What is community resilience?
Resilience has become a top priority for many organizations working in humanitarian action and development, including the IFRC. This section explains the IFRC’s approach to resilience, including what your National Society will need to do differently. The IFRC focuses on community resilience.
Definition: Community resilience
The ability of communities - and their members - exposed to disasters, crises and underlying vulnerabilities, to anticipate, prepare for, reduce the impact of, cope with and recover from the effects of shocks and stressors without compromising their long‑term prospects.
Resilience is readily aligned with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement’s Fundamental Principles (see Reference Sheet B).
Research carried out by the IFRC in the Asia Pacific (Available here via the extranet of the IFRC) Latin America and the Caribbean shows that resilient communities have six specific characteristics (see Table 1).
Recent applications of the Road Map to Community Resilience have highlighted the need to further breakdown the six characteristics into 11 dimensions that reflect the RCRC’s areas of work or expertise, making it applicable to programming (see Table 1).
Using these 11 dimensions, it is easier to engage and accompany communities to discuss their relevant resilience dimensions and how they relate to risk (and its determinants: vulnerability and capacity). This establishes how the community perceives its vulnerabilities and capacities, and guides them to assess these across the 11 dimensions, enabling a more measurable approach.
See the 'Star Discussing the Dimensions' for details of the 11 dimensions.
TABLE 1 The 11 dimensions inspired by the Framework
Download Table 1
1. A resilient community knows its risks, is healthy, and can meet its basic needs in terms of shelter, food, and water and sanitation
2. A resilient community has economic opportunities.
3. A resilient community has well‑maintained infrastructure and accessible services.
4. A resilient community can manage its natural assets.
5. A resilient community is socially cohesive.
6. A resilient community is connected.
Six characteristics of a resilient community
of community resilience
1. Risk management
A resilient community knows and manages its risks.
A resilient community is healthy.
3. Water and sanitation
A resilient community can meet its basic water and sanitation needs.
A resilient community can meet its basic shelter needs.
5. Food and nutrition security
A resilient community can meet its basic food needs.
6. Economic opportunities
A resilient community has diverse economic opportunities.
7. Infrastructure and services
A resilient community has well‑maintained and accessible infrastructure and services.
8. Natural resource management
A resilient community has access to, manages and uses its natural assets in a sustainable manner
9. Social cohesion
A resilient community is socially cohesive.
A resilient community is inclusive.
A resilient community is connected.
Rethinking our approach
To enable communities to strengthen the 11 resilience dimensions, we need to work in a different, smarter way, led by the following landmarks. We use landmark to refer to prominent elements of our approach that serve as a guide, especially to travellers following the Road Map. The qualities expressed in the landmarks below should become automatic in the National Society, and consensus on them among partners and government counterparts should be a goal, built through relationship‑building and trust.
Landmark 1: Risk‑informed
Resilience requires a broad understanding of risk and its consequences. Communities face many types of threats, some of which can influence other threats. For example, conflict may affect markets, causing the price of staple foods to rise. Communities must then deal simultaneously with violence and food insecurity, and eventually with poor health due to an inadequate diet.
Instead of looking at threats in isolation - as we and the aid community have tended to do - we need to identify and analyse the full range of risk components in communities. We need to capture information on all pertinent threats, as well as track evolving capacities and vulnerabilities inherent in their underlying contexts. These are likely to be related to ill health, conflict, violence, climate change, environmental degradation, poverty, poor education levels, food insecurity, and others. Only then can we and, more importantly, communities, set priorities
and decide how best to address them. The process described below includes a risk‑informed community action plan.
Landmark 2: Holistic (systems‑oriented)
Communities are multidimensional systems within wider systems. For example, a community’s water sources draw on a larger hydrological and ecological system, and its marketplace is connected to a broad economic system of supply and demand (see Reference Sheet C on systems and systems thinking).
The interdependence of different aspects of well‑being, safety and prosperity is a critical element. For instance, good health depends on food security (among other factors), which in turn depends on social stability, natural resource management, and so on. This means that efforts focused on just one area will have a limited impact on overall resilience. Coordinated action across key sectors and related systems can achieve more significant and lasting change. National Society staff and volunteers can offer communities a range of expertise in food security, shelter, disaster preparedness, health, etc., as well as access to other resources and connections to partners.
We also need to think and operate across various levels. While National Society branches work mainly at the community level, a resilient society requires efforts and commitment at other levels, for example, by local and national authorities, and even internationally. Some approaches to disaster risk reduction and resilience, such as nature‑based solutions (see Reference Sheet EE), require consideration of a broader geographical scale beyond the community. For example, how natural resources are managed by a community upstream of a river can affect the resilience of a community downstream that depends on the same ecosystem. Whereas in cities, communities may be defined demographically, by culture, habits and resources rather than bound to one geographical area. By linking communities with other levels, we empower them and help to strengthen the system as a whole. Communities should be recognized as active participants in relevant legal frameworks - such as those that address holistic risk management - and be empowered to engage at the local level.
Landmark 3: Demand‑driven
Support for resilience by the National Society should be directed towards at‑risk communities that recognise their needs enough to voice them.
Articulating a demand demonstrates a certain level of awareness and understanding. Getting a community to this position may require a long history of accompaniment by the Branch office before embarking on the Road to Resilience.
Support should also respond to the community’s own understanding of their risks. While studying secondary data and lessons learned elsewhere is important, National Societies must address what the community identifies as their problems. The community needs to create their action plan, not us.
Landmark 4: People‑centred and inclusive
A people‑centred approach is central to the IFRC’s Strategy 2030, and our work on resilience is no exception. This means at all times listening to and understanding what people think, rather than imposing ideas, projects or technology on them. Ask people in your community what they think are their most vital challenges and solutions. Describe the actions in this resilience journey and ask them how they think those actions should be adapted to their context. The IFRC’s commitment to the Core Humanitarian Standard also affirms this approach.
On the journey, EVCAs build on local and traditional resources and knowledge to further understand phenomena, and identify local solutions to address risk.
The IFRC is mandated to prevent and alleviate human suffering without discrimination. This commitment, rooted in the principle of impartiality and a people‑centred approach, means that all Red Cross Red Crescent community resilience work should be inclusive. It should analyse and address the needs and interests of all groups in a community, being sure to consider gender and diversity.
Refer to Table 2 to see how different vulnerable groups may contribute to community resilience.
Landmark 5: Climate smart and environmentally sustainable
Our focus will be on reducing the current and future humanitarian impacts of climate and environmental crises, and supporting people to adapt and thrive in the face of them. This means climate adaptation and mitigation are high on our collective agenda, integrating climate risk management across all programmes, operations and advocacy. We are also looking to reduce the environmental impact of our actions and to green the humanitarian sector, as well as exploring how best to prepare for all environmental crises, including those that are not, or are only partially, climate‑related. A climate‑smart and environmentally sustainable approach across all resilience dimensions is critical.
To be climate‑smart, any risk‑informed community action plan needs to take into account past and current risk, and also the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events, rising temperatures and the longer‑term impacts of climate change. Communities will need to be better prepared to manage forecast weather events and new climate extremes through climate‑smart disaster risk reduction (DRR), preparedness and early action; address the longer‑term impacts on health and migration; and enable climate‑resilient livelihoods, infrastructure and sustainable water management. The International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement Ambitions to address the climate crisis (2020) sets out in further detail how we can step up our climate action through our community‑based plans and programmes.
We are part of and have a stewardship responsibility for the ecosystems in which we live. By preventing environmental degradation, we reduce the risk of landslides, flooding, drought and other hazards, including those increasingly caused by climate change. Any efforts a National Society makes to increase communities’ resilience should actively contribute to protecting and improving the ecosystems on which we all depend. Nature‑based solutions promote the protection, management and sustainable use of natural resources linking humans and nature in socio-ecological systems. This approach will build collective self‑governance and achieve resilience to both climate and environmental crises by investing in social and natural capital.
The 2019 IFRC environmental policy and the 2014 IFRC Green Response extends the fundamental humanitarian principle of ‘do no harm’ to the environment and ecosystems, which the people we seek to assist are reliant on, recognizing that sustainability is generated through environmentally sound actions. Aligned with the IFRC environmental policy, our humanitarian action must identify, avoid and minimize adverse impacts on the surrounding environment and ecosystems, and work proactively in preparedness to establish cost‑efficient, effective, equitable and environmentally sustainable solutions.
Rethinking key Red Cross Red Crescent services
Our approach to resilience seeks to create transformational change that will strengthen communities and build bridges across entire systems. To achieve this, we need to adapt our working methods and consider new RCRC services, drawing on the concepts of accompanying, enabling and connecting. The term ‘service’ means something different in each context, but here we refer to it as the offer by the National Society of something demanded by the public (see Reference Sheet D for information on National Society organizational development and how you can shape messages for your volunteers). The three services are described below. A game to reinforce their meaning and to support other stages in this guidance is found in Reference Sheet E.
To accompany communities
To ‘accompany’ is to join in action and influence. To foster resilience, National Societies join rather than lead, and actions are owned by the community. Accompanying is not a passive role, however. It involves actively stepping aside and encouraging communities into the centre, enabling them to take control of their futures. Accompanying is most meaningful once you have built trust and drawn closer to a community. When we accompany, we also nurture, empower, encourage, support, catalyse, orientate, provide role models and accommodate. No external actor (and no National Society) can build resilience for a community. Members of a community must want to change their situation and progressively take responsibility for managing their change process.
You may need to start by accompanying a community closely and then, as they grow, begin keeping a wider distance. As National Societies, our efforts should promote leadership capacity in communities so that, over time, they depend less on our support. The resilience journey is not a quick one. We need to be prepared to accompany communities for several years or until they are in a position to find their own long‑term solutions.
To enable communities
‘Enabling’ implies providing the means - human and other resources - to act. Our approach is to enable communities to both learn and apply their knowledge, experience and capacities to solve problems, and to instil a sense of confidence in communities to use their resources. When we enable, we also train, teach, instruct and facilitate. National Societies should continually seek opportunities to enhance the understanding and skills of a community.
To connect communities
When National Societies strengthen resilience, one of their key roles is to connect communities to the outside. We must introduce them to, or reinforce their knowledge of, principles, processes, systems and structures that can help them build resilience. To achieve resilience, many stakeholders from different levels, sectors and disciplines must work together. While National Societies play a role in building social capital inside a community, here we focus on connecting better with entities, people and resources outside the community. When we connect, we also convene, bridge, unite, introduce, network and link.
Connecting can be achieved partly through convening. Convening means bringing relevant people or groups together for a purpose. You can convene one‑off events, such as a meeting or an activity, or longer‑term processes, such as community development planning. Convening facilitates and generates connections between actors, sectors, levels of governance and other forms of social organization. It builds bridges to entities with which communities have not traditionally interacted.
We should also enable communities to interact with government at different levels. In both international and domestic law, National Societies are recognized as humanitarian auxiliaries of public authorities. This unique status enables National Societies to dialogue with government while maintaining independence and participating in civil society forums.
When used effectively, this status can enable communities to access public resources, obtain training and other types of expertise, participate in policy and legislative change, and contribute to decisions that will affect them.
The RCRC’s role as an auxiliary to government calls us to support, complement and facilitate a government’s mandate to protect its citizens and communities, and ensure that community voices are taken into account and acted upon.
It provides a platform to ensure that communities are engaged actively in decisions on risk management (see Reference Sheet F on the auxiliary role and advocacy).
National Societies are well‑placed to be connectors, as described in Stage 1.