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

Migration has set EU’s political clock ticking; the stagnating economy cannot help it and Turkey doesn’t cooperate

South Asia can become an innovation hub. Here’s how

Why a global recession isn’t inevitable

What does artificial intelligence do in medicine?

The benefits of a cashless society

Japan must urgently address long-standing concerns over foreign bribery enforcement

Coronavirus: Commission proposes to activate fiscal framework’s general escape clause to respond to pandemic

A Valentine’s Special: giving back, a dialogue of love

If on a summer’s night: is UK businesses’ “new deal” the only key to the “best of all worlds”?

World Retail Congress Dubai 2016: Retail’s night of nights

Virus Coronavirus: No time to die

Chart of the day: This is what violence does to a nation’s GDP

Palestine refugees’ relief chief warns Security Council money to fund Gaza operations will run out in mid-June

Africa-Europe Alliance: Four new financial guarantees worth €216 million signed under the EU External Investment Plan

European Junior Enterprises to address the significant skills mismatch in the EU between school and employment

What happiness can teach us about how we measure human development

Celebrities are helping the UK’s schoolchildren learn during lockdown

Taking fast road to ‘e-mobility’ central to a sustainable future: COP24

US-China trade war is a ‘lose-lose’ situation for them and the world, warn UN economists

This digital currency could build a more sustainable global economy

UN relief chief urges Security Council to back aid delivery, more funding for millions of Syrians hit by harsh weather

EU to finance new investment projects with extra borrowing; French and Italian deficits to be tolerated

Could the fourth wave of globalization help to end epidemics?

EU adopts rebalancing measures in reaction to US steel and aluminium tariffs

UN chief welcomes start of Church-mediated national dialogue in Nicaragua

It’s time for global businesses to accept local responsibility

WHO working to save lives following powerful earthquake in Albania

Parliament demands ban on neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groups in the EU

We won’t win the online security war without people power

Grave concern over escalating humanitarian crisis, casualties, displacement across northwest Syria: UN

Banks can fight financial crime. But we can’t do it alone

China-EU Summit on 16-17 July 2018: “Work together to address common challenges”, by China’s Ambassador to the EU

Juncker Plan exceeds original €315 billion investment target

Rising inequality affecting more than two-thirds of the globe, but it’s not inevitable: new UN report

25 years on from genocide against the Tutsi, UN Chief warns of ‘dangerous trends of rising xenophobia, racism and intolerance’

How cities, not states, can solve the world’s biggest problems

Mergers: Commission prohibits proposed merger between Tata Steel and ThyssenKrupp

Microplastics have been found in Rocky Mountain rainwater

Mali: Two peacekeepers dead after dawn attack, several injured – UN Mission

Russia and the West to partition Ukraine?

RescEU: MEPs vote to upgrade EU civil protection capacity

Professional practices of primary health care for Brazilian health and gender inequality

Universities need strategic leadership. Here’s what it looks like

The health of the human being in coexistence with a transformative biosphere

Voices of Afghan women ‘must be heard at the table in the peace process and beyond’ UN deputy chief tells Security Council

Managing and resolving conflicts in a politically inclined group of team members

Telemedicine and the Brazilian reality

UN’s Grandi slams ‘toxic language of politics’ aimed at refugees, migrants

G20 to Germany: Abandon miser policies

German elections: Is Merkel losing ground or Shultz is winning?

EU paves the way for a stronger, more ambitious partnership with Africa

‘An unprecedented fiscal response’ – political and business leaders on managing the coronavirus crisis

Urgent action needed to address growing opioid crisis

I have a rare disease. This is my hope for the future of medicine

Bill Gates’ top 10 breakthrough technologies of 2019

Eurobarometer: protecting human rights tops citizens’ list of EU values

Global aid appeal targets more than 93 million most in need next year

Help prevent children ‘from becoming victims in the first place’, implores Guterres at campaign launch

Don’t let the virus quarantine your mind –Ways to strengthen “Mental” immunity

The developing countries keep the world going

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