3 funding concerns for civil society during this pandemic


The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated, accelerated, and further exposed global challenges. For civil society, COVID-19 has also meant new challenges - not least of all stable funding during these increasingly stretched times.

What is the impact of the pandemic on the resilience and sustainability of the sector? Over the last four months, CIVICUS  hosted and participated in several virtual conversations with a range of practitioners and activists. These 3 recurring concerns have been raised across the board:  

1. Economic crisis and lockdown measures put civil society jobs and sustainability at risk 

The COVID-19 crisis hit the global economy pretty hard, including civil society organisations (CSOs), social enterprises, community-based groups, and activists. Many are losing even more donor funding, at the same time as having to stop their income-generating activities due to lockdowns. The result is threatening their already fragile sustainability, the possibility to continue serving communities, and the jobs of many civil society workers around the world.  

“One of the main challenges, in addition to what governments are doing [imposing restrictions on civic space], is that many donors and governments who had supported our work have suspended our grants and are freezing funding. That is causing many civil society organisations to put their activities on hold, and many in our sector have lost their jobs,” highlighted Sarah Ali, Executive Director at HuMENA for Human Rights and Civic Engagement, during the webinar ‘Social movements before, during and after COVID-19.’

There is a need for new mechanisms and sustainable regulations that protect people working in this sector. We don't have the same conditions and regulations that protect us in the long term [compared to other sectors]. Every time there is a problem with funds many of us lose our jobs, and we are unable to fight against what’s happening, against violations,” added Ali.


2. Funding for COVID-19 relief is ignoring critical issues that usually affect the most vulnerable 

“Funding is being re-directed to COVID-19 relief efforts, but what qualifies as COVID-19 relief is quite limited and does not always account for the different realities of different communities,” said Vandita Morarka, feminist and founder at One Future Collective, India, in the recent webinar ‘Domestic violence during COVID-19: what CSOs can do to address this pandemic in a pandemic’.

During this webinar, activists expressed concerns about the lack of funding to address other health and social issues that are critical during the pandemic and that usually affect marginalised groups more, for example, mental health, reproductive health, violence against women, and the needs of LGBTQ+ communities.

“CSOs that provide critical support such as mental health services have had funding removed and redirected to other health interventions. This has reduced their capacity to provide sustainable mental health support during the pandemic. We have big expectations of CSOs but we should consider that funding at this time is limited and the access to resources keeps shrinking, affecting their critical work... And we already see the impact of this in many communities,” said Roshika Deo, coordinator of the One Billion Rising initiative in Fiji.


  • 3 months of quarantine could result in a 20% rise in intimate partner violence and cause from 325,000 to 1 million unwanted pregnancies throughout the world, according to the United Nations Population Fund.
  • Mental disorders affect 1 in 4 people worldwide, according to the WHO. Isolation, job loss, barriers to access mental health care, and burnout among frontline health care workers are additional burdens that could hurt people’s mental health during the pandemic. From 75,000 to 150,000 people could die from mental health-related outcomes of COVID-19 in the United States, estimates a study by the Well Being Trust.
  • The UN has called for a US $2.5 trillion coronavirus crisis package for developing countries.

3. The funding pie for youth-led activism is shrinking even more

While youth activism is on the rise, funding for youth and managed by youth is nominal, and young activists are worried that the crisis will make this worse. 

“During the current COVID-19 situation – where we see the governments tightening their controls and civic spaces, and also placing this within the broader context where there is reduced funding [for civil society] – what’s happening essentially is that the funding pie is shrinking and a lot of the young organisations are fighting for a pie that already started shrinking ages ago. And with COVID-19 some of this funding is being redirected to COVID-19 relief efforts,” highlighted Tharinda de Silva, a young activist and Peacebuilding Project Assistant at Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka, during the webinar ‘Supporting Youth-led Movements and Groups as Key Drivers of People Power’.

Under these circumstances, added de Silva, the future funding landscape is bleak not only for youth activism but also for LGBTQ+ issues, women’s rights and other social causes and development needs in general. However, de Silva insists that young activists must continue working to maintain and grow the space they’ve won in political and civic engagement, especially in countries with restrictive governments. 


  • There are 1.2 billion young people in the world (ages 15-24) and 88% of them live in developing countries in Africa and Asia. Unfortunately, this generation of young people faces the highest risk of being left behind in large numbers, highlights the OECD
  • Youth civil society funding is scarce, fragile, almost exclusively short term, highly restrictive and prohibitive of institutional development, and donor-dependent (Restless Development). 
  • 91% of young feminist organisations consulted for the Global State of Young Feminist Organizing indicated that the lack of financial resources as their top challenge.