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Japanese NGOs face a COVID-19 dilemma – The challenge is to secure funds and flexible scheme

IDJ ENGLISH  International Development Journal 2020 June edition


Due to the spread of COVID-19, not only official development assistance (ODA) but also the activities of international cooperation NGOs have been suspended. If this continues, the poor and vulnerable assisted by those NGOs in developing countries will face even more adversity. NGOs are aiming to resume their activities as soon as possible while developing new support systems to prevent infections, but they also face a complicated dilemma.


Postponing or canceling of new projects

As of early May, immigration restrictions and lockdowns have been implemented one after another in developing countries to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infections. As a consequence, aid-related people have been unable to carry out local activities or travel to their sites in developing countries. NGOs are no exception.

In Indonesia, which is headquartered by NGO Kopernik, that works on the development and dissemination of technology aimed at poverty reduction in the “Last Mile” region – the most unreachable in developing countries – lockdown measures have been adopted throughout the country. There is a situation wherein it is impossible to move, even on a business trip. “We’re switching existing projects to what we can do online but, in the months to come, there might be almost nothing that we can do online,” said Kopernik co-founder and CEO, Toshihiro Nakamura. Some new projects are already postponed or canceled due to COVID-19.

“If this situation continues for a few more months, the poor will die,” said an NGO employee in Uganda. The whole country has been locked down since March 30th. The period was originally planned for two weeks, but has been extended. Except for shopping for groceries and daily necessities, in principle, going outside is prohibited. If people go out without permission, they may be arrested. Food prices are soaring, food is becoming more difficult to buy, and violence and theft of foodstuffs is occurring in the capital city, Kampala, raising security concerns.

Under such circumstances, stores and restaurants, including cafes run by HIV-positive single mothers, have lost customers and are on the verge of closure. At these stores, the AIDS orphan-supporting Japanese NGO, PLAS (Tokyo), provides management know-how, which supports livelihood improvement and life planning for poor families with children who have lost one or both parents due to HIV/AIDS. PLAS is becoming increasingly seriously concerned that not only continuous support but also the livelihood of the support recipient will be threatened further.


JPF supports the continuation of the current projects

Japan Platform (JPF), an international humanitarian organization that has supported NGOs for many years, takes this situation very seriously and has launched a response policy for COVID-19. JPF, which is a framework for collaboration and cooperation between NGOs, business circles, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, utilizing Japanese government funds and donations collected from companies and individuals to support the activities of NGOs that provide emergency humanitarian assistance.

The response policy is to ensure that NGOs can continue their current projects as much as possible while ensuring maximum safety so that the humanitarian crisis of the most vulnerable that NGOs have been working on do not worsen. It also suggests that flexible measures will be taken according to the situation. They plan to flexibly operate the response policy, making revisions while checking the situation. As of May 8, there are two main points regarding the operational policy.

First, it is a response to the continuation of the current projects. Due to the spread of infection, NGOs are faced with the need to add new efforts and make major changes not included in the original plan, such as distributing masks and disinfectants to local staff, and holding workshops on infection prevention, such as hand washing.

Furthermore, it is expected that the originally planned scope and number of beneficiaries will change as the plan is changed or extended. JPF will accept plan changes within the budget amount at the start of the project.

Also, regarding the “completion report” to be submitted at the end of each project, if the original of the termination report cannot be submitted due to the difficult postal circumstances or the work system, or if an accounting audit using the original is not possible, the omission of the seal or electronically received data correspondence will be accepted. (The original document must be submitted as soon as possible).

Next is information sharing when the NGO has a positive case of COVID-19 among their staff. Conventionally, when an incident or accident happens, the NGO side decides whether or not reporting to JPF is necessary and responds. It is said that the NGO side will decide whether to report the positive corona cases. If there is a report to JPF, they will do their utmost to protect private information.

In addition, JPF has already started accepting applications, as it is subsidizing new projects on a conventional scale. “Because of the COVID-19 disaster, we must prevent the existing humanitarian crisis from worsening. We want to respond to necessary projects with a sense of speed,” said Hiroaki Higuchi, Director of the JPF Grant Promotion Department.

However, challenges remain. One of them is fundraising, which seeks donations from the private sector. Normally, the JPF is able to cover most of the funds needed to support victims of natural disasters that occur in Japan, only through private donations from companies.

This time, in the scheme “COVID-19 Emergency Support”, newly established by JPF in February, they have been struggling in terms of fundraising. As companies, the purse strings for donations will never be loose. In particular, there are many companies that are considering making donations with the condition that they are limited to domestic support.

This has been pointed out by other NGOs. There are many companies and investors who raise their hands on investment and donation for the COVID-19 countermeasures in Japan. But it will decrease for international cooperation. “Even if you look at the scheme of the newly established subsidies, many of them are only for the COVID-19 countermeasures in Japan. Our overseas projects do not apply to the application conditions,” a staff of an international cooperation NGO says.

Despite that, “I want to deliver support to the local people as soon as possible,” said PLAS Representative Director, Ruiko Monda, who decided to use her own funds for emergency humanitarian assistance. They distribute food and hygiene products such as soap in Uganda and Kenya. Currently, she said that she would collect donations through crowdfunding and later cover her own funds.


Considering schemes other than ODA

On the other hand, Kopernik has started to locally support the COVID-19 countermeasures by utilizing public and private funds abroad. The organization is currently working with the assistance of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) on the development and production of face shields for Indonesian healthcare workers. The funding for this project comes from the Australian crisis response fund, which provides funding in the event of a natural disaster. “The government has been working on the creation of this Crisis Response Fund and the formation of an organization that can respond quickly to emergencies for the past five years. This has been working well for COVID-19,” Nakamura points out.

In addition, since the spread of COVID-19 infection causes damage equal to a “disaster”, non-official development assistance (ODA), including budget for promoting multilateral disaster prevention cooperation in the Asian region, should be utilized. Why don’t you consider using these funds?

In ODA as well, it is necessary to actively support Japanese NGOs so that they can exert grassroots power. Under such circumstances, it is necessary to consider how to incorporate the risk of new infectious diseases such as COVID-19 in the implementation of future projects.  (Michi Sewaki)

































(瀬脇 理)



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