Written by Carolina Gowland and Fernanda Scur
PYXERA Global has united its Global Leads in a conversation to reflect on the challenges the world is facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. This first article brings together perspectives from team members in China, India, West Africa, and Latin America on the NGO sector’s response to the crisis and trends in reimagining corporate social initiatives. The following insights are drawn from conversations with our global staff and PYXERA Global’s survey of former Global Pro Bono host organizations.
Globally, NGOs are Struggling with Uncertainty about the Present and the Future
Across the globe, COVID-19 hit the social sector hard. Many of PYXERA Global’s non-profit and social enterprise partners are facing extreme challenges as they seek to address the needs of their communities amid growing operational, financial, and management concerns. Recently, PYXERA Global surveyed Global Pro Bono host organizations from 42 countries to understand their outlook on organizational resilience in the face of the pandemic and to identify how pro bono programs can best support them. Of the 129 organizations that responded to the survey, ninety-six percent reported that COVID-19 presented moderate to significant challenges to their organizations.
Of the 129 organizations that responded to the survey, ninety-six percent reported that COVID-19 presented moderate to significant challenges to their organizations.
While the pandemic is impacting social organizations around the world in similar ways, there are regional differences. Zhen Chen, PYXERA Global’s China Lead, comments: “The impact of the lockdown was highly damaging to the country’s NGOs; 78 percent of the organizations surveyed in China had to postpone projects and another 18 percent had their projects canceled.” In Brazil, LATAM Regional Lead, Fernanda Scur, reports that though there has been an overall increase in financial donations, many organizations outside the immediate COVID-19 response space are experiencing a decrease in revenue as donors redirect their funds. Carolina Gowland, PYXERA Global’s LATAM Regional Lead based in Argentina, highlights that the Latin American organizations surveyed are less confident than the organizations in other regions in their ability to weather the current situation. Only 36 percent of Latin American organizations expressed confidence that their organizations will be able to continue operations during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. For comparison, that percentage increased to 44 percent for the surveyed social sector organizations in Asia and to 63 percent for organizations in Africa.
While the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have been damaging worldwide, social organizations are also rising to the challenge by demonstrating flexibility. Tahira Thekaekara, PYXERA Global’s Country Director in India, shares that “civil society in India has responded to this crisis in a manner that has been innovative, rapid, and even selfless. NGOs have started emergency operations and new programs within days or even hours, redirecting staff and resources to go beyond their mission or core expertise to work on the frontline of the crisis. For example, two previous host organizations, Hasiru Dala, which works in waste management, and Bal Utsav, an educational NGO, completely pivoted their programming to focus on feeding migrant workers and the homeless.” In China, a transition to new operating models to adapt to the crisis is also underway. Thirty-six percent of the surveyed organizations in China are actively working to transition their programs to be virtual—or at least to have significant virtual components.
While the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have been damaging worldwide, social organizations are also rising to the challenge by demonstrating flexibility.
Despite the unparalleled challenges they currently face, NGOs are working hard to adapt by reinventing themselves to best serve the needs of their communities. All of our Global Leads agree that this flexibility and innovation have created an opportunity to build resiliency for the future. Fernanda and Tahira echo one another: “Organizations need to be creative by becoming more efficient and looking at creating new revenue streams, but it’s hard to know where to start when you have no idea what’s coming next. Many organizations noted that previous pro bono support has helped them to be better prepared for the current situation and would be helpful in the future to accelerate recovery.
Corporate Trends: Reshaping Social Impact Initiatives
The COVID-19 health crisis and the resulting economic crisis require combined and coordinated responses from the public and social sectors, and the private sector is also doing its part to address these challenges. Across the globe, companies are focusing their efforts on supporting their employees and the communities in which they live and work. However, determining the correct approach can be challenging in such a dynamic environment. As Tahira explains: “Corporates in India are trying to do all they can, while also balancing the new realities of moving operations to WFH (work from home). Possibly, one of the greatest challenges is to make decisions on how to direct their resources in a constantly changing landscape.”
Across the globe, companies are focusing their efforts on supporting their employees and the communities in which they live and work. However, determining the correct approach can be challenging in such a dynamic environment.
West Africa Regional Leads, Ann Oden and Barbara Gbologah-Quaye, have found that during this unprecedented time, companies agree that it is time to lead, rather than pause their social impact initiatives. However, they emphasize that companies are aligning the depth and scope of their initiatives with the extent to which their business has been impacted by COVID-19. Barbara mentions: “Companies in the mining, pharmaceutical, telecom, and waste management sectors have generally been less impacted by the economic downturn and have been more active in supporting the COVID-19 response while creating innovative partnerships with NGOs to develop new programs.” Ann echoes this sentiment, stating: “Other sectors such as oil & gas and tourism have experienced more negative impacts and are struggling to find the balance between maintaining their social impact programs and ensuring the stability of their own operations. In this environment, companies are encouraging fundraising in support of government programs.”
In Latin America, companies have changed their lines of production to produce masks and other COVID-19 related items, partnered with other corporations to tackle the complexity of responding to the pandemic, and donated funds, some at record rates. Many corporate leaders see the pandemic as an opportunity to boost business value and reputation. Carolina shares: “In an overwhelming way, we are hearing that employees expect their employers to be their partners in change, and companies have quickly come to understand that they have a key role to play, not only in responding actively but also in shaping the new normal.” To address this demand and align with new global norms, PYXERA Global is supporting the development of virtual pro bono programs to continue to leverage cross-sector expertise to meet community needs.
The dramatic spread of COVID-19 has disrupted lives, livelihoods, communities, and businesses worldwide. Although each region has its particularities, PYXERA Global’s Global Leads agree that the world has become smaller since COVID-19, and vulnerability has been embraced like never before. As global interdependence continues to increase, ensuring authentic collaboration between the public, private, and social sectors will remain a key challenge and opportunity in the post-COVID world.
Co-Author Fernanda Scur
As a Regional Program Manager, Fernanda Scur facilitates the implementation of PYXERA Global’s Global Pro Bono Programs in Latin America since 2011. In this role, she oversees the entire process of a Global Pro Bono program such as scoping potential host organizations, developing project scopes, participant matching, and local consultant management—always pursuing purposeful engagement and the best experience to stakeholders involved, with a focus on the increased social impact of participant organizations.
Fernanda has recently completed her PhD in Stakeholder Engagement of Information and Communication Technology for Development projects. She also brings more than 21 years on experience in Project Management, Information Architecture, Usability Analysis and Digital Media Strategies. Fernanda is fluent in English, Portuguese, Spanish, and German.