Resilience is the capacity to adapt successfully in the face of stress, threats, or disaster. Among the earliest efforts to incorporate resilience in a theory of social change is a model debated in the 1970s and operationalized in the 1990s: positive deviance. Jerry and Monique Sternin developed this concept to explain why, in a Vietnamese village with high rates of malnutrition, some children thrived.
The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists. - Japanese proverb
They found that the parents of such children, unlike their adult neighbors, did not follow traditional practices. Instead, they engaged in such uncommon strategies as giving their children sweet potato greens, shrimp, and crab, typically considered adult foods, and washing their hands before eating. These simple practices resulted in dramatically better health outcomes1.
Resilience-based approaches to development tend to follow this principle of focusing on strengths rather than failures, looking for what is working, and building on the inherent adaptive capability of certain individuals, households, communities, and societies under stress.
This volume of Developing Alternatives presents a collection of field studies drawn from recent or ongoing projects that address resilience. As these studies demonstrate, resilience is a multifaceted phenomenon that affects development challenges as diverse as health, macroeconomic stability, recovery from conflict, and gender equity. What the authors have in common is a commitment to be “self-examining practitioners,” holding their experience of program implementation up to the light in order—we hope—to improve the practice of development.
The purpose of this journal is to delve into the thinking, approach, and results of programs that incorporate resilience-building processes. The case studies examine practice in both proactive and reactive timeframes...
Poor households, smallholder farmers, and small and medium-sized enterprises require a range of financial services to stabilize income, plan for the future, respond to shocks, and invest in their households, communities, and businesses. For example, savings allow households to smooth income when an unexpected cost hits home. Insurance provides a safety mechanism to cover losses after a severe weather incident, death, or other trauma. Credit supports re-investment after a disaster or steadies seasonal cash crunches. Financial services are, in short, critical to individual, household, and community resiliency.
A mobile phone can be used to destabilize communities by spreading fear and misinformation — or it can be a force for good, used to quell rumors and discourage fear mongering. It can be used to organize arms distribution or to inform peace actors. In short, technology is neutral; it is the content and credibility of the information shared over the mobile channel that determines its effect. DAI is looking at new models to support community resilience—the ability of communities to recover, persist, and thrive in the face of conflict, to borrow Andrew Zolli’s and Ann Marie Healy’s formulation of the concept—and we have found that strategic messaging via mobile devices can be of great benefit to peace advocates seeking to promote stability.
The critical “1,000 days” window for child development, spanning gestation to the second birthday, is a key period for building nutritional resilience. Investments in establishing child health and good nutrition in this period pay lifelong dividends. In this period, children’s still-developing immune systems make them highly vulnerable to disease. Their high and very specific nutrient needs and the limited quantity they can eat at any single meal place them at risk of poor growth outcomes. Research shows that nutrition deficits suffered during this period lead to lifetime lags in growth and development, even if health and food intake subsequently improve.
Resilience has been defined as the ability to mitigate, adapt, absorb, and recover from hazards, shocks, and stresses in a manner that reduces chronic vulnerabilities. Vulnerability is a good starting point for any analysis of resilience; understanding chronic vulnerability can inform development programming to enhance resilience in various areas, whether in health, economic growth, climate change, or HIV mitigation.
There is good reason to believe that customary tenure arrangements are conducive to community and household resilience in Sub-Saharan Africa. Without landed property of any kind, poor communities and households are less able to absorb shocks associated with loss of livelihood in the formal and informal wage economies through which rural households augment their modest farming incomes. Communal area homesteads are a means for investing in housing and livestock assets that constitute important forms of savings, particularly in times of financial and environmental stress. The ability to accumulate these and other assets, and to transfer them intergenerationally, would be diminished for many poor families if land could only be secured through purchase.
Using public-private partnerships (PPPs) to develop infrastructure that will enhance urban resilience to climate change is a promising option for countries affected by increasingly intense droughts, severe floods, and other environmental factors. Countries such as Mozambique and Vietnam are now piloting aspects of this approach, but we must address various weaknesses in it if we are to come up with a “climate-smart PPP” program.
Just as it is clear that resilience programming will benefit from a “whole-of-development” approach that ties together complementary technical sectors and different phases of assistance—from emergency relief to long-term capacity building—so it is clear from our experience that a “whole-of-community” approach is critical to resilience. Put simply, any resilience program that does not give due consideration to the role of women will not achieve its full potential and runs the risk of failure.t But we would do well to remind ourselves of the fundamental preconditions that must be in place for women to play their essential role: legal equality, economic empowerment, participation in decision making, and educational opportunity.
Given widespread regime collapse in the Middle East, a financial crisis hangover affecting much of the international economy, the dislocating effects of global climate change, and other fundamentally destabilizing trends, one might argue that state fragility and failure—not resilience—ought to be the focus of the development community in 2013. Under these trying circumstances resilience can seem like a less-than-urgent extravagance, a concept for the salad days of politico-economic cycles when storms subside and hatches are un-battened.
Strategic and targeted interventions aimed at incremental trust building can play an important role in strengthening a community’s ability to bounce back from violent conflict or systemic government collapse. One such example is found in the town of El Wak — a remarkably adaptive community that has transcended an age-old conflict between two rival clans. In 10 years, this community in the Gedo region of Southern Somalia has moved through three stages of conflict: periods of recurring, inter-clan violence; a period of growing stability as the parties negotiated power-sharing agreements leading to better governance; and the present, a hopeful prospect of hard-earned peace and sustainable stability.
In certain post-conflict environments, resilience can be a double-edged sword —two Sri Lankan communities show a way forward. In the Batticaloa district of eastern Sri Lanka, citizens on both sides of the decades-long conflict between Tamils and Sinhalese have endured unimaginable horrors: targeted killings, prolonged food shortages, life-altering displacement. The communities that survived these recurrent crises often did so by relying upon the tight bonds and solidarity of their ethnic groups. As a consequence, even as the fragile peace seems to be holding, many communities in the north and east of Sri Lanka still find themselves segregated along ethnic lines — mistrustful and afraid of their neighbors, unable to achieve the security that comes through true reconciliation. For them, resilience has come at the high price of social and economic isolation.
Resilience—the ability of individuals, households, communities, institutions, nations, or even value chains and ecosystems, to withstand crises, recover from them, and adapt so as to better withstand them—has become an increasingly important concept for the international development community. The focus of donors on resilience has led their main counterparts—local groups, governments in recipient countries, and international nongovernmental organizations and development firms—to integrate the concept into programming.
How do we revitalize critical public services when a national government is in the throes of crisis management or distracted by the protracted after-effects of conflict or natural disaster? Solving this conundrum is crucial to making the transition from humanitarian to development assistance. Restarting basic public services is also key to rekindling a state’s credibility with its citizens, and the first step on the path from fragile to stable governance. The case of Serbia, where DAI worked for seven years on a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) program to build disaster response capacity, suggests that supporting state disaster management institutions can be a powerful engine of resilience in fragile states.
Urbanization, globalization, and structural changes in the economies of many developing countries have contributed to the rapid growth of informal urban economies. In some Sub-Saharan countries, for example, up to 90 percent of nonagricultural employment is informal.
Like everyone else, poor people depend on markets. They depend on markets to sell what they produce and to purchase goods in time of need. They operate in labor and land markets — formal or informal — and are affected by government policies and regulations. They require a wide range of services. Many of the markets they participate in are highly dynamic, especially those linked to global markets. In such markets, technological changes and price fluctuations occur in ways that poor people cannot hope to influence.
The resilience of producers in developing countries depends on their ability to adapt to constant change in domestic, regional, and international markets. Changes in end-markets—primarily driven by technological advances—changes in consumer demand, and changes in regulations greatly affect market growth patterns. These changes in turn influence the requirements that producers must meet to access markets and remain competitive. Keeping on top of these trends should be a key part of any economic strengthening initiative.
After we had put together the Resilience journal, we had the opportunity to sit down with Ambassador Rick Barton, Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO). Ambassador Barton has worked on problems of fragility, vulnerability, and instability in some 30 countries, and he has done so in various sectors of the development community: as Co-Director of the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Deputy High Commissioner of the United Nations Refugee Agency, and founding director of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Transition Initiatives. He also taught for five years at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. Below, we present brief excerpts of a wide-ranging discussion in which Ambassador Barton shared some of his personal reflections on the notion of resilience.