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Applying Resilience Thinking With Our Partners in Africa

Lulu Mickelson - Former Engagement Associate, The Rockefeller Foundation

Samuel Carter - Former Managing Director, The Rockefeller Foundation

How can a well-constructed road add the most value to Machakos County, Kenya? How can it help manage the shock of intense downpour during the rainy seasons, but also support communities during the stresses of dry spells and droughts? These are some of the key questions that a room full of grantees, partners, and experts from across the African continent grappled with during a recent intensive two-day Africa Partners Resilience Academy.

The academy served as an interactive capstone to The Rockefeller Foundation Africa Regional Office’s Resilience Week convening in Nairobi, where participants from around the continent were invited to explore the theme of unlocking Africa’s resilience dividend through panels, facilitated discussion, and site visits. Coming at the end of the dynamic week, the Africa Partners Resilience Academy provided an opportunity for eight case studies led by grantees and local organizations to apply resilience thinking in practical ways to their day-to-day work.

The case study organizations included grantees from our Africa-based initiatives like Yieldwise and Digital Jobs Africa, as well as organizations like MetaMeta Research, whose Roads for Water project was one of ten ideas funded through the Global Resilience Partnership’s Round One Challenge.

In many ways, Roads for Water exemplifies resilience. Their breakthrough idea uses low-tech road engineering interventions to collect rainwater for productive usage, reducing damage to the landscape from erosion and dramatically cutting the cost of road maintenance. However, MetaMeta Research was interested in zooming out and taking a resilience lens to its organizational strategy, specifically looking at how their teams can apply resilience concepts as they implement the Roads for Water approach in dynamic new geographical contexts—like Kenya’s Makueni, Kitui, and Machakos Counties.

The academy provided a constructive space for the MetaMeta Research team to challenge their processes and assumptions. Around the table we had a Kenyan wetlands preservation specialist, a youth employment advocate who was born and raised in the target region, a participatory mapping specialist, a green infrastructure expert, and a staff member from The Rockefeller Foundation.  Over the course of two days, we collaboratively identified a number of dynamic opportunities for the MetaMeta Research team aimed at designing a more resilient implementation approach, including increasing hyper-local partnerships, working with both county and national government bodies, and finding opportunities to maximize the dividends of improved roads and road infrastructure.

Reflecting on the experience, Luwieke Bosma from the MetaMeta Kenya team shared that the experience “was both challenging and also very encouraging at the same time… We are fueled up and excited to increase our impact on the ground using some of the ideas we developed during the academy.”

Part of The Rockefeller Foundation’s resilience field-building efforts, the Global Resilience Academy workshop model is being tested across a range of contexts with support from our partners at HR&A Advisors. The academy builds on the Rockefeller Foundation’s tradition of bringing together key partners and stakeholders to discuss and debate critical issues facing the world. The Africa Partners Resilience Academy is one in a series of academy prototypes we are in the process of testing with partners that include the World Bank, South Africa’s Western Cape Health System, and even our own staff with the Internal Resilience Academy held for our New York Office earlier this year. With each prototype, we uncover new insights into how resilience thinking can be taught and applied to different projects in regions around the globe.


The Africa Partners Resilience Academy was the first time that we invited The Rockefeller Foundation staff and grantees to problem solve together in this structured context, breaking down traditional grantee-funder dynamics to explore new ideas, partnerships, and innovations. The exploratory, cross-sector dialogue promoted by the academy not only encouraged grantees like MetaMeta Research to broaden their approach, but the experience also pushed our thinking as a foundation. The academy challenged us as staff of the Rockefeller Foundation to grapple with how we can be a more effective funder of resilience projects, as well as how we can build more resilience into our relationships with grantees and partners.

We look forward to continuing to see the dividends from the Africa Partners Resilience Academy as we begin to implement agreed upon action items, grapple with lessons learned, and find new opportunities to introduce collaborative learning tools like the Global Resilience Academy into our relationships and our work.

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