New Approach Models Building Resilience in the Face of Recurring Crises

When shocks hit—droughts, floods, typhoons, locusts—the most vulnerable populations are inevitably the hardest hit, with the least ability to recover before new shocks strike. In the past decade, the global community has spent $90 billion on humanitarian assistance in just nine countries—responding to the same crises again and again. Last year alone, such events killed over 20,000 people. This cycle of crisis also undermines hard-won development gains – the World Bank estimates that $1 of every $3 spent on development is lost due to disaster.
In 2010, faced again with drought and famine in the Horn of Africa, it was clear that we needed to change the way we do business. Two years later, USAID launched our first-ever policy on resilience, to better integrate and sequence our humanitarian and development work and enable people and systems to mitigate, adapt to and recover from shocks and stresses in a manner that reduces chronic vulnerability and facilitates inclusive growth. Building resilience requires a comprehensive approach. It’s not just about disaster response but also includes expanding economic opportunities; strengthening governance – including natural resource, conflict and disaster risk management; and building human capital, such as improving health and nutrition outcomes.
Building resilience for vulnerable populations around the world is a big job, and it requires that development and humanitarian communities work in close coordination with a wide range of partners. This past August at the African Leaders Summit hosted by President Obama, USAID and The Rockefeller Foundation launched the Global Resilience Partnership with an initial investment of $100 million to stimulate innovation, strengthen collaboration, and attract new actors to accelerate the resilience of millions in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, and South and Southeast Asia. A few weeks later at USAID’s Frontiers in Development Conference, Sweden announced an additional $50 million commitment to the Partnership. In addition, we launched an exciting Global Resilience Challenge.
As Resilience Challenge takes shape, hubs comprising key stakeholders will form in each region to facilitate the exchange of ideas and inspire new thinking. The hubs are intentionally flexible. Each hub’s structure and functions will largely depend on the needs identified by partners in the region and will be defined through a co-creative, regionally led process. This is not to replicate the good work underway – but to catalyze innovation and scale what is already working.
The Resilience Challenge is a multi-stage grant competition that calls for individuals from across disciplines and sectors to team-up and jointly research and diagnose problems develop viable, locally driven, and high-impact solutions to build resilience at scale. The structure of the challenge is based in part on The Rockefeller Foundation’s Rebuild by Design, which helped support communities around New York City after Hurricane Sandy left widespread destruction. Together we are adapting a successful model to an international context. With flexible capital and an ability to engage in long-term thinking, foundations are uniquely positioned to promote a resilience agenda, which requires comprehensive and integrated work in vulnerable communities outside of the glare and public attention generated during the height of a crisis. The Rockefeller Foundation’s leadership in developing programs and political momentum to build resilience highlights this.
At USAID, we know that the resilience approach is already saving and improving lives. In Ethiopia, for example, new water technology has given nearly 140,000 people improved access to water. Over the next two years, that number will jump to one million. In Kenya, the implementation of Community Development Action Plans is helping more than 70 communities become more self-reliant and more resilient to the region’s recurrent drought. In Bangladesh, USAID launched a flood forecasting model that generates warnings 10 days in advance of floods, rather than the previous of three days. And, partnerships around the world are taking shape and making a difference. In the Philippine province of Leyte, USAID, Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola have joined together to support the revival of economic activity and livelihoods for those hardest hit by Typhoon Hiayan.
These are the types of innovations that the Resilience Partnership will seek to stimulate and take to scale. Through a broad, inclusive partnership, with participation and engagement from the private and public sectors, philanthropy, and civil society, we can ensure that fewer shocks turn into crises. For more information, please visit our website at or email at

Tony Pipa

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