Civil society responses to COVID-19 in South Africa have shown remarkable agility, scope, and impact in the last nine months, especially in responding to the most-pressing problem in many vulnerable communities: hunger. These have included efforts by established nonprofits, as well as diverse mutual-aid groups like the community action networks (CANs) that spontaneously emerged in suburbs of Cape Town and then spread to other parts of the country. The individual CANs collaborate and support each other within a larger network called Cape Town Together. Interactions include “pairing” partnerships, in which a CAN in an affluent suburb collaborates with a CAN in a poor community, not to facilitate charity, but rather to foster solidarity across historically divided and profoundly unequal suburb communities. The impact has been significant and vital, with estimates suggesting that NGOs and mutual-aid groups provided more than half of all hunger relief during South Africa’s winter months.
However, these civil society efforts are now facing new challenges. Hunger is not diminishing in poor communities, despite an erstwhile end to lockdown and an increase in social grants. Meanwhile, these groups are contending with shrinking resources, as donations dry up and many volunteers go back to their normal routines or try to.
In that context, it’s impressive how many of these initiatives are showing significant resilience and continuing to provide much-needed food relief. It’s also significant that many are simultaneously reinventing themselves to foster longer-term, positive change. In so doing, they are offering inspiring examples of social innovation born from crisis, resisting the all-too-common return to pre-crisis “normal.”
These efforts deserve support, and will no doubt shape how we engage in and think about social innovation in years to come.
Read the full article about transitioning to long-term resilience after COVID-19 at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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