting location for our first citizen democracy lab.

                        Our lab took place in the city’s public library, a neutral meeting space for participants of all backgrounds and affiliations, in September 2019. Our two local civil society partners – Associazione Ionio Messina and Startup Messina – brought in their language skills and local expertise to help ensure representative participation, reduce the barriers to civic engagement and take ownership of the process beyond the lab itself.

                        Local participants were of different age groups and social backgrounds. One woman found the  experience ‘very significant and motivating’: “ …I got the chance to talk with people I didn’t know before, of which I have absolutely no idea about their political opinions. With them, I have argued about relevant topics, such as conscious approach to voting….These meetings should be planned more often, involving more people…it would be nice to be able to discuss our ideas with many others”.

                        Our second lab with EU policymakers in Brussels, Belgium

                        In contrast to Messina, our Brussels lab was attended by professionals already working on democracy issues, and included policymakers and EU staff, as part of the 2019 European Public Communication Conference (EuroPCOM). The session was a real-time simulation of citizen participation around the question of how we can make our democracy stronger, with our specific focus on: ‘what needs to be done to ensure informed voting?’

                        The discussion revolved around innovative new forms of citizen engagement to address populism in the EU, the need to include emotions and values in our communication, and the responsibilities inherent to citizenship.

                        The main takeaways that emerged from this lab were the importance of:

                        • access to neutral, objective, non-partisan information,
                        • tackling disinformation and prioritising transparency,
                        • fostering better relations between citizens and politicians, and
                        • focusing on broader education that includes critical thinking and media literacy.

                        Join our upcoming labs!

                        With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we have moved the next upcoming democracy labs across Europe online. This gives us the opportunity to bring stakeholders from different countries together to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak based on the varied governmental response measures and strategies experienced across the continent.

                        With these upcoming labs, we will continue to engage with local CSOs to learn and put into practice innovative ways to engage with citizens. The report of each event will be shared publicly, and we also plan to present our broader findings at events and conferences to inform wider research efforts.

                        Local CSOs from across Europe interested in taking part or hosting one of our online labs can contact me at: bju10@demsoc.org.

                        Find out more about the project on Twitter and Facebook @popandce, or visit www.popandce.eu to sign up for our newsletter and stay updated on research developments.

                        Bernardo Jurema

                        Research & Project Officer - Populism and Civic Engagement (PaCE)

                        The Democratic Society

                        Bernardo Jurema is the Research & Project Officer (PaCE) at The Democratic Society. Previously, he worked at the International Crisis Group in Guatemala and Brussels, and with other non-governmental organisations in Brazil.

                        COVID-19 Resources for Civil Society #7

                        14th May 2020 by Thomas Howie

                        This page is part of a series of COVID-19 resource pages that we are creating to help civil society actors.

                        Click here to view all available pages.

                        Click here for our latest events news.

                        On this page, you will find links to readings, podcasts and videos related to the latest COVID-19 news and analysis. If you have a recommendation or a suggestion, let us know. Many thanks to our volunteer researcher Ineke Stemmet.

                        The sections are:

                        Staying up-to-date: Links to sites that will keep you abreast of important developments related to our sector and the latest news.

                        Strategic: We look at the impact and responses to COVID-19 in a general and intersectional way (i.e. impacts on human rights, climate change, etc).

                        Policy: Civil society’s policies that respond to challenges posed by COVID-19.

                        Operational: A list of what your organisation can do now to navigate these unprecedented times.

                            1. Staying up-to-Date

                            2. Strategic

                          Biodiversity and Climate Change

                          • Record global carbon dioxide concentrations despite COVID-19 crisis (UNEP – UN Environment Programme)
                            Despite local air quality improvements during the COVID-19 crisis, atmospheric CO2 concentration levels continue to rise, and fundamental shifts in global energy production are needed to achieve long-term reductions in CO2 concentration levels.

                            Data and Digital

                            • A guide to a healthy scepticism of artificial intelligence and coronavirus (The Brookings Institution)
                              This article looks into the limits of the effective use of artificial intelligence to help with the COVID-19 pandemic.
                            • COVID Tracing Tracker (MIT Technology Review)
                              Worldwide, there’s a deluge of apps that detect COVID-19 exposure, often with little transparency. The MIT Tracing Tracker project will document them.
                            • Et Big Brother prit le pouvoir! (L’Illustré, Switzerland)
                              Geolocation, generalised surveillance, ubiquitous social control via our smartphones: Is the coronavirus sounding the death knell for individual freedoms and giving rise to a totalitarian world, in Europe and Switzerland as everywhere else in the world?
                            • Opinion: We cannot allow COVID-19 to reinforce the digital gender divide (Devex)
                              Girls, women, and marginalised groups are least likely to have access to technology. This was already a dire disadvantage, and now, as the COVID-19 pandemic has moved so many aspects of daily life online, this lack of connectivity has become even more alarming.

                            Civic Space and Human Rights

                            • We Can Beat the Virus Only By Protecting Human Rights (Human Rights Watch )
                              Some governments are arguing that the COVID-19 pandemic leaves no space for human rights. This article argues the opposite – that respect for human rights during the pandemic will help save lives that would otherwise be lost to the virus.

                            Food security

                            • The link between food (in)security, peace and stability and COVID-19 (The African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes)
                              COVID-19 may have started as a public health emergency, but at this stage, the measures taken to contain the crisis have developed into an economic crisis, that has more of an impact on people’s livelihoods than the virus itself.

                            Futures

                            Gender Equality

                              Multilateralism and international cooperation

                              Pandemic Specific Consequences and Responses (economic, health & social impacts)

                                    3. Policy

                                • Closing the COVID-19 response transparency gap (ARTICLE 19)
                                  Blog on ARTICLE 19’s new report on ‘Ensuring the Public’s Right to Know in the COVID-19 Pandemic’ (listed here).
                                • Ensuring the Public’s Right to Know in the COVID-19 Pandemic (ARTICLE 19)
                                  ARTICLE 19’s new report warns the COVID-19 pandemic could have a negative impact on global freedom of information. 90% of the world’s population now lives in a country with a Right to Information law or policy, but this analysis highlights several threats to governments’ obligations on access to information and public health under human rights law.
                                • Joining Forces’ open letter and recommendations to world leaders on the COVID-19 crisis and child rights (WHO)
                                  The Joining Forces group of child rights organisations asks governments to put concrete steps in place to protect children during the COVID-19 crisis, to ensure access to nutritious food, appropriate supervision, healthcare, protection from violence, alternative education at home and reliable information on the crisis to help them cope with its psychological impact.
                                • Strengthening Preparedness for COVID-19 in Cities and Urban Settings (WHO)
                                  This document is to support local authorities, leaders and policy-makers in cities and other urban settlements in identifying effective approaches and implementing recommended actions for COVID-19 in urban settings, to ensure a robust response and eventual recovery. It covers factors unique to cities and urban settings, considerations in urban preparedness, key areas of focus and preparing for future emergencies.

                                    4. Operational

                                • 8 critical lessons leaders need to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis (and one that will surprise you) (Fast Company)
                                  We know that empathy and networking, for example, are important, but it’s how you approach these concepts now that will carry you out of crisis mode.
                                • Doing fieldwork in a pandemic (crowd-sourced document) (Deborah Lupton/Crowd-sourced)
                                  Isolation measures to contain COVID-19 means that social researchers need fieldwork ideas for avoiding in-person interactions by using mediated forms that will achieve similar ends. This crowdsourced document shares ideas for moving face-to-face methods into a more ‘hands-off’ mode, and useful material about ‘born digital’ social research.
                                • From lockdown to locked in, here’s what post-pandemic travel could look like (World Economic Forum)
                                  Gone are the days of short international travel, or long trips visiting multiple countries as it is likely that all countries striving to suppress COVID-19 infections will impose some kind of restrictions on international arrivals. Travellers should expect quarantine, self-isolation, and testing rules to persist.
                                • Jump-starting resilient and reimagined operations (McKinsey)
                                  COVID-19 has created an imperative for companies to reconfigure their operations, and an opportunity to transform them. The virus has shown that, when they align around a common purpose, operations teams can achieve goals that would have been considered impossible before the crisis. As they plan their transition to the next normal, companies are looking for ways to maintain this sense of purpose and speed.
                                • Guidelines for field-based staff (Islamic Relief Worldwide)
                                  This guidance seeks to assist our staff in operating safely during the coronavirus pandemic.
                                • Guidelines for fundraisers and volunteers (Islamic Relief Worldwide)
                                  This guidance seeks to assist IR’s fundraising staff and volunteers in operating safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
                                • Position statement for Advocacy (SOS Children’s Villages)
                                  This position statement from SOS Children’s Villages presents the key tasks necessary to ensure that the rights and needs of children without or at risk of losing parental care are prioritised by national, regional and international governments as they adopt measures to mitigate the short and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world.
                                • Protection of Children during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Children and Alternative Care – Immediate Response Measures (Better Care Network, the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action and UNICEF)
                                  This technical note aims to support child protection practitioners and government officials in their immediate support for children at risk of separation or in alternative care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
                                • Responding to COVID-19: Guidance for humanitarian agencies (ALNAP)
                                  How should humanitarian organisations prepare and respond to COVID-19 in humanitarian settings in low- and middle-income countries? This Rapid Learning Review outlines 14 actions, insights and ideas for humanitarian actors to consider in their COVID-19 responses. It summarises and synthesises the best available knowledge and guidance for developing a health response to COVID-19 in low- and middle-income settings as at April 2020.
                                ,

                                Thomas Howie

                                Communications Coordinator

                                International Civil Society Centre

                                Thomas joined the Centre in June 2017 as the Communications Coordinator. He is responsible for developing and implementing the Centre’s global communication strategy, as well as the Disrupt & Innovate platform – a place for civil society professionals and activists to discuss current innovations and future trends in the civil society sector. Prior to the Centre, Thomas worked for 5 years in the European Parliament firstly as the Digital and Social Media Coordinator for the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, and then, after the 2014 European elections, for Jude Kirton-Darling and Paul Brannen as Head of Communications, where he worked on issues such as the EU-US trade deal, issues around Brexit and as a specialist on the Petitions Committee. Thomas graduated from Bristol University with BSci in Geographical Sciences and holds an MA in Peace Studies from the University of Bradford, where he completed research into the role of civil society in the post war peace settlement in northern Uganda.

                                Sharing is caring: #SolidarityPlaybook case studies

                                12th May 2020 by Thomas Howie

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                                Learn how civil society organisations and coalitions are developing resilience and showing solidarity in response to undue scrutiny and clampdowns.

                                Producer: Julia Pazos

                                Links
                                Solidarity Playbook: Discover and Learn from our Pilot Case Studies – icscentre.org/2020/04/22/solidar…book-case-studies/
                                Solidarity Action Netowrk (SANE) – icscentre.org/our-work/solidarity-playbook/

                                , ,

                                Communications Manager

                                International Civil Society Centre

                                The Opportunity

                                7th May 2020 by Wolfgang Jamann

                                This article, by our Executive Director, is part of a collection of think-pieces by civil society leaders called “The Future of Civil Society Organisations” co-ordinated by International Council of Voluntary Agencies and the International Civil Society Centre, with a foreword by their respective Executive Directors. The writings focus on current challenges and opportunities brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. They are conversation starters over the transformations we want to see in society, and the humanitarian, social justice and environmental sector.

                                The Future of Civil Society Organisations (PDF)

                                 

                                In his book ‘The Great Leveller‘, the historian Walter Scheidel analyses how inequality in societies around the world has continuously, since the stone ages, worsened. His compelling piece describes the only three scenarios which have reduced inequalities significantly: wars, natural catastrophes and pandemics.

                                Scheidel is cautious in saying that a historical analysis does not predict the future. And frankly, reading his book in 2019 did not inspire hope and confidence for a concerned reader.

                                In April 2020, six weeks into the Corona pandemic, this feels different. While we’re still grappling with the painful comprehension and immediate management of the situation, our thoughts around a desired future start moving into the foreground. Doing away with inequalities, eliminating the gap between haves and have-nots and creating perspectives for people with lesser opportunities, is definitely part of that desired future.

                                Inequality is just one of the global injustices we want to overcome. Each of us, irrespective of organisational mandates, could name half a dozen threats to global justice – from ruthless wars to a broken food system, from the doom of climate change to political oppression. Over the past years, it has been painful, slow, sometimes seemingly hopeless to move forward on such big themes. And now? Is there a sudden opportunity to overcome these and heal the broken systems?

                                Well, certainly not by magic nor quickly. But the current crisis has shown previously unimaginable actions and reactions, and might as well be a watershed unfreezing of what we think is possible and not. Do we dare to articulate, with a stronger voice and determination, the transformations we want to see in the global societies?

                                Futurists and foresighters are currently looking at weak and strong signals on the post-Coronavirus situation. The most unlikely scenario will be ‘business as before’, once a solution – vaccine or treatment – is found. The biggest questions appear around so-called ‘systems changes’. Is the globalist, capitalist, financial and political system good enough in times of increasing global challenges? Where will our societies drift – back into nationalist and inward-looking behaviours, or forward towards global solidarity, interconnected actions and multilateral governance? And how will the current experience affect our dealing with ‘the other’ large global crisis around climate change?

                                Highly relevant to these future systems will be the role of organised civil society, whether it is aid, social discourse, political decision-making or framing the narratives that hold our societies together. We should not let others define the future of the values and systems that matter for civil society around the world.

                                Civil society’s most significant contribution to overcoming this crisis will be working in collaboration, focusing on solidarity and empathy. The humanistic values that bind us, and the societies we work in, demand that we are forward-looking and strategic in our actions, irrespective of the high operational pressures out there. Putting people, unorganised and organised civil society at the centre of post-Coronavirus planning is the task we need to unite behind and show collective leadership.

                                But we need more. To start with, the vision of a just and healthy planet, as articulated in the Sustainable Development Goals need refreshing. Following on from that, all major political and societal decisions need to be guided by that vision, by the ambition for a just society and clean environment.  

                                Here are some ideas. What if:

                                – People in the service sector, the formal and informal gig economy, are paid a living wage;

                                – Mass mobility is drastically reduced in lieu of ecologically sustainable ways to meet and communicate;

                                – Taxation is directed towards a stronger common good, and tax avoidance loop-holes closed and tax evasion penalties are enforced with lasting consequence;

                                – Reformed multilateral crisis mechanisms effectively ceasing wars and sanctioning crimes against humanity;

                                – Production and consumption patterns support local economies, protect the environment and foster healthy diets;

                                – Inclusion of the ‘bottom billion’ in digitalisation, job creation and public health care becomes a priority for development ambitions;

                                – Human rights principles and civic freedom move back into the centre of societal values discussions?

                                The list can be expanded. We need the courage and the determination not to waste this crisis. Only then, can we bring people together as a society that shows solidarity and cohesiveness in the current crisis and goes beyond the fragmentations and antagonisms that have characterised the past years. 

                                Wolfgang Jamann

                                Executive Director

                                International Civil Society Centre

                                Dr. Wolfgang Jamann is Executive Director of the International Civil Society Centre. Until January 2018 he was Secretary General and CEO of CARE International (Geneva). Before that he led NGO Deutsche Welthungerhilfe and the Alliance 2015, a partnership of 7 European aid organisations. From 2004-2009 he was CEO & Board member of CARE Deutschland-Luxemburg and President of the CARE Foundation. Previously, he worked for World Vision International as a regional representative in East Africa (Kenya) & Head of Humanitarian Assistance at WV Germany. After his Ph.D. dissertation in 1990 he started his career in development work at the German Foundation for International Development, later for the UNDP in Zambia. As a researcher and academic, he has published books and articles on East & Southeast Asia contributing to international studies on complex humanitarian emergencies and conflict management.

                                COVID-19 Resources for Civil Society #6

                                7th May 2020 by Thomas Howie

                                This page is part of a series of COVID-19 resource pages that we are creating to help civil society actors.

                                Click here to view all available pages.

                                Click here for our latest events news.

                                On this page, you will find links to readings, podcasts and videos related to the latest COVID-19 news and analysis. If you have a recommendation or a suggestion, let us know. Many thanks to our volunteer researcher Ineke Stemmet.

                                The sections are:

                                Staying up-to-date: Links to sites that will keep you abreast of important developments related to our sector and the latest news.

                                Strategic: We look at the impact and responses to COVID-19 in a general and intersectional way (i.e. impacts on human rights, climate change, etc).

                                Policy: Civil society’s policies that respond to challenges posed by COVID-19.

                                Operational: A list of what your organisation can do now to navigate these unprecedented times.

                                    1. Staying up-to-Date

                                    2. Strategic

                                  Biodiversity and Climate Change

                                  • Podcast: Sorry, Nature Isn’t Returning (Foreign Policy )
                                    This podcast explores the way in which nature has been given a break during the pandemic, but concludes that this is only a short term consequence and will not have lasting positive effects on nature.

                                    Data and Digital

                                    Food security

                                    • Building the future of food during the crisis (Forum for the Future)
                                      COVID-19 has exposed the strengths, fragilities and weaknesses in our food system, which was primarily focused on maximising output, driving profit, convenience and choice. How are those operating in the food system starting to respond to this immense challenge? Three different ways of thinking about this future are emerging: managerial, entrepreneurial and visionary.
                                    • Locusts, floods and COVID-19: a potentially deadly combination for malnourished children across the Horn of Africa (Reliefweb)
                                      The return of swarms of desert locusts – with more expected to hatch in May – coupled with the impact of COVID-19 and a return of flood season will devastate the chances of survival for malnourished children in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.

                                    Futures

                                    Gender Equality

                                    Global China

                                      Multilateralism and international cooperation

                                      • COVID-19: Multilateralism Matters (Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom)
                                        This article looks at the challenges that multilateralism faces in the time of COVID-19, but also at the opportunities and efforts already being made to strengthen multilateralism.
                                      • Expertise, Coronavirus, and the New Normal (Council on Foreign Relations)
                                        North-South divide in the time of coronavirus may be a preview of what will emerge on another side of the pandemic. This article argues for a more decolonised approach to global health during COVID-19.
                                      • The Hurdles to Developing a COVID-19 Vaccine: Why International Cooperation Is Needed (Chatham House)
                                        The article explores the challenges of creating a COVID-19 vaccine and how global cooperation and leadership is necessary to save the most vulnerable in the world.

                                      Narratives

                                      • COVID19 Message Testing Analysis (Development Engagement Lab, University College London)
                                        The Development Engagement Lab (Aid Attitudes Tracker phase II) has been thinking about development communications in COVID-19 times, testing messages with the UK public on a range of questions to understand support for international cooperation, using UK aid to invest in developing countries’ health systems, and how poverty interacts with the disease. The results shed some light on how we might best communicate our work in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
                                      • No crystal ball needed – evaluating the COVID-19 response (Humanitarian Exchange and Research Centre)
                                        Judgement without parole: The humanitarian sector has demonstrated it is incapable of reforming itself. Ed Schenkenberg analyses: The issue, not new but underlined again by the COVID-19 response, that stands in the way of real progress, is the role of the individual agency in relation to the collective response.
                                      • What narrative and behavioural sciences tell us about how to campaign during coronavirus (MobLab)
                                        What we can learn from Mindworks’ behavioural science approach to understanding action around coronavirus response.

                                      Pandemic Specific Consequences and Responses (economic, health & social impacts)

                                      • COVID-19 could stall Africa’s integration agenda (Institute for Security Studies)
                                        Freedom of movement within Africa is one of the African Union’s main goals. This goal is hindered by the outbreak of COVID-19 which could have lasting negative effects on whether this goal will be attainable even after the pandemic.
                                      • No crystal ball needed – evaluating the COVID-19 response (HERE-Geneva)
                                        Sooner or later, governments, UN organisations, NGOs, and others will undertake after-action reviews and evaluations of their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, many of the the lessons of COVID-19 evaluations can be understood right now.
                                      • Podcast: COVID-19 in fragile states: fighting conflict in the midst of a pandemic (International Institute for Strategic Studies)
                                        This podcast explains Africa’s vulnerability and challenges for peacekeeping due to ongoing conflicts and fragile states.
                                      • How to Make Sense of Uncertainty in a Coronavirus World (Singularity Hub)
                                        Countries are pursuing five major public health strategies to control virus transmission: antibody tests, distancing, prevention, treatment and viral testing. These strategies arise from things we can control based on the things that we know at any given moment. But what about the things we can’t control and don’t yet know?
                                      • Impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) on the African Economy (African Union)
                                        This report by the African Union uses a method of scenarios in order to explore the potential impact of the pandemic on various dimensions of African economies. It focuses on the possible socio-economic repercussions in order to propose policy recommendations to respond to the crisis.

                                      Populism and Authoritarianism

                                            3. Policy

                                        • Community leadership is key to halting COVID-19: Social Solidarity while Physical Distancing (The Movement for Community-Led Development)
                                          This website outlines a deep dive in the critical community-led strategies to defeat this unparalleled pandemic. MCLD intends these points and references to support collective advocacy and action.
                                        • COVID-19 and true solidarity on the internet (Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society)
                                          Digital technologies have reduced the effort required for solidarity-based action. Using hashtags, issuing personal calls to action via private social media profiles, offering neighbourhood help and undertaking organisational activities with increased responsibility to express solidarity. The relationship between individuality and collectivity has changed due to a structural transformation. Nowadays, the constitution of individuality no longer takes place in the private sphere but on the basis of social networks.
                                        • Take Robust Actions to Manage COVID-19 Crisis in South Asia: Joint Statement of South Asia CSOs (Asia Pacific Regional CSO Engagement Mechanism: South and South-West Asia Working Group)
                                          In order to address the issues and challenges regarding the COVID-19 crisis, multiple CSOs of South Asia have jointly released this statement to draw the attention of Governments of South Asia, international communities and to affirm COVID-19 response and recovery actions as inclusive, participatory, accountable and rights-based.

                                            4. Operational

                                        • Mitigating the economic impact of COVID-19 (C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group)
                                          This article sets out approaches that city governments are taking to monitor and mitigate the economic impacts of COVID-19 pandemic, with five priority issues: cash flow support and guidance for affected SMEs and marginalised groups; monitoring local economic impacts; working with local industries, trade unions and NGOs; and supporting job opportunities, particularly for green jobs.
                                        • The $90Bn Question: Can we reach 700 million people in response to COVID-19? (The Cash Learning Partnership)
                                          Digital cash delivery may be more efficient but might be excluding the most vulnerable people and widening existing digital divides: In low-income countries, the offline population remains disproportionately poor, rural, elderly, and female. Only consolidated beneficiary information aligned to cross-sector and multi-organisational collaboration will be critical to delivering at scale.
                                        • Three Things Nonprofits Should Prioritize in the Wake of COVID-19 (Stanford Social Innovation Review)
                                          Why organizations need to examine their social impact, economic viability, and capacity to deliver in order to remain relevant and viable both now and into the future.
                                        ,

                                        Thomas Howie

                                        Communications Coordinator

                                        International Civil Society Centre

                                        Thomas joined the Centre in June 2017 as the Communications Coordinator. He is responsible for developing and implementing the Centre’s global communication strategy, as well as the Disrupt & Innovate platform – a place for civil society professionals and activists to discuss current innovations and future trends in the civil society sector. Prior to the Centre, Thomas worked for 5 years in the European Parliament firstly as the Digital and Social Media Coordinator for the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, and then, after the 2014 European elections, for Jude Kirton-Darling and Paul Brannen as Head of Communications, where he worked on issues such as the EU-US trade deal, issues around Brexit and as a specialist on the Petitions Committee. Thomas graduated from Bristol University with BSci in Geographical Sciences and holds an MA in Peace Studies from the University of Bradford, where he completed research into the role of civil society in the post war peace settlement in northern Uganda.