Many NGOs are facing multiple operational and business continuity threats from the COVID-19 crisis and the efforts to contain it. A new Action Toollkit has been developed following a recent Business Fights Poverty online discussion to explore how business should respond: what factors should they consider, and what actions can they take to support their NGO partners during these challenging times and into the future?

What are the particular challenges companies and NGOs are facing during the COVID-19 crisis to date – which is testing existing or potential partnerships with one another?

Companies and NGOs have some common challenges as they grapple with the financial and operational impacts of COVID-19. Organizations in both sectors are looking to reduce financial exposure, shutting down parts of their operations, furloughing staff or even considering redundancies whilst adapting to home working, new online modes of delivery, and managing increased rates of staff absence and stress.

The crisis is resulting in heightened demand for NGOs’ services at the same time as many are seeing dramatic reductions in funding and capacity. The challenge for partnerships is to spend what money is available quickly and effectively to support their service users through the crisis, whilst keeping the bigger picture in view.  Beyond the immediate shock, the long-term consequences for NGO funding will be huge. In the UK alone, charities will lose an estimated £4.3bn worth of funding as a result of the crisis. However, the ability of NGOs to provide services across a vast range of issues – from nutrition and food production to eye care and family planning  – will be crucial to recovery.

What can companies and NGOs do in order to ensure strong partnerships during this crisis, and manage immediate impacts?

The crisis will act as a test of the resilience of partnerships, which will need to rapidly adapt to the changed landscape.  The unprecedented challenge demands that we embrace flexibility as never before – on goals, existing contractual commitments, funding allocations, timescales and  delivery modes.   

Existing programs can be re-focused to address new priorities.  For example, one of Mastercard’s grantees, Technoserve, has shifted from helping MSMEs grow to helping them address financial distress and  business model adaptation, and Mercy Corps in Kenya is leveraging its partnership with Safaricom, Twiga Foods and Jumia to provide food vouchers to the most vulnerable urban population. 

The key to successful adaptation is in frank and empathetic discussion of the challenges and risks that each partner is facing, and in each partner playing to their strengths. Business can provide not only funding, but a wide range of skills that will help NGOs to continue and even to scale up crucial services to support the most vulnerable.

Funders can also take action, for example in repurposing funds or streamlining grant application processes. The Council on Foundations, the European Foundation Centre and  CAF have both issued recommendations for funders in response to COVID-19.  

What should companies and NGOs do to ensure their partnerships emerge from the crisis even stronger than before?

The crisis will severely test the resilience of partnerships, and those that embrace openness, flexibility and mutual support during the crisis can emerge stronger, with a deeper understanding of their partners and a renewed commitment to the shared values and mission that originally brought them together.   Partnerships can start now to  build for the future, planning how they will evolve as the immediate crisis recedes and the focus turns to recovery and building back better.

There will be many lessons to be learned. COVID-19 has shone a light on the pressing need for cross-sectoral partnerships that spark transformative systemic shifts – in our health system, our food system, and beyond.  Additionally, the closer the focus of a  partnership is to companies’  core business, the more likely they are to be prioritised during this time of crisis.  Now is the time for companies to embrace social purpose, and commit to partnerships which align with their core business priorities. 

Call to Action

Business Fights Poverty is coordinating a programme to support companies share  global learning and take local action on COVID-19.  To find out more about how to strengthen your own partnerships during these challenging times, access a new ‘Action Toolkit on Supporting NGO Partners’ inside the our Business and COVID-19 Response Centre.

Editor’s Note:

We are very grateful to our expert panellists who contributed to such an insightful discussion:

●      Sinead Duffy, Head of NGO Engagement, Bayer

●      David Norman, Challenge Director, Business Fights Poverty

●      Josh Newton, Corporate Responsibility Advisor, Charities Aid Foundation

●      Maya Winkelstein, CEO, Open Road Alliance

●      Darian Stibbe, Executive Director, The Partnering Initiative

●      Nicole Lindsay, Chief Operating Officer, Sustainability & Center for Inclusive Growth, Mastercard

●      Sandrine Chetail, Global Director Agriculture Systems, Mercy Corps

●      Lisa Seymour-Doughty, Senior Manager for Corporate, Trusts and Foundation Partnerships, Mercy Corps

●      Kate Woodhead, Associate Director, Standard Chartered

●      Neil Fleming, Director, The Challenges Group

The post How Can Businesses Support their NGO Partners Through the Impact of COVID-19? appeared first on Business Fights Poverty.

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