Knowledge Translation in HealthWestern Health Sciences

Are nonprofits heading for a K-shaped recovery? : Spotlight on the state of community health

After nearly two years of managing the evolving emergency response to COVID-19, community based organizations are now looking at the road ahead. Promoting population health has never been more critical to our social stability, economic prosperity, and achieving the global Sustainable Development Goals. Our team has been reflecting on the UN Research Roadmap for COVID-19 Recovery that lays out some of the conversations and questions we ought to be asking as we move into this next phase of pandemic response. 

These research priorities are in line with the five pillars identified in the UN Roadmap Framework, and signal a strong emphasis on trust-building and network approaches to community health.

Five Areas of focus from the UN Framework:

  1. Protecting health services and systems
  2. Ensuring social protection and basic services
  3. Protecting jobs, small- and medium-sized enterprises and informal sector workers
  4. Supporting macroeconomic response and multilateral collaboration
  5. Strengthening social cohesion and community resilience

The UN roadmap shares that “while pandemics are infrequent, health emergencies are not.” Our responses to growing threats of emerging infectious diseases or extreme climate events will only benefit from a networked health system that includes community based organizations. This will require a stronger knowledge base to support decisions on how best to govern, finance and deliver health systems that are more resilient, adaptive and responsive. The community health alliances that were built and resourced over the last 2 years are essential to our recovery and must play a central role in reimagining a system for our new normal. (Research Priority 1.5, pg 31)   

The Research Roadmap states: “To build trust and capacity to collectively tackle health threats, there is a need to leverage local and traditional knowledge, develop solutions tailored to communities, and then systematically support implementation and evaluate outcomes.” We know this work is done best by community organizations and need to ensure we include these organizations as key stakeholders in health system decision making. 


While community based organizations have been lifelines during the pandemic, these same organizations face the reality of a K-shaped recovery. The latest Sector Monitor survey from Imagine Canada shows how the pandemic continues to challenge the sector and suggests that even recovery will be challenging for many organizations. Some highlights from the report include:

These findings mirror what is going on in the economy as a whole, with some industries affected by the pandemic far more than others and some of those affected likely to take much longer to recover than others. This is what economists describe as a K-shaped recovery. In this scenario, after a recession, some industries recover, while others stagnate or continue to decline.


How do we ensure the social sector is supported during this recovery period knowing that these organizations are essential to our long-term population health, wellness and resilience as a country.  

The Equitable Recovery Collective, a group of nonprofit and community organizations, released their own recommendations in a Written Submission for the Pre-Budget Consultations in Advance of Federal Budget 2022. Read more about these recommendations here

1. Strategic engagement with the nonprofit sector 
2. Provide more core funding for nonprofits and charities
3. Enhance Community Services Recovery Fund and ensure equitable program design
4. Enable more equitable partnerships 
5. Invest in social infrastructure 


a focus on the people behind the systems

The pandemic has had a significant impact on the mental health of many Canadians, and community organization staff and volunteers have been navigating uncertainty for nearly 2 years. The pressure of increased demands and stresses of layoff and lost revenue is undoubtedly taking a toll on the sector’s workforce. 

  • Half of organizations have increased the time and resources they dedicate to their employees’ or volunteers’ mental health and wellness
  • However, just over one third have an Employee Assistance Program or a similar resource to support employees or volunteers 

These experiences are consistent with our own research and focus group conversations with leaders at community-based organizations involved in the public health response. 


We recently shared our research findings about equitable pandemic restrictions from the perspective of community based organizations at Trillium Primary Care Research Day; we hope to continue creating spaces to have this conversation with our Community Health Advisory Council - join our Public health learning network newsletter to stay connected with our research team!

Organizations and public health leaders can connect with our growing community network using this form

Join us and let’s emerge from this pandemic a stronger and more connected network of professionals and researchers.