COVID-19 has introduced radical uncertainty into humanitarian aid and development. You shouldn’t panic – this new funding landscape also offers a host of new opportunities. But its turbulent state means keeping a close eye on what funding is available, how it corresponds to your needs, as well as thinking about diversifying beyond a single donor.

At MzN, we’ve tried to see through COVID-19 funding noise and identify the trends behind contract releases for funding from bilaterals, multilaterals and major foundations – all of which we’ve collated, along with International Aid Transparency Initiative data. More than $20.5 trillion has so far been committed in response to the pandemic, according to Devex.

Many NGOs are worried about funder priorities in the age of COVID-19. They don’t need to be. We show you how to navigate the new landscape.


Here are MzN’s 5 takeaways from our review of COVID-19 funding data:

1. Crisis funding evolves rapidly

In March and April, we first saw the “response” phase in Europe, then Latin America, Asia and Africa: grants, tenders and contracts to fund health systems. Then funding shifted into “relief” mode, to shore up institutions and programmes rocked by the crisis. Now it’s the turn of “recovery” support: predominantly large loans aimed at economic survival in the tourism, SME, education and financial sectors. The next wave will most likely be directed towards vaccines and other health programming, helping roll them out on the ground. Each is a wake-up call to NGOs to keep on the lookout for new opportunities and review their funding strategy accordingly.

2. Bilaterals can cater to focused needs

The coronavirus galvanized a quick response from the major global-level institutions aimed at strengthening the health sector and supporting early relief: up until June, multilateral funding was 70% higher than for the same period in 2019. But this trend is tailing off, as multilateral coffers begin to empty, and governments and foundations catch up. Shrewd organisations should look to the bilaterals for niche funding opportunities: they have often taken up specific areas abandoned by the multilaterals, such as Sweden on human rights, France on education and gender, and Germany on information and fake news.

3. Look beyond the health hashtag

Funding opportunities may be conveniently labelled as health-related, but often they are not. They may actually touch on related sectors, such as digitalization, education or community access to healthcare. Don’t miss the opportunity to secure funding just because you didn’t read past the headline and assumed it didn’t apply – which recently happened to one of our clients working in children’s psychosocial support in Syria.

4. Countries and foundations are consolidating their funding

The pandemic has intensified bilateral funders’ longstanding relationship with recipient countries: for example, France in the Middle East, North Africa and the francophone sphere; Germany looking to its mainstays in the Middle East, Algeria, Syria and the Ukraine; or Australia in the Indo-Pacific. The emphasis is on going deeper – moving into COVID-associated impacts such as human rights and economic vulnerability – within established territories. Small and medium-sized foundations are also concentrating on existing relationships. Organizations considering speculative proposals should bear this trend for “narrow-but-deeper” programming in mind.

5. COVID-19 has made donors flexible

Almost all of MzN’s clients have succeeding in getting their donors to adapt existing non-COVID programming to the pandemic response. Many have “upsold” their programmes and in doing so, extended their budgets – such as the Lebanese NGO that managed to spin its kindergarten and school education out into health lessons for adults, without a separate procurement process. Organizations should be reviewing their programmes and asking what is relevant to COVID and upsellable.

The Christmas deadline for responding to the European Commission’s autumn programme calls is fast approaching. Looking further ahead, it has just announced €1.8 trillion in development money running until 2027. In the US, President-elect Joe Biden’s victory hopefully means the rebuilding of foreign-aid bridges burnt by his outgoing predecessor, Donald Trump. Hopefully, this will open up new funding avenues for agile organizations ready to issue proposals. If you haven’t already, now is the right time to review your funding statement. If you’d like us to help, contact us: