The impact and implications of the COVID‑19 pandemic on Small and Medium Organisations (SMOs) in Canada’s foreign aid sector
The COVID‑19 pandemic has put Canada’s foreign aid sector at a crossroads. Working with local partners around the world, Canadian humanitarian and development non-governmental organisations (NGOs) play crucial roles in supporting public health, climate action, poverty alleviation, human rights, gender equality, food security, and education, amongst other issues. The COVID‑19 pandemic has disrupted how Canadian NGOs deliver these services and engage with their global partners. Additionally, the economic costs of the pandemic, with massive projected financial and job losses, threatens the viability of Canada’s NGO sector. Small and medium organisations (SMOs) in particular play several crucial roles within Canada’s foreign aid sector. They make up the vast majority of the more than 800 Canadian humanitarian and development NGOs (Tomlinson, 2016). They help to represent Canada’s diversity as well as bring expertise in specialised issues or geographic locations that are overlooked by larger organisations. SMOs also contribute to the vibrancy of Canada’s civil society by providing opportunities for Canadians to directly engage internationally through volunteerism or fundraising efforts.
The overarching objective of this research is to analyse the impacts and implications of the COVID‑19 pandemic for Canadian SMOs. In addition to understanding the challenges SMOs face in relation to financial loss and their ability to implement their programs, this research will seek to better understand their strategies and practices in response to the pandemic. While SMOs may experience vulnerabilities, they may also have unique adaptation strategies, flexibility and forms of resilience. Furthermore, the ability of SMOs to adapt to the COVID‑19 pandemic may be enabled or constrained by broader institutions, policies or dynamics within Canada’s foreign aid sector, such as the Canadian government’s federal funding structures and regulations, or competition between NGOs. As such, this project has three specific objectives:
1) to identify and analyse institutions, policies and dynamics that enable and/or constrain the effectiveness of SMOs;
2) to understand both the strengths and limitations of Canadian SMOs in the context of the COVID‑19 pandemic; and
3) to identify evidence-based recommendations and best practices that aim to amplify the effectiveness of SMOs during the pandemic and its aftermath.
The main impact of this research will be to influence ongoing conversations amongst NGOs, professional umbrella organisations, government policy makers, development scholars, and the general public about how Canadian organisations can most effectively contribute to international development during and after the COVID‑19 pandemic. More broadly, the research will also advance new empirical and policy knowledge about SMOs, which have largely been neglected by scholars even though they are significant contributors to Canada’s foreign aid sector. The research is significant because it will expand on the PI’s original dataset that was collected during the early onset of the pandemic and build on this prior work to track the pandemic’s impacts on SMOs through the medium and long-term. It also represents a unique community-engaged collaboration between scholars and development practitioners with the participation of the National Program Director of the Spur Change Program as a formal Collaborator on the project. The Spur Change Program is a federally funded initiative managed by the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation (ACGC) on behalf of the Inter-Council Network (ICN), which provides capacity-building and support to Canadian SMOs.