However, currently, civil society (i.e. the collection of people, non-profit and community-based organizations that respond to social needs) are experiencing declining revenues and implementation challenges that is hampering its capacity to respond.
Entering my fifth month of lock-down I have had time to ruminate on Covid’s impact on securing funding and partnering restraints that are affecting civil society. There are no clear answers and what is most certain is the ongoing uncertainty.
What if one our jobs in this time of uncertainty is to imagine and shape this uncertain future? Reflecting and then acting on what is emerging could diminish some of impacts of Covid on our communities and improve societal outcomes.
I work with UNHCR, the UN Refugee agency. UNHCR works simultaneously implementing programs and fundraising to support both its own programs and its partners in support of refugees and the internally displaced. My work and a series of consultations with UNHCR’s NGO partners in May of 2020 have been the parent material for the thoughts in this article.
Be forewarned, these are glass half full reflections and maybe you do not agree. Fair enough but challenge my assumptions and conclusions as I am convinced that the future will be shaped by our thoughts and actions.
Disruption is driving new connections, innovation and unforeseen opportunities
Covid has demanded UNHCR and its partners to re prioritize its work and engage in new ways using mobile technology, applications and the Internet to share information, provide services and assess vulnerabilities while respecting social distancing and quarantine requirements. Many of our partners are innovating, doing crucial parts of their work via WhatsApp, Facebook and call centres while UNHCR is adapting its programs and outreach, e.g. organizing virtual engagements for supporters to understand needs and meet refugees.
These ways of working are opening doors with different supporters and community actors including the private sector. While these new measures are driven by en large by necessity, they have the potential for greater inclusion of vulnerable groups and to reduce costs. We can create new pathways for higher impact, more cost-effective programs which could propel a virtuous cycle, attracting more supporters and driving impact.
UNHCR’s Covid fundraising efforts to date are on track but it isn’t completely clear whether the intense work has generated fresh resources or brought forward intended giving. How donors will respond for the balance of 2020? That isn’t certain, but I am optimistic, and believe that 2020 will be a generous year.
Everyone is intimately experiencing Covid. This isn’t an abstract crisis over ‘there’. People and organizations want to ‘do something’ and be part of a response that has affected them personally. This intimacy has created a unique opportunity. If civil society can offer tangible opportunities to their supporters, framed by Covid, they can tap into this empathy. For example, UNHCR works with refugees, many of whom experience a lack of control in the lives, held against their will in uncertain situations. After weeks of quarantine many people have somewhat similar experiences and are sensitive to the reality of refugees.
Finally UNHCR has seen record high contributions of in-kind contributions. While many of these contributions of goods and services are PPE and health related (which are carefully matched to UNHCR and its partners needs) the pandemic has opened new doors and attracted in-kind contributions from supporter to address refugees needs and UNHCR’s operational efficiency.
How can the trust dividend be realized?
I believe that trust is the secret ingredient of fundraising and building partnerships. It creates possibilities, speeds responses and leverages resources.
Edelman’s Trust Barometer is a global measurement of trust across 4 societal sectors: government, business, NGOs and media. Over the last years peoples’ trust of these sectors has dropped. We haven’t been impressed with institutions’ ethical behavior and ability to deliver on promises.
However, in the May 2020 Edelman’s Covid update a remarkable change in trust was recorded. Government has increased to an all-time trust high, making it the most trusted sector, a first in the Barometer’s
history. Clearly people are trusting government to protect them in these uncertain times. Other sectors, including NGOs also increased their trust but to a lesser degree.
Covid has exposed inequality globally and vulnerable people have been disproportionately affected. People want their governments and civil society to address these issues in this time of collective anxiety. They also want NGOs / civil society to coordinate better and collaborate with others.
To ensure that you are acting with coherence and sincerity, a demonstration of trustworthiness, consider how to best deliver and communicate your results. One guide to build trust is Covey’s Trust Equation that defines trust as the sum of your credibility, reliability and intimacy but proportionally reduced by your self-orientation or desire to only secure benefit for yourself. Are you and your organization consistently building trusting relationships and or are you perceived as pursuing just your self-interests? Now is the time to build trust and communicate how your efforts are contributing reducing societal inequality, helping the vulnerable and working with others.
Note: This increase in trust for government and to a lesser degree for NGOs may be short-lived. It could be a temporary ‘rally around the flagpole’ and fade as quickly as it has emerged so act thoughtfully and soon.
Get moving to where this is going
This is my first pandemic and I don’t know what zeitgeist will emerge post Covid. The future will lie somewhere between our worst fears and our greatest hopes.
While entrenchment may seem the appropriate reaction, it is just as likely that now is the time to be chart a new course in the face of these changes. Can you muster the hope to change yourself and your organization? If you believe ‘this’ is going somewhere, reflect on the most likely scenarios and consider how citizens, leaders and professionals can shape and participate in this emerging reality.
I see this irreverently, as getting into the dinosaur winter jacket business after the asteroid has struck.
We need to adapt our responses, changing our ways is hard as they are rooted in institutional processes and culture. We need to wrestle free from the status quo.
Moving forward, into an emerging and unclear future, is a challenge. There are tools and guiding principles to guide us: Reos Partners’s Collaborative Scenario Planning can help imagine futures and develop plans, Adaptive Leadership approaches support decision making in changing times and embracing complexity can create new approaches, quickly evaluate and then adapt to what is working.
Ultimately it is about adapting to the times to achieve our hopes and desires. Wayne Gretzky, the ice hockey legend had some valuable advice for us in these times….’I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.’
Finally, we need to recognize that we are not alone. Many people are asking the same questions as we are asking ourselves. So, reach out to unusual suspects and form new alliances based on shared benefit and explore new channels. I am convinced you will find receptive audiences with shared hearts and a desire to move towards our emerging future.
Many thanks to Victoria Thom at Synergy2030 for her insights and questions.