9 June 2020

Strengthening local partnerships to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations

Many marginalised groups are especially vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic. While long-term, structural solutions are critical in addressing the needs of these groups, one approach that can help in providing immediate relief and support is for larger organisations and institutions to partner with local groups who are already working closely with vulnerable communities. As different communities have different needs, resources, and risk factors, it is especially important to work with local groups that can provide highly tailored support.

Working with local organisations to implement rapid response efforts has several advantages. Such an approach can improve the efficiency of these efforts by leveraging the meaningful connections local organisations have with the communities they serve. It can also improve effectiveness, as local groups have a better understanding of specific needs of local communities and are more likely to be trusted and perceived as credible by those communities.

The East-West Management Institute, Inc. (EWMI) has leveraged its existing partnerships and grant-making mechanisms to support local civil society organisations (CSOs) to provide targeted COVID-19 pandemic support to communities they already serve. The support provided by each EWMI project varies to best respond to specific needs and leverage existing resources in each context.

In Georgia, EWMI’s USAID-funded Advancing CSO Capacities and Engaging Society for Sustainability (ACCESS) Project announced a Rapid Response Grants (RRG) program for Georgian Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), civil movements, and citizen groups to provide flexible resources to best address the COVID-19 pandemic in the communities these groups serve. ACCESS has funded 21 RRGs to date, from a total of 370 applications. Several of the grants have already been awarded with the others soon to follow.

RRG grantee Identoba Youth has developed an awareness-raising campaign for people living with HIV and at-risk groups in Batumi, producing materials and answering questions in consultations with individuals. Xenon, which works with individuals with substance use disorders, is using RRG funds to develop and disseminate print materials, facilitate a training webinar for harm reduction staff, and provide information by phone to increase awareness about COVID-19 and how to prevent contracting it, tailored to the risks and considerations of individuals with substance use disorders. Ajara Democratic Development Center is using RRG funds to launch a hotline specifically for the Roma community—one of the most marginalised groups in Georgia—in the Ajara region to provide education on COVID-19 risks and prevention. ACCESS has also awarded a grant to Wolfram Syndrome – Georgia, enabling them to provide COVID-19 information and assistance to persons with vision and hearing impairments, a vulnerable population that is at an increased risk of infection and health complications because of comorbidities, and more so, because of a lack of accessible vital information.

In some cases, grantees are utilising crowd funding to raise additional funds on top of the RRG funding and expand their work. Civic Initiative works with the elderly in Sighnaghi Municipality, where almost a third of the residents are over the age of 65. With support from ACCESS RRG funds, Civic Initiative has assessed needs, provided essential food and medical products, and implemented stress management and relief efforts for the elderly living alone. Civic Initiative has successfully used crowd funding to build on their work, raising funds from 513 local citizens. Similarly, the grantee Ialkani, which works with socially vulnerable groups including people living with disabilities, has used crowd funding and coordinating volunteers to assist more than 150 additional families by providing food.

Even in cases when distinct Rapid Response Grants may not be possible or appropriate, larger organisations can find ways to support local groups to respond. For example, in implementing the Cambodian Civil Society Strengthening (CCSS) Program, also funded by USAID, EWMI is leveraging its existing partnerships with local organisations by asking their local CSO partners to survey their communities in order to identify how their respective needs and priorities have changed during the pandemic. The local partners, with funding from the USAID CCSS program, have been responsive to community needs through a variety of activities. For example, the Youth Council of Cambodia has worked with local authorities to facilitate public awareness events in three communes developed specifically to support returning migrants. EWMI has assisted another of its partners, the Cambodian Civil Society Partnership, to address an increase in cases of gender-based violence in specific regions. To combat discrimination against Muslims in Cambodia, following an outbreak of COVID-19 in Muslim communities, EWMI is planning to provide additional support to its partner the Alliance for Conflict Transformation.

Local groups that are especially tuned in to specific needs of the communities they serve are a critical part of learning and improving response efforts moving forward. Local groups will likely be a helpful source of feedback on continuing gaps that should be addressed. In order to maximise this learning, local groups should be encouraged to provide honest feedback and suggestions. Further, the connections between local groups and international organisations and institutions should serve as a mechanism to amplify the voices of members of the communities themselves.


Alexandra Zenoff

Senior Program Manager at East-West Management Institute