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Remarks by Dr. Judith Rodin at the Chief Resilience Officer Conference

Thank you so much for that kind introduction, Michael. It’s hard to believe that at this time last year, there wasn’t a single chief resilience officer anywhere in the world.

And so it’s a testament to the team you have built and the thousands of hours, sweat, and possibly tears you have spent that we come together today with success stories already under our belts. Let’s give Michael, Bryna Lipper, Andrew Salkin, and their incredible team a round of applause.

It’s fitting that we hold this first meeting of our first CROs in New Orleans—where, in many ways, The Rockefeller Foundation’s work in building urban resilience all began.

It’s always a pleasure to share the podium with Mayor Mitch Landrieu, whose visionary leadership and partnership has been integral in the evolution of 100 Resilient Cities. Indeed, the city has helped to test many of the platform services and technologies that we are rolling out to your cities.

Let me give you just one example:

Louisiana is losing an acre worth of land every hour, much of it wetlands that protect the coast from catastrophic storm surges. Before and after Katrina, New Orleans struggled to restore its wetlands, which has implications not just for flooding, but for the health, crime rates, and poverty in many of the most affected communities.

Under Mayor Landrieu’s leadership, the city has already accomplished a lot to build its resilience. But now it will have access to a greater array of new, cutting-edge approaches.

Working with 100 Resilient Cities platform partners, the city could take advantage of innovative offerings such as a suite of software models that map, measure, and value ecosystems to pinpoint areas where investment would provide a double return on human development and on conservation.

Another option would be to engage MIT Climate CoLab’s contest platform to solicit ideas and engage the public in these efforts.

To tackle emerging public health trends, the city could leverage the “Now Trending” platform to track chatter on illness or other issues, and dig in to particular locations to keep a trend from escalating to crisis levels.

These wide-ranging options is one reason why the work of a Chief Resilience Officer is so critically important to coordinate efforts across municipal departments and across all sectors of the city.

And it’s only one of the ways New Orleans is looking to find creative solutions to its problems.

The Post-Katrina New Orleans has become a case study for the need for resilience strategies—but it’s certainly not the only city facing challenges, as the nearly 800 applications from around the world to participate in 100RC has clearly shown.

Crisis has become the new normal. Because of the triple threat of urbanization, globalization and climate change, a week doesn’t go by in which we don’t see some kind of disturbance to the normal flow of things—a cyber-attack, a new strain of virus, a structural failure, a violent storm, a civil conflict, an economic blow, a natural system threatened.

And it seems as though once the emergency subsides, another shock or stress pops up somewhere else.

Tackling these problems individually, through a siloed approach, is not sustainable, nor will it be successful in the long term.

A crucial component of the vision for 100 Resilient Cities was to create a new role in city government, someone with the ear of the top-decision maker who could act as a conductor for this disparate orchestra of resilience-builders, from law enforcement to disaster planning to economic development. And integrating governments with businesses, civil society and community leaders.

We would provide the tools to help them do their jobs effectively. We would offer a network to exchange best practices, what was working, and what wasn’t.

We knew it was a risk.

We were asking government to change business as usual.

We were asking them to put their vulnerabilities and weaknesses on full display, and then build a strategy to prioritize and address them.

But we knew that the rewards would be great. We knew that we had something special.

But what we didn’t know was just how special. Because we didn’t yet know all of you.

Over the last weeks and months we’ve learned your stories.

Stories of activism, stories of leadership, stories of personal resilience.

You’ve come from many different backgrounds—some of you are technicians, others politicians. Some of you are experts in building codes—others in community engagement. Some have been in city government for their entire careers, while others are brand new to public service.

You serve cities of all different sizes, facing an astonishing array of challenges—earthquakes, flooding, eroding tax bases, erosion of cultural identity, traffic congestion, water scarcity, and more.

But what unites you is that you’re all at the vanguard of urban thinking. You are pioneering an entirely new approach for the 21st century.

Because of you, and the network you now represent, cities are not just learning from each other—we are building bridges across political, ideological and cultural divides, across East-West, North-South.

Christchurch, New Zealand, learning from San Francisco, California about earthquake risk reduction, and from Porto Allegre about participatory budgeting.

Or the collaboration between Medellin and NOLA, as you explore ways to bring down respective crime rates.

This collaboration is truly an amazing thing to behold.

Because of you winds of change are blowing through the offices at city hall.

Because of you poor and vulnerable communities who may not have had a voice inside city hall are getting their concerns heard and their needs met.

Because of you we are moving beyond the Three R’s: readiness, responsiveness, revitalization, to add a fourth—return.

Returns in the form of more benefits for the each investment:

Returns in the form of more streamlined services and stronger safety nets.

Returns in the form of greater collaboration and partnership between public and private actors.

We call this the resilience dividend—and we believe in it so strongly, I named my upcoming book to highlight how it can reframe thinking.

We’ve seen it in Boulder, where a mix of public and private funding to build infrastructure for flood prevention has also yielded bike lanes, recreation areas and new transport routes.

We’ve seen it in Surat, where installation of surveillance cameras as part of an anti-terrorism effort in response to bombings in Mumbai has made women feel safer walking the streets.

We’ve seen it in Christchurch, where the mayor has used the earthquakes to promote a more participatory democracy.

These are the kinds of innovative thinking and solutions that we need to replicate and build from. It doesn’t happen overnight, of course.

But I know we are well on our way.

Over and over again, the innovative thinking that we are seeing among you, our CROs is beyond what we ever imagined. You aren’t simply sharing best practices. You are leveraging ideas to create new solutions.

From the agenda setting workshops I attended, to speaking to random strangers on the street, it’s clear to me that we have touched on something that has captured the imagination of so many.

If this is working—and we have good reason to believe it is—it’s working because of you.

And it’s important to remember that while there are 25 of you here today, in three years’ time there will be 100. You are the pioneers in this work, and I’m grateful that you’ve taken this leap of faith with us.

Now, I would like to turn it over to Mayor Landrieu to introduce the newest member of the CRO family…