The Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Canada’s Foreign Aid Sector

Authors: Andrea Paras (PI), Craig Johnson, Spencer Henson, Asa Coleman, and Jenine Otto (Guelph Institute of Development Studies)

This project was funded by the University of Guelph’s Covid-19 Research Development and Catalyst Fund.

The main objective of this research was to investigate the impacts and implications of the Covid-19 pandemic for Canadian humanitarian and development organisations. Working with their partners around the world, Canadian humanitarian and development organisations 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 organisations deliver these services and engage with their global partners. Additionally, the economic costs of the pandemic, with massive projected financial and job losses, threaten to undermine the future viability of the sector. Even more concerning is the negative impact this will have on the vulnerable communities in the Global South with whom Canadian organisations work, who also now face additional challenges in responding to the pandemic. The research employed quantitative and qualitative methods, including a survey and follow-up interviews. We received 151 survey responses (representing a 20.1% response rate) and conducted 13 interviews with key informants from Canadian humanitarian and development organisations.

The key findings are as follows:

  • NGOs rely on personal charitable donations more than any other source of funding by a wide margin. Since the beginning of the pandemic, losses from personal charitable donations are also the most frequently reported source of funding decline. Financial loss within the sector has already been significant since March 2020, with 60.1% of NGOs reporting a decline in funding. Small and Medium Organisations (SMOs) and faith-based organisations (FBOs) appear to have been impacted the most by funding losses.
  • More than one-third of organisations surveyed reported that they have had to suspend their program delivery since the beginning of the pandemic. Education and gender equality are also the two areas most impacted by program suspensions. The report concludes that the pandemic has had a “double impact” on education and gender equality: it has both damaged historical progress that has been made in these areas as well as negatively impacted the ability of NGOs to address these issues.
  • Despite the focus on gender equality in Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, less than one-fifth of organisations surveyed reported that they had implemented a gender-based approach in their pandemic response.
  • Over the past decade, consensus has been growing within the Canadian humanitarian and development sector about the need to support localisation processes in order to build more inclusive, equitable and participatory partnerships between Canadian NGOs and local organisations. Nevertheless, the pandemic revealed the extent to which inflexible Canadian funding regulations impede progress and innovation in this area. The report argues that it is necessary to restructure Canadian funding regulations to better support localisation and the empowerment of local partners.
  • The pandemic has amplified global challenges related to poverty, education, gender equality, food security, climate change and health. At the same time, the pandemic has impacted programs and services across all issue areas, which makes it difficult to disentangle Covid-19’s impacts from other pressing development issues. Nevertheless, there will be significant and negative long-term consequences if funding is diverted to Covid-19 response while other important global issues are ignored. The report argues that any funding that is allocated to support the global pandemic response should not be diverted from existing foreign aid commitments nor should Canada’s pandemic response result in lower ODA commitments, which are already far below the 0.7% target.

Download the report.