How to incorporate resilience thinking

September 2, 2020 | 9:15 am

By Jenny Lei Ravelo // 29 March 2018

A flood-affected area in Sagaing Region, Myanmar. Photo by: Asian Development Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

MANILA — Countries in Asia-Pacific are increasingly exposed to a variety of risks, including physical and financial, undermining the region’s potential to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, according to a new report published Wednesday.

Climate change, for instance, is exposing more populations to natural hazards such as flooding. But it is also impacting livelihoods and putting a strain on people’s income and other natural resources.

Technological advancements and infrastructure development are also an increasing trend in the region and help contribute to the creation of job opportunities. But this can and is having an impact on the environment and other ecosystems.

In order to deal with these risks, the joint report by the Asian Development Bank, the U.N. Development Programme and the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, titled Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies in Asia and the Pacific, recommends the region build its resilience, which is also anchored across multiple SDGs. And it identifies four ways in which policymakers as well as development organizations can build their resilience capacities:

  1. Anticipating and reducing impacts through careful planning and preparedness.
    2. Absorbing and developing coping mechanisms.
    3. Learning to adjust and adapt to risks.
    4. Taking steps to change systems that create the risks, vulnerabilities or inequalities.

The report proposes a “three-step approach” to incorporate resilience thinking into policy making and development interventions: First, identify risks; second, explore potential impacts on human systems and vulnerable groups; and then third, identify the policies and institutional responses that can effectively build resilience.

But to some, this is more easily said than done.

The challenges to resilience thinking 

To remain relevant, it is necessary for institutions such as government agencies and development organizations to have an awareness of the different shocks and risks out there and find a way on how they can adapt or evolve in response.

Some countries in the region are creating so-called “foresight institutions,” or those that try to “look into the future” to be able to anticipate incoming dangers and plan ahead, said Bernard Woods, director of the Results Management and Aid Effectiveness Division of ADB’s Strategy, Policy, and Review Department.

Bottom of Form

He added that the report also recommends organizations create opportunities for learning on how to incorporate resilience during the policy cycle, particularly when problems are being framed and strategies are being set.

This is what they’ve been trying to do at ADB for the past few years, strengthening its corporate resilience and embedding resilience approaches in its operations, Woods said. As an example, in 2016, ADB developed an organizational resilience framework that outlines a set of actions the bank should take in the period 2016-2021 to become a more resilient organization. In line with this, they’ve developed an organizational resilience unit responsible for ensuring staff and bank business processes are inching toward the bank’s resilience goals. They are in charge of reviewing the framework, assessing the level of resilience achieved annually, and reporting to management.

The bank has also included climate risk assessments during project development process, and resilience thinking underpins the development of their upcoming Strategy 2030.

“Many of the trends highlighted in the report such as climate change, rapid technology innovation, demographic changes including rapid aging in some countries, and rapid urbanization, will change ADB’s development context, and the new strategy is taking these factors into account,” Woods told Devex.

But they face challenges when it comes to building organizational learning in the project cycle. A common challenge: Finding time.

“Often in the cycle of our operations, given that we are an organization that is growing, it is difficult to step back and create the space for organizational learning. We are doing it through processes like retreats, but we could do more of this,” he said.

Generating explicit knowledge on issues surrounding risks in the region is also a challenge.

“Like many organizations, there is a wealth of tacit knowledge on these issues, and the challenge is having the systems and approaches to capture this and make it explicit,” he said.

But the bank is trying to invest in this space to understand emerging new issues and trends, their implications, and have that reflected in their operations, he said.

About the author

Jenny Lei Ravelo@JennyLeiRavelo

Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.