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Remarks by Dr. Judith Rodin at the Urban Resilience Summit

Good morning.

On behalf of The Rockefeller Foundation, it is my honor to welcome you to our Urban Resilience Summit.

I want to thank our summit partners, Charles [Goddard] and the Economist Intelligence Unit.

I’d also like to extend my sincere gratitude to the government of Singapore for providing us a vibrant backdrop upon which to hold these conversations on urban resilience. It is all the more special that we do so on the eve of Singapore’s 50th anniversary.

In many ways, Singapore’s 50 year-history has been an accelerated case study in investing in resilience as a strategy for urban transformation.

But continued investment in building resilience will become even more critical as Singapore’s leaders chart its next 50 years.

Because of the intersecting forces of globalization, urbanization, and climate change, crisis has become the new normal.

And cities are caught in the crosshairs.

Globally, not a week goes by that a city somewhere in the world doesn’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.

The list goes on.

These shocks tend to exacerbate the more slowly-developing chronic stresses many cities experience–inequality, poor air quality, traffic congestion, water scarcity and strains on infrastructure.

And these stresses, in turn, weaken a city’s ability to respond to and bounce back from future shocks.

This cycle has left many cities lurching from crisis to crisis.

And nowhere have cities felt these impacts more acutely than here in Asia.

Over the last three decades, Asia has accounted for 38 percent of global economic losses due to natural disasters. By midcentury the region could face annual disaster losses in excess of $19 billion. These numbers are only expected to increase, as Asia is poised to be home to 21 of the world’s 37 megacities by 2025.

But not every disruption has to become a disaster.

And not every stress has to weaken the urban fabric.

By building resilience, cities can shift the paradigm from one of disaster response and relief to one of prevention and returns.

Let me give you an example from The Rockefeller-supported Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network, or ACCCRN, whose work we celebrate at this summit.

We launched this initiative in 2008 focusing on a pilot group of 10 cities in India, Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. In these cities, ACCCRN worked with stakeholders to develop, test and demonstrate practical strategies for responding to the impacts of climate change.

One of those cities is Gorakhpur, India.

Gorakhpur is a town of about 1 million people in a low-lying area in the foothills of the Nepal Himalayas. Each year, monsoons dump heavy rainfall on the city. As much as one-fifth of the city can be submerged, often for months at a time.

Standing water does more than disrupt normal activity.

It also increases vector-borne diseases, contaminates groundwater, and degrades agricultural yields.

And it’s getting worse—over the last decade, a rapid influx of people and poor waste management has extended water-logging and its impacts.

But in Mahewa, one of the most flood-prone wards of the city, residents have been active participants in the solution.

Working with local NGOs, the city administration, and researchers, community members have surveyed households, identified innovative and affordable solutions, and established local partnerships and committees to create interventions in areas of greatest concern.

One intervention created a much-needed waste management system. Local residents donated three plots of land where waste is now separated and properly disposed. Each household pays a small fee for waste collection. Now, fewer bottles, pieces of plastic and other garbage ends up in the city’s drainage system.

In addition to waste and drainage improvements, other interventions focused on health, agriculture, and microcredit.

As a result, when a 113-year record rainfall hit Gorakhpur in 2013, residents of Mahewa were spared.

But that wasn’t all that was achieved:

Farmers now use compost from the properly disposed waste to fertilize their crops and protect against damaging pests.

900 households have gained access to safe and clean drinking water.

And the incidence of water-borne disease and sickness has been greatly reduced.

One investment, multiple benefits.

We call this the “resilience dividend.”

Because it’s just that—a return on investment.

And it shows that by investing in resilience, communities, businesses, and cities can improve lives and assets on the front-end, and generate returns at every point in between.

For a physical example of the resilience dividend, make a visit to the Marina Barrage, a dam built across the Marina Channel in downtown Singapore. Opened in 2008, the dam does more than prevent flooding; it also provides the island’s largest catchment for freshwater, which has decreased Singapore’s dependence on importing drinking water from its neighbors. What’s more, the protected waterfront offers excellent new green space for recreational activities and scenic views.

From community interventions to multi-use infrastructure, these are two examples of how investments in flood protection can reap a resilience dividend for cities at two very different places in their development.

But flood prevention is not the only investment cities can make to reap resilience dividends.

The possibilities are as unique as the cities themselves.

Christchurch, New Zealand, is leveraging their process for rebuilding after recent earthquakes to build a more participatory democracy. Medellin, Colombia, has integrated transit systems with economic centers to help bring down crime rates.

But while there is no single template to follow to build resilience, there are five characteristics resilient cities share:

First, a resilient city is aware of its vulnerabilities and assets. It has both the willingness and the ability to assess, take in new information, and adjust to that information using monitoring and feedback loops to do real-time situational analysis.

Second, it has diverse and often redundant types of back-ups and alternatives so that if one part of the system is challenged, it can rely on another without disruption.

Third, it fosters integration by sharing information and ensuring coordinated action across all sectors of government and between government and all sectors of society, especially the private sector and citizens. The left hand knows what the right hand is doing, and they’re working together from the same playbook, towards the same goals.

Fourth, it has built the capacity for self-regulation, meaning that if one part of the system fails, the entity can be de-linked to keep the problem from spreading. This is the difference between safe failure, and failing catastrophically.

Finally, a resilient city is adaptive. It has the capacity to adjust to changing circumstances by developing new plans, taking new actions, or modifying past behaviors. The entity is flexible, it bends, rather than breaks.

These five characteristics are as equally important for businesses to succeed in the 21st Century.

According to data to be unveiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit later today, business leaders are increasingly seeing the benefits of investing in resilience, including greater competitiveness, stronger reputations, and the increased productivity and health of workers.

That’s the resilience dividend.

Businesses can generate these dividends in at least three ways:

First, by taking steps to build their own resilience.

There are lessons to learn from Toyota Motor Corporation.

Before the Japanese earthquake in 2011, the automaker had learned from past crises and established disaster response taskforces in every operation unit. In addition to disaster planning, the leadership had taken care to build the kind of culture that empowered its employees and its suppliers to gather and share information, make quick decisions, and do what needed to be done to get parts ready to deliver cars to customers—during good times and in times of crisis.

These critical investments contributed to Toyota rising to the number one car manufacturer in the world before the earthquake, and it’s what allowed the company to regain that position two years later, while the rest of Japan is still slowly struggling to recover.

That’s the resilience dividend.

Second, the private sector can reap the resilience dividend by developing and manufacturing products and services necessary for building resilience. Later today, we’ll introduce you to some of our platform partners who are making their services and technologies available to our 100 Resilient Cities, from technology that allows cities to map vulnerabilities to services that help cities determine where to focus their limited financing resources.

Palantir, a data analysis software company, is one such partner. In disaster situations, Palantir’s applications provide responders with updated information to know where help and resources are most needed. This has enabled more responsive and coordinated disaster efforts in the aftermath of both Super Typhoon Haiyan and Superstorm Sandy—two very different events. Now cities are looking to Palantir’s technology both to help manage information in times of crisis, but also in times of calm.

That’s the resilience dividend.

Indeed, resilience provides a new market opportunity for business to innovate products and solutions with a growing set of prospective customers—households, communities, and cities the world over.

A third way the private sector can achieve resilience dividends—for themselves and others—is by integrating into the resilience planning of the communities where they operate.

In Bogota, Colombia, global brewing and beverage company SABMiller, found that the cost of water from the local utility was rising precipitously.

The culprit? Upstream, dairy farmers were clearing land for their cows to graze. And as a result, loads of sediment was traveling downstream, disrupting the water supply.

The situation could easily have led to a crisis and the potential loss of a major local business for Bogota.

But instead, SABMiller joined with the water utility and the Nature Conservancy to support the dairy farmers in adopting new practices, for example: purchasing higher-producing cows, keeping smaller herds, and protecting vegetation on the riverbanks.

Through this investment in watershed protection, the water utility saved $4 million a year, and SABMiller cut costs on water purchases.

But that wasn’t all.

With better practices, the dairy farmers increased their own efficiency.

The ecology of the river system improved.

Multiple wins for a single investment.

That’s the resilience dividend.

But in order to solve the breadth of our resilience challenges, we’ll need more examples like these—and much more cross-sector integration.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit survey, 90 percent of business leaders globally—and an even higher percentage in Asia—acknowledge that they have a role to play in building the resilience of cities to climate change.

And while a full 75 percent of them in the same survey express a likelihood of engaging in cross-sectoral partnerships to address these challenges over the next 5 years, we need to ensure that the gap between awareness and action really is filled in the years ahead. This is why your presence at this Summit today is so important.

We need to close this gap, in Asia, and beyond.

For a model of a city where business and government have successfully integrated their planning and are reaping benefits even in the good times, look to San Francisco, in our first cohort of 100 Resilient Cities.

The city’s Lifeline Council has integrated planning among all departments of city government and all of its businesses to facilitate self-regulation and rapid restoration of basic services, from electricity and power, to water and communications, to sanitation and transportation—a city’s “lifelines”—in the aftermath of a disruption, whether an earthquake, an act of terrorism, or a severe weather event.

What’s more, San Francisco is benefiting from integrating the strategies of its growing sharing economy businesses, such as rideshare company Lyft and home-share company AirBnb in its planning, because their business model is built on a resilience principle—the effective use of excess capacity.

But whether you’re a city as advanced in its resilience planning as Singapore or San Francisco, or just beginning, realizing the resilience dividend will take more than integrating the private sector, although it is a critical step.

You will need the collaboration of all sectors.

This is true for building resilience everywhere, but it’s especially true in cities, where so many different facets of economy and society are interconnected, reside in close proximity, and ultimately share a common future.

That is the reason we’ve brought such a diverse group here together today.

To identify collaborative solutions and forge paths for new partnerships.

If there is a great idea that emerges from our conversations this week, the Rockefeller Foundation is committed to working with you to move those ideas forward.

Together, we can achieve the resilience dividend to improve the lives and livelihoods of people in more cities around the world.

Thank you.