Friday, February 22, 2013

Taking resilience from buzzword to real-world impact

Resilience has recently rocketed to the top of the list of development buzzwords. But is it just a buzzword that will fade away like many others? Are we simply repackaging an old concept (sustainability, anyone?). How do we make resilience more than a word?

The answer, I suggest, is to put substance behind the concept and see how we can apply strategies in one arena, for example, disaster resilience, to other areas such as household finances, climate change and personal health to name a few. Otherwise, “resilience” will meet the same fate as so many development ideas that came along and briefly lit up our seemingly endless search for magic solutions to poverty.

I believe resilience is more than a buzzword, and actually a new concept — and the timing of its emergence should be no surprise at a time when donors are rethinking the use of their resources, with an eye toward longer and, yes, less expensive solutions to the largest development problems. Although it’s probably only one of many valid ways to approach the concept, I find it useful to refer to resilience as the combination of four — almost inevitably overlapping — strategies: behaviors, networks, policies, and products (one could make the convincing argument that knowledge should be added to the framework). Here are some ways to think about it:

  • Behaviors refer to all actions that individuals, households or communities can take to limit their exposure to risk, or to limit the impact of adverse events when that risk is realized. This includes using preventative medicine, engaging in a better diet, practicing safe sex, stopping smoking, et cetera.

  • Networks relate to the formal or informal expressions of social relations between households and groups, often aggregated under the term of “structural social capital,” and the elements of physical infrastructure that facilitate these relations. In the context of resilience, networks include mutual support arrangements and collective action agreements that individuals and households can call upon to prepare against negative events or to mitigate the effect of crises and shocks — as well as the physical or virtual communication channels that accelerate these arrangements such as roads and the Internet.

  • Policies refer to actions taken by national, regional or local governments to protect families against shocks and help them recover quickly when these shocks cannot be avoided such as social safety nets, early warning systems, clean air regulation, food labeling and immunization campaigns.

  • Products include a wide variety of goods and services that can help prevent crises or contribute to post-shock recovery, or both. Examples include drought-resistant seeds and fertilizer, health insurance policies, savings accounts, condoms and other contraceptives, bed nets and anti-mosquito chemicals.

Taken individually, these strategies rarely provide the levels of resilience necessary to deal with the variety and severity of risks faced on a daily basis by low-income families or vulnerable communities. 

Read recommendations and full article here.

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