Reflections on Resilience

LWR has a long history of development programming aimed at building the resilience of vulnerable communities affected by multiple shocks and stressors, such as natural disasters, conflict, and climate change and variability. This blog series, Reflections on Resilience, will examine emerging issues, innovative approaches and new resources in resilience work. It seeks to stimulate learning, reflection and dialogue among development practitioners, researchers and decision-makers interested in the linkages between resilience and development practice.

Learning, Un-Learning and Re-learning Resilience

Learning is generally associated with the acquisition of new knowledge and skills. However, in practice, learning takes much more than that. It is a dynamic process that often involves un-learning and re-learning before we can move forward. It can be unexpected and unstructured, as we learn through direct experience and experimentation, but also through others’ stories of success and failure. We learn by discovering value in the unforeseen, and by making connections that we didn’t see before.

Understanding the role of resilience in development practice is all about learning, un-learning, and re-learning.

The Asia Regional Knowledge Sharing Meeting, led by the Technical and Operational Performance Support (TOPS) Program and the Food Security and Nutrition (FSN) Network, shed important lessons in this regard.

Under the umbrella theme “Learning from the Past, Shaping the Future”, a total of 39 organizations working on projects related to food security, gender and resilience, met during three days in Dhaka, Bangladesh, to learn, unlearn and relearn from their experiences.

The notion of resilience emerged strongly throughout the discussions, not only as a growing “buzz” word in the international development field, but as a useful enabler for the achievement of development goals.

But what should we learn, un-learn and re-learn about resilience?

Here are some of the key issues that emerged during the group’s discussions:

 What Should We Learn?

  • To approach resilience not as an end in itself, but as a means to achieve development goals (e.g. food security, wellbeing, inclusive growth).
  • To understand resilience as a set of capacities (i.e. absorptive, adaptive, and transformative) that allow vulnerable communities to better withstand, recover, adapt, and potentially transform in the face of shocks and stressors.
  • To consider equality and gender-related aspects of resilience at the community, the household, and the individual levels.

 What Should We Un-Learn?

  •  The adoption of siloed and/or uncoordinated approaches to resilience building: further efforts should be placed on building multi-sectoral partnerships.
  • Rigid management strategies that prevent projects to respond and adapt to change and uncertainty: organizations should strive for flexible approaches.
  • Project designs that omit the multiple levels (i.e. macro, meso and micro), timescales (i.e. short, medium and long term), and interactions through which resilience building takes place: project designs should reflect a systemic/multi-scale perspective.

 What Should We Re-Learn?

  •  Measuring approaches that consider the different resilience capacities, and that integrate well-focused, context-specific, and measurable indicators.
  • Mechanisms to nurture and strengthen social capital (i.e. bonding, bridging and linking) as part of approaches to resilience building.
  • The design and implementation of holistic knowledge management strategies, including the integration of information and communication technologies (ICTs) (e.g. mobile phones, tablets) to improve information access, monitoring and evaluation.

The TOPS/FSN Network event evidenced that while knowledge sharing is crucial for resilience building in vulnerable communities, it is equally valuable among INGOs, development practitioners and donor organizations working in this field.

Learning, un-learning and re-learning contribute to ‘de-mystifying’ complex concepts such as ‘resilience’, bringing it closer to, and making it more relevant for development practice.

LWR’s Climate Adapted Farming on Elgon (CAFÉ) project is being implemented through coffee cooperatives on Mount Elgon, in Uganda and Kenya. With a goal to increase the resilience of smallholder coffee farmers to the impacts of climate change and variability, the project integrates the use of mobile technology to make extension services more efficient and effective for coffee producers. Here, a Community Knowledge Worker displays his smartphone, where he can access agronomy information, look up weather forecasts and collect data about farmers.
LWR’s Climate Adapted Farming on Elgon (CAFÉ) project is being implemented through coffee cooperatives on Mount Elgon, in Uganda and Kenya. With a goal to increase the resilience of smallholder coffee farmers to the impacts of climate change and variability, the project integrates the use of mobile technology to make extension services more efficient and effective for coffee producers. Here, a Community Knowledge Worker displays his smartphone, where he can access agronomy information, look up weather forecasts and collect data about farmers.