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Investing Right, for Right Now and for Tomorrow

Mamadou Biteye - Former Managing Director, Africa Regional Office, The Rockefeller Foundation
As climate change and population growth continue, disasters will strike faster and chronic stresses last even longer.

Crisis is the new normal. In a world increasingly under pressure from different shocks – the effects of trade and labour movement in today’s globalized world, repercussions from climate change, financial crises and urbanization-related pressures, our economies, communities, and ecosystems are constantly facing repeated stress. The devastating Ebola outbreak in 2015 that tested global health systems, the earthquake in northern Tanzania in 2016, floods in Lilongwe, Johannesburg and Accra that brought cities and their economies to a halt, are examples of the relentless pace and nature of such disruptions.

Closer to home, low rainfall levels in Kenya in 2016 were a harbinger of the current drought.  Food and water insecurity in arid and semi-arid regions have resulted in livestock deaths, crop failure, inter-community tensions and school closures. Concurrently, in Tanzania, floods wreaked havoc and death in Morogoro, Katavi, and Dar es Salaam regions in early 2017.

If this is indeed our new normal, the question is how can we be better prepared for the inevitable?

There is need to understand what resilience looks like in a practical sense – what is useful to invest in or how policy needs to be shaped in order to respond in a new way.

As a start, we need to deploy approaches in the same way business is done. Defining our future by planning strategically, and doing so early with a long-term vision anchored firmly in execution. In other words, we need to invest in a resilience approach. But what is resilience in practice?

Resilience is the capacity of individuals, communities, and systems to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of stress and shocks, and even transform when conditions require it. Building resilience is about making people, communities and systems better prepared to withstand catastrophic events – both natural and manmade—and able to bounce back more quickly and emerge stronger from these shocks and stresses. Definitions, however, take us only so far, as there is need to understand what resilience looks like in a practical sense – what is useful to invest in or how policy needs to be shaped in order to respond in a new way.

Late last year, The Rockefeller Foundation convened stakeholders from 17 countries in Nairobi for its 2016 Resilience Week. Practitioners from across the globe sought to learn and share new tools and methodologies to advance resilience, and surface opportunities for policy and financial investment. Investments that would lead to a more resilient Africa.

The convening focused on the need to identify strategies that can help sustain, but more importantly protect Africa’s hard-won progress. Discussions revealed key lessons needed to take resilience forward from the field of theory, into practice.

Resilience is a learned behavior, not an innate characteristic, therefore people and economies can learn and embed this approach into existing systems. Mindsets and approaches need to be changed in order to embed resilience in development and economic strategies, in order to forestall the need for humanitarian assistance when disasters do strike as investments, both financial and physical can be significantly wiped out by manmade or natural disasters. Research tells us that one in three dollars spent on economic development is lost to disaster. Designing and deploying a resilience approach significantly reduces the negative impact of potential losses.

An example of how resilience is changing development approaches is through the African Union’s African Risk Capacity (ARC). The agricultural insurance platform was established in 2012 and now boasts 32 member states. Its value was seen once again when the ARC paid out more than $26 million to Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal, whose farmers had been affected severely by drought, but had paid combined premiums of $8 million for drought insurance.  Over 1.3 million people and over half a million livestock were provided with much-needed relief over two years on account of this mechanism, enabling governments and their citizens to bounce back without undue pressure. This is resilience in practice – investing strategically in mechanisms that provide cushions for hard times.

Africa is a resource-rich continent, which with better, more strategic investment could be a global net innovation frontier. To achieve this, there is need to invest in an “innovation first” environment that will allow for quick adoption and better use of tools to help the continent move forward even in the face of disruptions.

We have before us a real opportunity to go beyond talking. In doing so, our narrative can change to applaud how fast recovery takes place when the next disruption comes, whether it’s a fire in a highly populated area, the current drought or a financial shock; as opposed to the inevitable questions around why, yet again, we were not prepared.

This article was first published in The Standard Newspaper on March 20, 2017.

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