Dr. Judith Rodin, the President of the Rockefeller Foundation, begins the Resilience Dividend (2014) with a chilling warning: “we live in a world defined by disruption”. Disruption is inevitable, she writes, because of rapid urbanization, which increases disaster vulnerability and ecological decline; climate change, which increases risks to livelihoods, water, and the frequency of extreme weather; and globalization, which has created an increasingly interconnected economy that puts strains on individuals, families, enterprises, and governments. We live in a fragile world in which a disruption to one system can lead to a chain reaction of other failures.’

But, these disruptions also bring with them an opportunity to build what she terms “resilience” – “the capacity to bounce back from a crisis, learn from it, and achieve revitalization.” “Resilience”, in this case, is not just the ability to “bounce back” from a shock and return to business as usual; it is also about investing in vulnerable components of a system before a crisis, and, perhaps most importantly, transform, or “bounce forward”, as a result of the shock. Framed in this light, resilient systems can lead to increased opportunities, even in the absence of crises: recovery is faster, economic losses are fewer, new technologies develop, and the entity gains a competitive advantage to non-resilient ones. This is the “dividend” to investing in resilience.

Dr. Rodin makes no attempts to offer a cookbook for building resilience; as she shows, building resilience is highly context-dependent, whether from a family, business, or societal perspective. Throughout the book, she marshals a number of cases to illustrate what resilience does and does not look like. Medellin, the Colombian city that was one of the most violent cities in the world in the 90’s, is one of her prime examples of a “resilient city” that she regularly alludes to. In the past decade, the city has not only cut down significantly on drug crimes but also made a number of innovative public investments, such as urban gondolas and escalators to integrate the city’s low income communities. Though crime has not been fully halted, she argues that the city is more capable of absorbing these shocks and was named as the “most innovative city” in 2013 by the Urban Land Institute.

Of course, Dr. Rodin does not mean to suggest can ever reach a point where will live in a “stable world”. However, we can prevent disruptions from resulting into “disasters”. As she cautions, disaster can result when we are unaware of the threats we face, lack a diversity of options to prevent disruptions, and do not adapt well to the crises. This was evident in the response to the worst Ebola virus epidemic to date in 2014. The loss of life, massive social disruption, and collapse of even the most basic healthcare services shows what happens when a crisis hits and health systems are not prepared – both in west Africa and Texas, where public sentiment was not managed properly.

Because the term is used as an umbrella concept to encompass a range of system attributes that are deemed desirable – awareness, diversity, self-regulation, integration, and adaptiveness are the ones she lists – “resilience” can seem a bit too abstract and elusive. If all of these issues are interconnected and incapable of being addressed from silos, where does a policymaker begin? Is this just another scientific and policy fad, like “sustainable development”, whose meaning can be stretched by organizations to serve their own purposes?

We don’t think so. Dr. Rodin’s concept of resilience is valuable inasmuch as it gets us to think about risk management in a more rigorous and thoughtful way. Planning for future disruption in the way that she advocates fights against the fundamentally human tendency to avoid addressing our vulnerabilities now, before a crisis strikes. Far from being a purely academic exercise, Dr. Rodin seeks to realize the “resilience dividend” worldwide through Rockefeller’s 100 Resilient Cities Challenge. The Challenge is an initiative that invites cities from all over the world to implement a resilience strategy through Rockefeller’s support. So far there are 67 cities in the network ranging from Accra (Ghana), San Juan (Puerto Rico), and even Singapore.

At IIX and Shujog, we also take Dr. Rodin’s warning seriously and look to build the capacity of social enterprises throughout the Southeast Asian region to be more resilient in the work that they do. In our impact assessments, for example, we apply metrics to estimate the value created through prevention, as we did with a healthcare enterprise focused on non-communicable diseases in India. By putting a number to “resilience” that would otherwise not appear on the enterprise’s financial statements, we hope to show a fuller picture of the impact of these mission-driven organizations.

The Resilience Dividend is a timely, readable, and inspiring call to action that we highly recommend to all of our readers!

Book Review by
Manny Fassihi
Research & Assessment, Shujog