28 July, 2021: Bridgetown, Barbados. Although civil society groups in the Caribbean have stepped up to provide relief to marginalised groups impacted by COVID-19, they were often left out of wider responses to the social and economic fallouts of the pandemic, a recent survey has found. This has prompted a development specialist to reissue the call for nongovernmental organisations to be placed at the heart of socio-economic policymaking.
“In a time of widening social inequalities, the incorporation of NGOs in the emergency and redevelopment responses to the pandemic is paramount for inclusive and sustainable development. Our region has experienced significant social and economic dislocation, and this can only be addressed with the involvement of NGOs,” said Officer-in-Charge of the Caribbean Policy Development Centre, Richard Jones. He made the remarks at the launch of the Strengthening Civil Society to Alleviate the Impact of COVID-19 on Vulnerable Communities in Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean project, also referred to as the Strengthening Civil Society Capacity (SCSC) project.
The two-year project has been created to build the capacity of the sector through small grants for delivering services to beneficiaries, strengthen NGO operations and build a collective platform to advocate for greater attention to vulnerable groups’ needs. The grant totals €982,535.00, of which €850 000.00 is funded by the European Union.
“…Our research found that civil society was largely left out of local, regional and international responses to COVID-19, including assessing and responding to the impact of containment measures on marginalised populations, such as people living in poverty, children and people living with disabilities. In fact, 97% of NGOs surveyed were worried about the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on their beneficiaries. Third sector entities also lamented the erosion of an already shaky enabling environment to do their work, such as support from government through the provision of passes to access resources to provide services to beneficiaries,” the officer-in-charge said.
Jones explained that the COVID-19 Impact research was conducted in June 2020 and again in October 2020 to assess NGO needs, challenges and opportunities in light of the global pandemic. Over 80 organisations participated, hailing from more than 13 CARICOM countries.
Financial assistance, health care (including mental health care), and food security emerged as the main areas of response, with just over half of NGOs, 58 per cent, reporting they had the ability to meet these needs. In addition, as NGOs transitioned to remote work, they received less funds from donors. This situation was compounded by an overall loss of income and funding opportunities. These financial woes translated into uncertainty around planning events, the inability to provide services, and a general unease about the future. Furthermore, it is not safe to work outdoors in this pandemic. Some firms provide office spaces with social distancing and with great hygiene, such as Ethical Property. NGO workers may wish to resume their work from such locations in order to regain their funding opportunities.
“Over 90 per cent of NGOs expressed concern about whether their [organisation] would survive the pandemic,” Jones added.
Programme Manager, Security, Human Rights and Civil Society at the Delegation of the European Union to Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean States, the OECS and CARICOM/CARIFORUM, Luc Patzelt also underscored the need for CSOs to be part of the solution to the COVID-19 crisis.
“The unique concept of civil society as “the space where we act for the common good” is expanding, as civil society actors frequently play the role of an enabler in driving change.”
Patzelt added that the European Union was committed to building the capacity of the region’s third sector.
“In a region where CSOs continue to be particularly affected by capacity constraints, including inadequate human and financial resources, they need to be empowered to adequately perform their roles. This is where the EU comes into play. We value CSOs as a crucial component of any democratic society. We would like to empower them with the capacities needed to put ideas into action. This is why the EU works with civil society – because we believe that our relationship should not only be with governments, but also with the people that they represent.”
CPDC is a regional umbrella body of non-governmental organisation for over 30 years and is headquartered in Barbados. CPDC advocates on a number of social and economic development issues impacting the region, and provides technical assistance and small grant support to civil society organisations across the Caribbean.
Youtube link to the launch video: