Working towards a new social compact


The COVID-19 crisis demands collective sacrifices from communities. It places great stress on societies and political systems. Governments that have managed to limit the spread of the virus have something in common: they are often those that enjoy the trust of their citizens. Long before COVID-19 hit, they had a social compact in which members of society cooperated for social benefits while receiving support from governments. And civil society organisations (CSOs) play a critical role in this social compact by providing citizens with a strong and collective voice.

SNV uses its extensive on-the-ground track record to build trust between governments and citizens. We leverage our long term relationships with governments and civil society to provide citizens a strong voice to hold officials accountable. We help generate data and credible information through independent experts. Our explicit focus on inclusion encourages and supports governments to leave nobody behind in their agriculture, energy and WASH policies.  We have decades of experience in working explicitly and visibly with governments to provide basic services. We leverage new information technologies to share impartial data and fight misinformation.

We strengthen civil society to provide citizens a strong voice

Informed citizens can select and sanction leaders based on performance. Informed customers can pressure private enterprises and public service providers to improve goods and services and to deliver value for money. SNV helps to generate credible data and builds capacity of civil society to use data and evidence to support their advocacy. Our COVID-19 response builds on our huge network of relations with local and national governments.

Our DGIS-funded Voice for Change Partnership (V4CP) programme, implemented in partnership with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), is our flagship programme on evidence-based advocacy. The programme empowers over fifty CSOs in Honduras, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Indonesia by strengthening their capacities on leadership, thematic knowledge, use of evidence, advocacy skills and organisational sustainability. These CSOs represent and voice the interests of low-income and marginalised communities to reduce poverty and inequality as the COVID-19 crisis unfolds.

Our track record on constructive but critical engagement and our focus on evidence and data make SNV and our partner CSOs credible partners. For instance, our partner Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) was invited to be part of COVID-19 emergency committees of various local governments in Kenya. IEA and county CSOs not only advocated for water stations in local markets and other key places, as well as social audits and public participation processes to highlight sanitation. It also worked with local government to distribute COVID-19 information, education and communication (IEC) materials on hand-washing and other preventive measures and public awareness campaigns.

We leave no one behind

As hundreds of millions of people around the world will see an increase in poverty, hunger, and destitution, now more than ever we must ensure that no one is left behind. Women and girls will be hit the hardest by the devastating social and economic consequences of the pandemic, even if early data indicates that the mortality rates from COVID-19 may be higher for men. As nearly 60 per cent of women around the world work in the informal economy, earning less and saving less, they are at greater risk of falling into poverty. As markets fall and businesses close, millions of women’s jobs are disappearing. With massive lay-offs in many industries as well as movement restrictions for those employed in the informal sector, and substantial reduction in global and national remittances, rural as well as (peri-) urban families will be heavily hit.

For example, as governments respond to this crisis, we work on ensuring that nutrition programmes will be safeguarded and responsive to protect children and families vulnerable to malnutrition, thus leaving no one behind. Healthy, balanced diets are key for boosting immunity and preventing non-communicable diseases that are risk factors for higher COVID-19 morbidity and mortality.

In Rwanda, civil society organisations with SNV have been advocating to improve food security and nutrition for the most vulnerable for several years. The Rwanda Development Organization (RDO) is an SNV partner in the V4CP programme. Together, we developed an evidence-based argument to tackling malnutrition and advocated for effective public spending on food and nutrition security. We had to adapt our approach when the COVID-19 lockdown hampered the movement of people and goods, reducing the quantity and variety of food available in the local market. While the government of Rwanda stepped in to provide food to vulnerable populations, the nutrient content of this food was limited. RDO with SNV used its longstanding partnership with various stakeholders to remind the government to consider nutrition for pregnant, lactating mothers and young children while supplying food to vulnerable groups. We also advocated for good, nutritious content of the food provided.

We help governments improve services

Would you trust a government that does not provide you with affordable and sustainable energy, water, sanitation and other social services? SNV supports local and national governments to plan and roll out cooperative and inclusive approaches to handling the crisis in order to build trust between communities and governments. We have decades of experience in working explicitly and visibly with governments to provide basic services.

For instance, over the past years, our PicoPV project in Kenya helped install 140,000 solar systems. We are now working with the Kenyan Ministry of Energy to extend these results in the country through the World Bank-funded Kenya Off-Grid Solar Access Project. Such projects not only provide electricity and clean cooking solutions – they also grow the social compact.

Public financing for access to services is now being threatened as governments reallocate scarce public financing to COVID-19 prevention, while also seeing reduced tax incomes as a result of economic recession. Civil society has an important role to play in giving citizens a voice towards local and central governments in their COVID-19 response activities, to ensure that the rights and duties of citizens are being respected. Through the V4CP programme, SNV is working with the Clean Cooking Association of Kenya to strengthening coalitions and new partnerships to advance the sector advocacy in the midst of the pandemic.

We leverage new information technologies to share impartial data

Civil society plays a critical role in sharing impartial data about COVID-19 and its economic and social impacts to counter rumour and political manipulation of the crisis. The lockdown and social distancing restriction during the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the role of new information technologies for advocacy.

I have been impressed by how our partners around the world have scaled up digitised solutions during this pandemic. In doing so, the networks and relationships built are a basis to bring about change and to counter misinformation from less dependable sources.

Vietnam was the first country where SNV works which faced lockdown measures, with staff and partners working from home for several months in the first half of 2020. We adjusted project activities to protect the health of our staff, and the health and livelihoods of the communities we work with. Our Vietnam team made a video on how they did adapted.

Evidence-based advocacy, through civil society, plays a key role in supporting and working with governments towards inclusive, sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.  It is a vital part to fighting poverty in these hard times.