Should resilience-building projects (always) be socially acceptable?

  • By Virginie Le Masson
  • 23/05/2018

Dance Class, Adi Harush, Ethiopia. In 2015 the Jesuit Refugee Service opened an arts, education and social centre on the Adi Harush refugee camp. Many of the refugees have secured paid jobs teaching at the centre. Credit: ODI/G.Pecot, 2016


It is imperative for humanitarian and development projects to be sensitive to and respectful of social norms in contexts where they are implemented. Should this systematically be the case however, when cultural practices are harmful and might undermine resilience outcomes? How do aid agencies deal with their objectives to support people affected by crisis without contradicting local values? Can interventions lead to positive impacts without interfering with social and political issues?

This paper draws on development literature, humanitarian guidelines, and learning from development programmes globally. It also integrates the perspectives of 19 researchers and practitioners working in sectors ranging from emergency nutrition responses to irrigation schemes, peace building and climate change adaptation, with the common objective to enhance the resilience of people affected by crises. These ‘contributing thinkers’ were asked the same question: should resilience-building programmes always be socially acceptable? Their input is weaved throughout the analysis in order to gain insight into people’s lived experiences of (trying) to build resilience.


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