Enhancing agility amongst development partners, donors and NPOs


During times like these, when the core of society and the economy is rocked globally and locally, efforts to progress towards various Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are even more important. The eradication of extreme hunger and poverty, enhancing good health and well being, and providing decent work in the context of economic growth has shown a spotlight on the donor community working through not-for-profit organisations (NPOs). Now, we need to ask how agile are their systems and structures to respond to emerging threats like COVID-19?

The UN, development agencies, NPOs and the wider donor community play a vital role in building healthy communities by providing critical services that contribute to economic and social stability and mobility. They make a difference in our society in many ways.

Most donors also support the emergence and development of policymaking processes that are formal, transparent and accountable to the interests of the poor. To achieve these policymaking processes, donors need to enhance their organisational capacities to effectively support country-led, pro-poor growth agendas. The pro-poor growth agenda also requires donors to change the way that they are organised so that they can provide assistance effectively. Broader and deeper coordination is essential to addressing the broad agenda for pro-poor growth.

Certainly, the world has changed. The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in scale and also in terms of the need that it has generated. Almost every household, community, organisation, sector and nation is reeling from its impacts on health, the economy and society.

The humanitarian community has a huge part to play, both responding to immediate needs and helping with recovery in the medium to longer term.

For example, over the last few months as the COVID-19 pandemic has spread, turbulence in financial markets and weaker economic growth have dominated the headlines. And yet now is precisely the time when donors must take centre stage in responding to the pandemic and its effects on communities. NPOs should also prepare for the impact of these events and respond accordingly. It is heartening to see that many of them have - locally and globally. The disruption and suffering caused by pandemics like COVID-19 and Ebola, and by famine and other tragedies, pose serious threats to vulnerable countries in terms of morbidity and mortality risks and the knock-on effects on wider public health and social and economic systems.

Enhancing agility for faster impact Most development agencies and donor communities recognise the impact of unforeseen events on many of the projects that they implement in the broader development ecosystem. Donors therefore must commit to a swift, nimble and pragmatic approach to support implementing countries in their fight against pandemics and other threats like famine. They must also work with host countries to promptly mitigate any potentially negative consequences of emerging threats on their projects.

However, most interventions sponsored by development agencies and donors are project-based and funding is restricted to project-specific objectives. For example, if funding is intended for the provision of clean water in a specific community, then the funds cannot be redirected to the provision of ventillators without prior approval. What happens when the operating environment changes rapidly and drastically, such that the community requires ventilators urgently?

Therein lies the challenge for greater agility in response to great change. Clean water is still a challenge, in this case, but an emerging and urgent need for ventilators has also arisen.

"Amidst uncertainties and change worldwide, the donor community is adapting swiftly and remains dedicated to supporting communities and other humanitarian partners."

Donors have a supportive role with local governments and are often central to emergency responses. Typically, most of them will work to strengthen their epidemic preparedness and response capacity, and at the same time help to develop and train networks of volunteers, health workers and other experts to support early and decisive action.

The key questions, especially in times of great change, include:

  • To what extent is donor assistance long-term and adaptable to uncertain times?
  • To what extent is aid sufficiently predictable and flexible in response to changing partner country needs?
  • Do donors and partner countries share the same views regarding the most appropriate mix of interventions at crucial times (such as support for institutional change or support that is more directly targeted at poor peoples’ needs)?

What are the comparative advantages of different donor organisations? In response to these and other questions, it is clear that more donor support needs to shift to longer-term and more flexible and responsive programmes that can support evolving country situations or emerging global trends and threats.

Structures and operations should also incorporate an element of flexibility and agility and donor support to countries and communities also needs to be longer term, flexible and responsive to changing situations.

Funding constraints Recenty, the international humanitarian and development sector has itself faced the critical threat of funding constraints. There is a greater risk associated with downsizing and laying off development sector staff at a time when their work has become even more vitally important, as we find now with the COVID-19 pandemic. These organisations simply cannot respond with agility if they do not have the staff to coordinate a response. After an analysis of the evolving situation and related challenges which they are beginning to face, and following requests from implementing partners, donors should put in place some extraordinary measures that will allow all key stakeholders to continue providing life-saving assistance to those in need.

To ensure that donors continue to have the greatest possible impact, they should also ensure alignment with global best practices and learnings and other life-saving activities. Donors need to stay engaged in countries where respect for the rule of law and governance are weak. With the aim of helping those who have helped themselves and to make aid more effective, many donors have shifted resources to countries that have well-functioning states and a basic commitment to promoting pro-poor growth. Whilst this is understandable, particularly in the context of achieving the SDGs, millions of poor women and men live in fragile or failed states. They, too, need hope for the future.

Conclusion Amidst uncertainties and change worldwide, the donor community is adapting swiftly and remains dedicated to supporting communities and other humanitarian partners. Uncertainties like the COVID-19 pandemic require donors to respond with greater agility, simplify their current funding arrangements and diversify their interventions whilst maintaining accountability for the use of funds.

Related articles

Sustainability of NPOs in evolving and challenging times

Sustainability is not a goal to be reached but a way of thinking, a way of being & a principle we must be guided by. The Not-for-Profit Organisation (NPO) sector cannot and should not leave their sustainability to chance... PwC's Mercy Kuria and Mwangi Karanja share their thoughts in this article.

Building resilient and sustainable health systems

There are many lessons to learn from the health and economic consequences of COVID-19. In this article, PwC's Joseph Kagiri discusses how the pandemic could well become a catalyst for a paradigm shift in Africa’s quest to achieve Universal Health Coverage and many of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Preparing to rebuild our economy now

As governments develop longer-term economic stimulus packages, they should design them around the core principle of building stronger, more resilient economies that support the long-term health and wellbeing of citizens. PwC's James Nyakundi discusses this in detail.

Stella Githinji

Senior Manager, Assurance T: +254 20 285 5382 E: stella.githinji@pwc.com

Noni Kadzutu

Senior Manager, Assurance

E: noni.kadzutu@pwc.com T: +254 20 285 5162

Share with your networks

Read the next article: Non-Governmental Organisations as catalysts of economic growth