Financial crises, floods, hurricanes, epidemic disease.
In these early decades of the 21st century, we are witnessing stresses and shocks that come with a new intensity. The long held fundamentals of a strong economic system -- globalization and free trade -- have increased efficiency, but they have created challenges for the stability of markets. Industrialization in the last century has accelerated human progress but has given us a rapidly growing global population and a warming world in this century. It's not that the 20th century was devoid of significant challenges. What distinguishes today's threats from those of the past are the escalating rate at which they are occurring, and the growing interconnectedness of our planet.
Today, vulnerability in one area leads to vulnerability in others in a way that is fundamentally new. Shocks and stresses in a single place inevitably ricochet throughout every other. Issues once identified and analyzed individually -- our environment, the economy, and social challenges -- are now inextricably interlinked.
We can't control the next disruption or catastrophe -- but we can control how we respond to these challenges, how we absorb the shocks of our world, and how quickly we spring back after a blow. In other words, we can control how resilient our institutions, communities, and people are against these disruptions. We must avoid the unmanageable and manage the unavoidable.
Humans are not born resilient -- we learn, adapt, and improve upon our resilience. The same is true for organizations, systems, and societies. But what makes some people or organizations more resilient than others? Through research, practice, and experience -- including The Rockefeller Foundation's 100 years of work -- we have learned that resilient systems share five core characteristics:
· Spare capacity, which ensures that there is a back-up or alternative available when a vital component of a system fails.
· Flexibility, the ability to change, evolve, and adapt in the face of disaster.
· Limited or "safe" failure, which prevents failures from rippling across systems.
· Rapid rebound, the capacity to re-establish function and avoid long-term disruptions.
· Constant learning, with robust feedback loops that sense and allow new solutions as conditions change.
Yet, despite all we know about resilience, there is much more we have to do, share and learn to put in place resilience strategies and, importantly, connect those strategies across sectors to successfully recover from the current and unknowable future risks we face.
This is a message that I am going to bring to this year's World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, appropriately themed "Resilient Dynamism." The Rockefeller Foundation hopes to use the 2013 WEF Annual Meeting as a chance for us to speak candidly, openly, and face-to-face about the shared challenges we face -- as well as the untapped opportunities we see -- in our effort to build a more resilient planet. It will also provide us with a platform to more productively engage and galvanize the unique capacities of the private sector in a conversation around resilience, helping our philanthropic dollars go even further.
The Rockefeller Foundation works to kick-start just this type of collaboration in our resilience building efforts. By diagnosing the entire system influencing a difficult problem, we now achieve a better understanding of its component parts - the details, the big picture, and how they interrelate. We then identify the critical players, the potential blockages and essential partners among private, public, and nonprofit partners required to find real solutions.
For instance, the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN) mobilizes local governments, the private sector, NGOs, scientific experts, urban planners, and disaster management specialists to work collaboratively on urban resilience-building projects. ACCCRN, founded by the Rockefeller Foundation, is benefitting up to 50 cities in six countries by innovating new approaches for the cities and their inhabitants to build physical and structural resilience to withstand and recover from the impacts of climate change and sharing the learning with other cities and countries.
Half a world away from India and in Eastern Africa, where climate change and political conflicts routinely affect agricultural productivity and food security, The Rockefeller Foundation, Oxfam America and Swiss Re are supporting HARITA, an effort to improve livelihoods of poor farmers in the drought-prone northern state of Tigray in Ethiopia. Through a combination of improved resource management, insurance, and microcredit, HARITA strengthens food and income security in this drought prone region.
These are both comprehensive solutions that were crafted by looking across multiple domains, breaking down barriers to find the complex answer to the root problem.
Building resilience is not the task of a single actor or a single sector, no matter how innovative or passionate. Rather, building resilience requires partners from every sector: governments who must create the right policies, plans and infrastructure investment; businesses who ensure the functioning of our economic systems; communities and civic institutions who must organize to be more flexible, responsive and robust; organizations and individuals who have the core skills required to adapt and cope.
Building resilience is not a luxury -- it is a 21st century imperative.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The Rockefeller Foundation on resilience, a topic being discussed at the 2013 World Economic Forum in Davos. To see all the posts in the series, click here.