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Humanitarian Aid on the move #11, special issue: Resilience

The emperor’s new clothes or an opportunity to do things in a radically different manner?
Presentation by François Grünewald

Will resilience be considered, in time, as the new paradigm to direct international aid, due to the fact that it provides both theoretical foundations and practical elements for its implementation? Probably. However, a new outlook is needed in relation to coordination issues and cross-sector activities, rather than concentrating on “labels” and definitions.

One of the main conclusions of the 8th Autumn School on Humanitarian Aid is that no single organisation can claim to reinforce resilience on their own. Cooperation is needed between the different actors in different specialist fields. There are major challenges in the face of different geographical and temporal scales as well as cross-sector and multi-dimensional issues. Capacity building can no longer take place in an isolated manner – whether from the point of view of individuals or sectors – but needs to be approached from a more global and integrated angle. The resilience concept could contribute to linking these different scales and sectors, and thus increase the chances of adopting a more systemic approach, in contrast to the pragmatic approaches used by silos.

Though this could be considered to be just a new “coat of paint” over what organizations are already trying to do, the emergence of resilience in current debates about humanitarian and development aid is an opportunity to choose a new perspective, look at contexts in a new way and revise our “toolbox”. In addition, this can contribute to reforming the international aid system and overcome difficulties which have existed for a long time, such as:

  • The link between relief and development;
  • The interaction between various actors at different levels;
  • The flexibility and agility of aid systems, at donor and organization levels.

In terms of policy, resilience is also a notion which brings different concepts together, highlighting specific tensions, and most importantly, placing affected people at the centre of humanitarian frameworks. Resilience encourages humanitarian actors to consider affected people as partners rather than beneficiaries, to concentrate on the capacities and skills of individuals and to cooperate closely with communities.

One of the main challenges is to adopt an approach based on affected people, considering them to be partners rather than victims. But this should not become an exclusive approach, as it is clear that resilient communities also need resilient social services, resilient governance systems etc. whether at the local or national level.

It is time to encourage a new dynamic so that the sector feels able to take risks, innovate, change, adapt itself, think differently and transform itself. But will aid architecture be able to evolve sufficiently to give the resilience concept a chance? Greater flexibility of policy and financial agendas is necessary, both at the national and international levels. All the stakeholders involved in international aid need to get involved to strengthen resilience and find concrete ways to integrate it more effectively into their actions. The priority is to re-evaluate what we have accomplished to date, recognize the limits of our programmes, our institutions and our approaches and turn our words into action.

However, three issues need to be explored in greater detail:

  1. The role of ecosystems and the environment in the process of consolidating resilience;
  2. The application of the resilience concept in armed conflict contexts, and notably in relation to Protection programmes, which potentially contain the risk of misappropriated responsibilities. It might also be interesting to link the concepts of “human security” and “resilience”;
  3. And finally, are there going to be more and more operations to strengthen resilience by supporting civil society in their relations with the authorities, with the risk that they might create tensions, or, on the contrary, are they going to be conducted in such a way that they enhance dialogue and cooperation between state and non-state institutions?


Text based on the conclusion by François Grünewald
Executive Director, Groupe URD