Coronavirus and Third Sector
In this extraordinary time of suspension of our daily lives, in which many of the things we are used to taking for granted are missing, there is a general – albeit certainly not unanimous – rediscovery of values to which our society and our lifestyles have given less and less weight: time for oneself, relationships with others, a sense of civic duty, solidarity. Paradoxically, just as interpersonal relationships are being limited to the maximum, we have rediscovered our sense of community. We have rediscovered that our destinies are inexorably intertwined, that what each of us does impacts our neighbors and vice versa. And that in an increasingly individualistic society, it is on the collective dimension that our future really depends.
So during this emergency situation emphasis is rightly given to solidarity behaviors: from solidarity between neighbors, in the concrete and symbolic gestures passing from one balcony to another, to solidarity with those who perform their duty “on the front lines” – whether doctors, nurses or cleaning staff in the intensive care units; to social solidarity in a broad sense towards people, businesses and organizations that are suffering from the economic consequences of the health crisis that is affecting the entire world.
As we stress the importance of solidarity, we must be careful not to forget those who have always practiced solidarity in their daily lives, to the point of making it the aim of their work. I am referring in particular to those organizations that find their raison d’etre in tending to relationships and providing social services. And that even now, in the midst of the health emergency, continue to engage and provide services amid a thousand difficulties and far from media attention: from associations assisting the homeless to social cooperatives whose workers are cleaning hospitals and retirement homes.
In other words, we must pay attention to the world of third sector organizations, which has been hit very hard by the ongoing state of emergency. When we talk about this world we talk about a collective asset made of resources, relationships, and skills on which we have all relied and on which our entire welfare system has come to depend. A heritage that risks being significantly compromised if urgent measures are not taken to protect it, and whose capacity must not be curtailed by the crisis because in the coming months and years we will need it more than ever.
It is thus necessary first of all that public bodies, from the national government to local administrations, be mindful of those who help design and provide services of general interest to their citizens, taking all the necessary measures to ensure that this ability to respond to needs (which are destined to increase following this crisis) does not fail. But we must also think about what can be done to mobilize private resources, in the most disparate forms: donations, bequests, investments, volunteering.
Here in Italy the national government has introduced some innovative support measures for third sector organizations, and it is now up to the local administrations to implement them, adapting them if necessary to the local context. One key aspect concerns public procurement contracts, which should be redesigned rather than suspended during the emergency, guaranteeing at least some continuity and income to the contract holders.
If we are able to learn from this emergency (which is not in any way a given) we may find ourselves living in a world that is more supportive, more attentive to the collective dimension (of problems and responses), and more balanced in its development model. The first test will be the care that we take in protecting the people and organizations that have always worked in this direction.