Resilient societies - What does it take to make countries and societies more resilient?

Stefan Dercon, Professor of Economic Policy at Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Governance, started this plenary with a keynote address explaining why over the coming decades a ‘business as usual’ approach will be insufficient to manage emerging threats such as extreme weather events and natural disasters, the concentration of extreme poverty in fragile states, and technological change. The ‘shocks’ produced by these forces will increasingly threaten the resilience of societies, he said, with particularly devastating effects in countries which have recently made great strides in reducing levels of extreme poverty.

Dercon argued that the only way to bolster resilience is through ‘a cultural shift in how we manage risks’: rather than relying on expensive and fragmented ad hoc responses when crises arise – an approach which he characterised as the ‘begging bowl’ approach – countries need to be well-prepared and ready to act before shocks occur. This means ‘thinking like insurance companies do,’ explained Dercon: there should be clear decision-making systems, a concrete plan about what to do when something happens, and stand-by financing to cover the implementation of the plan.

‘Climate change, fragility and technological change mean that development won’t look like it did before,’ said Dercon. There’s a role for the international community in working with governments to put systems in place that can be scaled up when needed, in being an honest broker for pre-disaster financing, and in making sure that the correct instruments (e.g. insurance, contingent credit) are available. Most importantly, we have to make our work ‘risk sensitive’ – thinking ahead about how systems we are building and supporting will continue in the face of inevitable shocks.

Following the keynote presentation participants had the opportunity to learn about some of the ways GIZ is working to build resilience at various levels. In Malawi GIZ is supporting the government to introduce a ‘shock-sensitive’ system of social protection which helps households prepare for and respond to recurring risks, rather than relying year after year on short-term humanitarian responses to food insecurity. In India, it is working with the Ministry of Rural Development on the MGNREGA programme, which supports livelihood security of people in rural areas by guaranteeing 100 days of wage-employment per year. GIZ is helping MGNREGA to focus on employment opportunities which not only react to crises, but help to build longer-term resilience in communities through the creation of assets.

Matthias Rompel, the GIZ Country Director for Ethiopia and Djibouti, offered some closing comments at the end of the session. While recognising the important contributions being made by GDC, he also acknowledged that there are factors inherent in the way development cooperation is currently structured – i.e. short-term project cycles and projects following a sector logic – that make it difficult to look more broadly at what is really needed in given setting and to broker the types of solutions that these complex challenges require. This makes it imperative to bridge silos, both within GIZ and at country level, and bring holistic thinking to the challenges of our time.


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