30 May 2023

“We stepped out of COVID, and into the energy crisis and interest rate increases. People’s need for support from voluntary organisations has never been greater. This support needs to be coordinated and integrated into society in an intelligent way, in both Sweden and the rest of the world.”

A man and a lady gets a box wit food.
The research shows that the need for help was great during the pandemic, regardless of the policies on lockdown. xavierarnau

These are the words of Johan Nordensvärd, docent in political science at LiU, who is researching the role of voluntary organisations and civil society in providing people with help to get food during the pandemic. It is an international research collaboration with participants from several countries that had different rules during the pandemic regarding, for example, lockdowns.

"The need around the world for support from voluntary organisations was great during Corona, and it still is. New difficulties arise all the time. Right now, many people are suffering from increased electricity prices and high food prices,” says Johan Nordensvärd.

Voluntary work should be integrated into national emergency planning

The research shows that the need for help was great during the pandemic, regardless of the policies on lockdown. It was larger in the areas that had extensive shutdowns of Johan Nordensvärd at LiU."People’s need for support from voluntary organisations has never been greater" says Johan Nordensvärd. Photo credit Magnus Johansson societal functions, but even in relatively open Sweden there was a need.

“During a crisis, there is a huge need for help at different levels. We saw how the need for support changed with time in the different countries. In Sweden, large numbers of people turned to the City Mission movement and similar voluntary organisations for support. I hope that those responsible for planning will take note of our report and gain a better understanding of how voluntary organisations can be integrated in future crises and difficult situations.”

By “those responsible for planning” Johan Nordensvärd means, for example, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, municipalities and politicians, who can all assist in providing a structured and constructive role for voluntary organisations in tackling crises. In the future, a better plan will be needed for the integration of voluntary organisations into society’s overall emergency planning.

“Such a plan would be useful in all kinds of events that affect people, not just in world-wide crises like a pandemic.”

The need for support has not diminished

Johan Nordensvärd admits that conducting research during the pandemic was not entirely straightforward due to the extensive restrictions that prevailed in, for example, Wuhan and Sydney. But he still thinks it was worth the effort, because the results are important for future crises.

“Although it was perhaps not surprising that China, which had extensive lockdowns, was in greatest need of help, it was exciting to follow their work. China is a country that has not always had close cooperation with voluntary organisations.”

The fact that Korea and Sweden, which did not have comprehensive lockdowns, still had a large dependence on voluntary organisations, was due to increased unemployment, reduced availability of supplies, and also people falling through social security safety nets. Johan Nordensvärd concludes that there is a greater need for support than we were previously aware of in Sweden.

“The need for food assistance during the pandemic was great in all countries. It’s not just about feeding the hungry, I think we will need support in different situations at a higher level in the future.”

Other work from this research group


The research project started during the pandemic and lasted approximately one and a half years.

The project was funded by Formas and dealt with the role voluntary organisations played in providing the needy with food in

  • Wuhan (China)
  • Sydney (Australia)
  • Singapore
  • London (United Kingdom)
  • Seoul (Korea)
  • Stockholm (Sweden).

Publications and website

Read more in the publications or at the website. 

The research project started during the pandemic and lasted approximately one and a half years.

The research group has continued to collaborate and has produced a number of publications and an international website.

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