3 reasons why civil society is essential to COVID-19 recovery

amnesth

(Christian Lue, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Johanna Rick, Intern, Civil Society, World Economic Forum


  • The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed systemic flaws and drastic inequality.
  • Civil society has a critical role in global pandemic and economic recovery.
  • In the wake of the crisis, civil society can serve as an advocate, a watchdog and a trusted authority.

As countries begin easing COVID-19 pandemic lockdown measures, calls to not “go back to normal” are getting louder. The pandemic has exposed systemic flaws and highlighted the drastic inequality in our global neoliberal system.

For example, a privileged minority of the global population has been able to work from home, while the majority of workers have risked their own health and the health of their families to keep food on the table. The virus has revealed the essential value of under-paid positions in the health and food production sectors. These socio-economic impacts are felt even more by women, who make up the majority of the essential workforce and are more likely to do unpaid domestic and care work. Indigenous and rural communities without running water for regular and careful handwashing are also disproportionality affected. Moreover, the most marginalised and poorest populations are hit hardest not only by the virus but also by the global economic crisis.

 

Glaring inequality and the threat of an exacerbated wealth gap fuel the desire for a global socio-economic transformation – a new social contract. We now have the chance to build it.

This call for systemic change is coming from all corners of the globe, from citizens and advocacy groups to some of the largest global companies. But for change to be effective, all sectors of society must be involved – especially civil society.

Covid-19 could push half a billion people into poverty
COVID-19 could push half a billion people around the world into poverty.
Image: Statista/Oxfam

What is civil society?

Often called the “third sector”, civil society is a term frequently used but rarely fully understood.

The World Bank defines civil society as “the wide array of non-governmental and not for profit organizations that have a presence in public life, express the interests and values of their members and others, based on ethical, cultural, political, scientific, religious or philanthropic considerations”. This includes big and small NGOs like Amnesty International, labour unions like ITUC, idigenous groups such as AFPAT, religious communities and multi-faith organizations such as Religions for Peace and activists and social movements rallying around a specific cause.

Civil society is an essential stakeholder in the global ecosystem and democratic states – and civil society must be a core part of the international coronavirus recovery. Here’s why.

1. Representation

As much as celebrities like to say “we are all in this together”, we are not all experiencing COVID-19 in the same way. (Social inequality strikes again.)

While the most privileged have been able to isolate without worrying about future income, a huge number of people have experienced hardship, forced to isolate in small spaces and in difficult conditions, if they can isolate at all. Civil society organisations provide important aid; as one example, with families in lockdown, domestic abuse hotlines are lightning up. Around the globe, other organisations advocate for people without running water, without internet access, for minorities and for the poor.

2. Watchdog

Civil society acts as the democratic watchdog. This is a crucial function in times of a pandemic when governments adopt emergency powers to act efficiently to combat it. Nationwide lockdowns and restrictions can be justified by the severity of COVID-19 but must be proportional and time-bound. Organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have spoken out against human rights violations under the guise of national protection. Access Now and Transparency International highlight restrictions on media and journalists and call for digital rights protection in governmental tracking systems.

Civil society also observes the ease of the lockdown and implementation of economic stimuli. Environmental NGOs such as Greenpeace track public bailout for polluting industries.

Civil society’s experience in scrutinising government and private sector action and demanding more transparency and accountability is needed to build a fairer, more just and more rights-respecting post-pandemic future.

3. Communication and trust

From the start of the pandemic to the ease of the lockdown, efficient communication and trust in government have been critical so citizens follow national emergency orders like wearing masks and staying inside. In Iran, lack of trust in the government led to citizens ignoring governmental advice, thereby undermining the efficiency of its measures.

As the 2009 H1N1 pandemic showed, when public health emergencies are politicised and government communication is conflicting, trust in national administration is undermined. Here, civil society provides an essential link between the government and citizens. In many regions, civil society has more trust and moral authority than the government, as well as a wide network that reaches the most rural areas. This is especially the case for faith communities, which provide aid but also solidarity to vulnerable parts of society, acting as both information channels and first responders. This trust is crucial when recovering from the pandemic and resetting the global economy.

Civil Society

What is civil society?

Whether you call it “third sector”, “social sector” or “volunteerland”, civil society includes an array of different causes, groups, unions and NGOs. Their combined aim is to hold governments to account, promoting transparency, lobbying for human rights, mobilizing in times of disaster and encouraging citizen engagement.

Ranging from small online campaigns to giants such as Amnesty International and Greenpeace, civil society employs around 54 million full-time workers and has a global volunteer force of over 350 million.

The World Economic Forum is committed to accelerating the impact of civil society organizations. With a view to this, it created Preparing Civil Society for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a multi-sectoral platform to support the transformation of the social sector and its inclusion in the governance of emerging technologies.

Civil society is a key stakeholder for driving public-private collaboration and advancing the Forum’s mission. Through dialogue series and platform initiatives, civil society actors from a wide range of fields come together to collaborate with government and business leaders on finding and advocating solutions to global challenges.

Despite being severely restricted in their mobility and activity, civil society groups like humanitarian organizations, advocacy groups, development organizations, religious communities and multi-faith organizations and community-based organizations have met the needs of local, regional and global communities during the crisis. The pandemic has revealed how our unequal global systems make us vulnerable to future system-level challenges: economic crises, climate change, future pandemics.

To increase global resilience, we need the “new social contract” called for by citizens, civil society organisations and even businesses. And civil society’s networks, experience and knowledge are indispensable for it to succeed.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

EU citizens disenchanted with Economic and Monetary Union over rising poverty and high unemployment

Living to 100: why we should plan for more sushi, chocolate and work

This South Korean company has built a 5G search and rescue airship

Deep science: what it is, and how it will shape our future

WEF Davos 2016 LIVE: “If we do not do properly the Paris agreement, then all 16 remaining goals will be undermined”, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon cautions from Davos

COVID-19: Single market must emerge stronger from the crisis, say MEPs

Africa Forum aims to boost business, reduce costs, help countries trade out of poverty

Lessons from the Global Entrepreneurship Index

Over 820 million people suffering from hunger; new UN report reveals stubborn realities of ‘immense’ global challenge

More Germans are swapping planes for trains because of climate worries

Towards a European Republic

Apple® logo (copyright: Apple)

Apple takes further step into music: EU Regulators formally approve its planned Shazam acquisition

Over 1 million health consultations provided in Yemen in 2019: UN migration agency

Women lose most from the climate crisis. How can we empower them?

EU budget deal struck with Parliament negotiators

More than just a phone: mobile’s impact on sustainable development

Member States and Commission to work together to boost artificial intelligence “made in Europe”

Deeper reforms in Germany will ensure more inclusive and sustainable growth

Six ways to cut through the Middle East’s geopolitical fog

Black Lives Matter – for Pakistan’s Sheedi community too

In rural Bangladesh, solar power is changing lives

The hidden risk of virtual reality – and what to do about it

Here’s what keeps CEOs awake at night (and why it might be bad news for your next job)

‘Growing alarm’ over Fall Armyworm advance, with cash crops ‘under attack’ across Asia

State aid: Commission approves €30 billion French subordinated loan scheme to support companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak

‘Complacency’ a factor in stagnating global vaccination rates, warn UN health chiefs

EU: Centralised economic governance and bank supervision may lead to new crisis

MEPs adopt new Fisheries Partnership with Morocco including Western Sahara

5 reasons why biodiversity matters – to human health, the economy and your wellbeing

‘Stealing’ food from hungry Yemenis ‘must stop immediately’, says UN agency

Canada has created an Arctic conservation zone almost as big as Germany

Parliament to vote on new European Commission on 27 November

Our food system is no longer fit for the 21st century. Here are three ways to fix it

Mobile 360 Africa 11-13 July 2017

Climate change recognized as ‘threat multiplier’, UN Security Council debates its impact on peace

EU Budget 2019 to focus on young people

China-EU Trade and Economic Relations in Numbers

Brussels waits for the Germans to arrive

Protector or polluter? The impact of COVID-19 on the movement to end plastic waste

4 ways to make your wardrobe more sustainable

The Franco-German axis considers that all EU needs now is more armaments

Safer products: stepping up checks and inspections to protect consumers

EU economy: Between recession and indiscernible growth

Palm Oil: With Malaysia cracking down on production, what’s the alternative?

How health privatization increases health inequities

How smartphones can close the global skills gap for billions

Britain’s Brexit election is its most volatile in memory – and 3 other superlatives about the snap poll

A Sting Exclusive: “Asia-Pacific response to COVID-19 and climate emergency must build a resilient and sustainable future”, by the United Nations Under-Secretary-General

France fails again the exams. Kindly requested to sit in on Commission’s class

Trust in OECD governments back at pre-crisis levels as governments seek to be more open and engaged

Community Manager – 1289

European Defence Fund: €205 million to boost the EU’s strategic autonomy and industrial competitiveness

EU Trust Fund for Africa: new migration-related actions to protect vulnerable people and foster resilience of host communities in North of Africa

7 key challenges for the future of ASEAN – and how to solve them

UN working ‘intensively’ to stop Ebola in eastern DR Congo, following second case in major border town

UN food relief agency airlifts aid to DR Congo province hit by Ebola outbreak

My disability, my identity

The world is failing miserably on access to education. Here’s how to change course

Climate change is exacerbating hunger in some of the world’s poorest countries. And those most at risk are the least to blame

FROM THE FIELD: ‘Eco-warriors’ fight climate change in South Africa

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s