February 1, 2013

Part I: Resiliency: what is it? And is it the new solution for long-term development?

Part I: What is resiliency

Every now and then the development community comes up with a new buzz word that sounds like the next big solution to the challenge of long term sustainable development.

The current one seems to be resiliency – it was the focus of a panel discussion at Busan’s High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF-4), organized by the Red Cross, and with CIDA President Margaret Biggs, among others; the recent food crisis in the Sahel (the third in five years) saw the launch of a new “Partnership for Resilience”; and project and program proposals are now increasingly framed as contributing to ‘resilience’.

A key challenge is that everyone is using the term to describe different things and in doing so, resiliency risks losing its utility as an organizing concept. Better defining what resiliency is, allows practitioners to more clearly determine what it is good for, when and why (and what it is not). As one commentator has said, it is just as useful to include within a definition of resilience things that we should exclude as resilient.

We had the opportunity to get our heads around the issue at a recent workshop on “Linking Short Term and Long Term Food Security: Humanitarian and Development Perspectives”, organized by the Canadian Food Security Policy Group (FSPG) and the Humanitarian Coalition.

At the meeting, a number of the bigger Canadian development NGOs presented a series of case studies. These were based on where groups have tried, both successfully and not so successfully, to integrate short-term and long term approaches to food security into their programming with a view to building the resiliency of very vulnerable households – particularly in parts of the world that are suffering from chronic food insecurity and child undernutrition. Here is what we got from the meeting (and from a little extra side reading):

What is resilience?

As understood at HLF-4, it is about “ensur[ing] that development [and humanitarian] strategies prioritise building resilience among people and societies at risk from shocks. [...] Investing in resilience and risk reduction increases the value and sustainability of our development efforts.” (Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, Para. 27)

Drawing from various thinkers on this (see links above, and remember there is no commonly agreed definition), it is about shock and risk management, mitigation and ‘building back better’. It is about anticipating, preventing, learning from and adapting to these shocks. It is about ensuring that vulnerable individuals’ and communities’ capabilities (such as health and education) and assets aren’t depleted as a result of these shocks, and that in fact their lives and livelihoods are getting better not worse.

In practice, for climate groups it is about better integrating climate adaptation into development programming; for humanitarian groups it is about emergency preparedness and early response, and disaster risk reduction (although it is arguably a longer term “development” issue); and for the Canadian Food Security Policy Group, it is in large part about how to support better transitions between emergency and long term approaches to food security.

Ultimately, what I took from the workshop (and the approach of these different groups) is that resiliency is another way of talking about long-term sustainable change and equity. It means taking a more holistic approach to development—one firmly grounded in improving the lives of the most vulnerable households and communities in the developing world.

This blog was written by Fraser Reilly-King, Policy Analyst (Aid), CCIC, and Paul Hagerman, Co-Chair of the FSPG and Director of Public Policy at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB).

 The views expressed are their own, and do not necessarily represent the views of CCIC CFGB or their members.

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