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The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic was an unprecedented event in the modern era. Earlier studies demonstrated how ‘critical junctures’, which comprise major historical events and emergencies, often play an essential role in social change. This paper seeks to explore whether the COVID-19 pandemic would prove to be a similar pivotal moment, and what lessons and insights we could gather for positive social change.

The research set out to find key insights on how individuals, communities, and organizations in civil society were responding to the pandemic in low-income populations at the intersection of multiple inequalities. These lessons could inform how donors, governments and NGOs might reshape their efforts to reduce emerging or deepening inequalities, and how civil society organisations and community-based organisations could amplify their positive impacts.

Over 18 months, from September 2020 to March 2022, the ‘Emergent Agency’ research convened a global conversation between activists, development practitioners, researchers, and academics to better understand the phenomena that were taking place in response to the pandemic. The research collected more than 200 case studies and held a series of webinars and conversations in thematic clusters to uncover what these responses could teach us. The research project was enabled with funding from The Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity programme (AFSEE) of the London School of Economics.

The findings from the collaborative research have been summarised in two main documents:

– this research report, which retraces the steps of the study, its methodology and main findings;

– and a brief, which summarizes key points that we believe are important for those working in international and national NGOs, and donor agencies.





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