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An over-reliance on an under-resourced sector

FACT - Civil society services a gap in public sector service delivery to vulnerable and under-resourced communities.

In many cases organisations within this sector are also under-resourced. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic greatly exasperated this reality and key players in the civil society ecosystem were pushed to an unsustainable resource burn rate during this crisis.

As a result, strategic community resources, most suitably positioned to respond to the national pandemic and subsequent health, food and education crises have been hampered in delivering services at scale, despite the country’s crucial reliance on these services.

This reality informs the need and urgency for an index reflecting the relative health of the civil society value chain.

As a result a GrowZA Thinktank team developed a civil society resilience index framework as an insight and projection resource for the sustainability of the Civil Society Sector at large.

Given the size and complexity of the civil society sector in South Africa, the framework dictates a phased approach be followed with detailed and contextual indices for a number of civil society sub-sectors.

These indices will be developed in consultation with sub-sector and theme experts in practice and academia.

Finally, the completed indices will be collated to form a comprehensive Civil Society Resilience Index (CSRI). As a result it will provide a common basis of measurement and assessment to better facilitate dialogue and knowledge-sharing within the civil society sector.

It is envisaged that the CSRI will primarily be used by donors and governments and secondarily by civil society sector role-players and agents to ultimately improve service delivery to the communities that are served by the civil society sector.


The General Assembly Resolution 71/276 describes resilience as “the ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate, adapt to, transform and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner, including through the preservation and restoration of its essential basic structures and functions through risk management.”*

Civil society resilience describes the capacity of the sector to function in such a way that the systems and people within the sector can survive and thrive to service under-resourced communities, no matter what stresses or shocks the sector encounters.

Therefore, a resilient civil society sector is one that recognises pivotal and transformative forces at play, such as climate change, globalization, political unrest and pandemics and develops strategies to address these challenges and transform them into opportunities.


To facilitate insight into what a recovery response should include and how a systemic shift can be curated, the CSRI explores the interaction between three dimensions of sustainability and the observed responses to shocks to the system, these dimensions are:


A system property which denotes the degree of shock or change that can be tolerated while the system maintains its structure, basic functioning, and organization

adaptive capacity

The social and technical skills and strategies of individuals and groups that are directed towards responding to environmental and socioeconomic changes.


The exposure and difficulty of individuals, families, communities, and countries in coping with shocks, risk, and other contingencies. This can be thought of as the opposite of adaptive capacity, with a continuum of mixed adaptation/vulnerability in between the two extremes of adaptive capacity and vulnerability


The Covid-19 pandemic severely disrupted the civil society ecosystem, to the extent where the survival of the sector is not guaranteed. Given the tremendous strain that the already overly burdened civil society sector is under, the development of a resilience index is relevant and urgent.

The Civil Society Resilience Index (CSRI) will:

  • Provide an evidence-based articulation of the civil society sector's resilience, and a robust basis for measuring thematic resilience at scale.

  • Bring investment rigour to the rebuilding and maintaining of the civil society sector, serving as a systemic and empirical foundation upon which more inclusive and sustainable solutions and policies can be built.

  • Enhance performance in the face of multiple hazards, rather than preventing or mitigating the loss of assets due to specific events.


The index will measure relative performance over time rather than a comparison between organisations or sub-sectors within civil society.

It will not deliver an overall single score for comparing performance between sub-sectors, nor will it provide a ranking of the most 'resilient' sub-sectors or organisations. The index serves to develop social investment strategies rooted in data, with the intention of identifying strategic blockages in the value chain.

Additionally, the index will be used by civil society organisations to better design and package interventions that are accurately costed for organisational sustainability and resilience.


The CSRI build is a pragmatic response to the social investment chaos that ensued as the C19 pandemic hit. The current disaster relief response in KZN is a case in point as social investor look to direct resources to trusted, agile organisations.

Its time.


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