Corporate Social Responsibility in times of pandemics
The COVID crisis heavily impacted the Romanian society; How did CSR actors and NGOs react to it?
Written by
Sabina Antoci
Est. Reading: 4 minutes

The COVID-19 pandemic crisis has affected and continues to affect the lives of people and organizations around the world. The crisis threatened the survival of organizations across all sectors and industries at a global scale, having several societal implications. This raises important questions: how did CSR actors respond to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis when their routine activity was impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic? How did NGOs cope with the crisis? And what are the factors that influenced these reactions? I am part of the Romanian CSR sector, so I chose to study this phenomenon in Romania, where the CSR-NGO ecosystem is still fragile.

My research on CSR actors from 17 industries shows that, between March and June 2020, seven CSR strategies emerged as responses to the emergent pandemic crisis Click To Tweet

  1. Compressing strategy (the compressor) - reducing and decreasing the overall activity, with big impact on the NGO stakeholders. Even though this strategy helps organizations survive, it is a short run option, because it only partially counterbalances lost revenue and budget deficit. It can help organizational recovery (giving everyone time to reflect on the way the organization acts, on the relevance of directions and processes, on the priorities), but it also leads to erosion and lost synergies.
  2. Persevering strategy (the perseverant) maintaining the organization’s current activities with the available resources, continuing projects and partnerships, but avoiding new investments. A viable strategic response to the pandemic in the medium run, this approach risks to consume all resources in the long run.
  3. Facilitating strategy (the facilitator) - mobilizing resources in order to respond to urgent stakeholder interests. It is associated with humanitarian aid, which had allowed the collaboration between different actors in the community. It is a strategy for the short initial period, but the organization can be (extremely) affected because its internal dynamic is neglected.
  4. Building capacity strategy (the capacity builder) – building the stakeholders’ capacity to cope on short, medium and long term, in such way that the mission, the strategy, and the partnership are not impacted. This process needs time, may not generate immediate effects, especially in facing urgent crisis, but it increases resilience, being a potential recovery strategy. It is a viable response on long term, characteristic for mature, stable organizations, with secured resources.
  5. Catalyzing strategy (the catalyzer) - using the pandemic as an opportunity for renewal or innovation, for strategic re-thinking, mainly in the case of organizations with strategies rooted in the routine of daily business. This strategy works especially when business-as-usual is not an option anymore. It is a long-run strategy, accelerating change, especially when the crisis lasts longer; but, at the same time, it involves high risks, as it requires many resources.
  6. Shaping strategy (the shaper) – creating the CSR strategy around the pandemic, as a clear organizational component, by accelerating sporadic ideas and initiatives into a coherent approach. It is a feasible long-run strategy that can re-shape and differentiate the whole business model by integrating the lessons generated by the crisis. At the same time, it implies the allocation of consistent resources and can be risky, when the organization does not have experience and secured resources, especially if the crisis lasts longer.
  7. Consolidating strategy (the consolidator) - reinforcing the CSR strategic position as an important actor in the community. It is a viable strategic response to crisis in long run, especially for mature, solid organizations. Although it is a feasible strategy with long-term impact, not only for its stakeholders but for society at all, it involves many resources and it is a long process, which aims for sustainable development.

There are some important factors influencing the CSR actors to adopt these strategies: fear (associated with perceived negative consequences, a stimulator to protect the organizations and its stakeholders); solidarity (associated with the mobilization to react and with the collective effort to cope); pressure (organizational resources, governance structures); opportunity (to resolve problems and to observe trends in order to innovate).

The NGO sector is the most significant stakeholder of CSR actors in Romania, and their reactions to the pandemic was underlined by similarities, commonalities, and differences. Unlike CSR actors, the NGO responses are characterized by a special focus to remain resilient, and this is done by adopting three strategies Click To Tweet

  1. Defending strategy (the defender) - involves survival mechanisms, mobilization of all resources as the usual activity is compromised. It is a short run reactive strategy, focused on covering the emergency needs of those vulnerable that become more vulnerable because of the crisis.
  2. Mitigating strategy (the mitigator) – implies preventive measures to minimize the negative effects of the pandemic among the NGO beneficiaries. It is a feasible strategy for the short run because it responds to the immediate, basic needs. But, by ignoring the internal organizational environment, the organization risks to fail its mission in medium and long term, especially when confronted with non-diversified funding.
  3. Safeguarding strategy (the safeguarder) – is specific to NGOs looking to secure and shelter the interests of their beneficiaries for medium and long run and it involves securing many resources, a stable organization, and expertise.

There are four influencing factors influencing the NGO response to the pandemic crisis, different from those of CSR actors: intrinsic motivation (of not abandoning the NGO beneficiaries); mission alignment (the vector to act, to maintain the motivation, to remain connected with people from communities); dependency on one source of funding; and lack of organizational development. 

These reactive, defending and engaging strategies can be an alternative for short, medium or long term as response to the pandemic. They underline the CSR and NGO actors’ need for resilience, in report with the fragile system in which they operate. They raise awareness for the importance of NGO capacity building, cohesive community engagement, solid public policies, and initiates a necessary debate about philanthropic crisis management. Not only during the crisis, but also after it, these actors have the opportunity to maximize and transform the solidarity they have shown into more consolidated common initiatives, by joining forces in building and supporting sustainable communities.

Sabina Antoci is Senior Program Manager at the Vodafone Foundation in Bucharest, has 10 year experience in executive positions in various NGOs, and has worked with the European Council for improving the situation of Romanian disadvantaged communities. Sabina graduated this year the Executive MBA program jointly ran by Maastricht School of Management and Bucharest International School of Management. This article is based on Sabina’s research for her master thesis. Sabina can be contacted at






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