Resilience in the face of change

  • By Elizabeth Carabine (ODI) and John Choptiany (Fund Manager)
  • 02/10/2017

Children in a flooded area in Banga Bana district in Niamey, Niger, September 9, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Morgane Le Cam


The BRACED Knowledge Manager (KM) and Fund Manager (FM) participated in the Resilience 2017 conference held in Stockholm in August and hosted by the Stockholm Resilience Centre. The conference brought together over 1,000 researchers, government representatives and practitioners to discuss resilience concepts.

One key focus was on social-ecological resilience – the capacity of a social-ecological system, for example a city, to absorb or withstand shocks and stresses while preserving its structure and function.

The larger message however was about how to integrate ecological resilience into resilience projects and thinking that often centre on human resilience and wellbeing. In other words, development efforts should benefit people in the short term as well as the environment in the longer term.

This includes using an evidence-based approach to plan activities such as building wells in areas that are not expected to dry up under changing climate conditions, or planting trees that will provide people with key assets like firewood while restoring their habitat.  

Resilience programmes often aim to provide services that help build assets and minimise the impact of shocks and stresses on people’s livelihoods, including on ecosystem services. But little is known about the way local risk governance systems and institutions mediate people’s access to these services and therefore increase their resilience.

Lessons from the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, for example, suggest that ecosystem services are often delivered at the local level and governed by complex institutional arrangements – creating overlap between actors like governments and NGOs. 


Through the 15 projects implemented under the BRACED programme, we are learning that to achieve resilience outcomes, it is vitally important that project activities are socially acceptable, economically viable, environmentally sustainable, and climate resilient.

This means working with experts in multiple sectors. One project in Kenya and Uganda found that staff who were experts in one area tended to work in isolation from others. They now work in groups to complement each other’s knowledge and address problems more comprehensively.

Sundaa Bridgett-Jones, senior associate director of international development at the Rockefeller Foundation, said at the Stockholm conference that resilience thinking requires us to look at not just one sector in isolation, but at how all aspects of a problem are connected. One challenge however is translating the complexity of resilience in a way that can be understood by a broader, non-academic audience, she added.

Katrina Brown, professor of social science at the University of Exeter, stressed that as the resilience community grows and becomes more diverse, science and research highlight the scale of the world’s challenges and the need for change. Her work in Kenya focuses on understanding how people’s experiences and strategies to build resilience work in the context of poverty, especially when facing extreme weather events.

Johan Rockstrom, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, said that sustainability is by definition a positive attribute, whereas resilience can be either good or bad. In order to have a sustainable future we need to break down negative systems that are resilient, such as poverty traps or financial systems that foster inequality. We must also ensure that we are building positive resilience systems that are sustainable across all disciplines and sectors, he added.

Practitioners can borrow from the lessons of social-ecological resilience to meet these challenges. This will be increasingly important as we try to build resilience in the long term and design future projects. 

More information about the Resilience conference can be found here.

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