Defining resilience

The term 'resilience' still has no universally agreed definition even among development workers. Tearfund’s suggested definition for households and communities is:

Resilience is the ability to deal with shocks, stresses and uncertainty.

Defining resilience diagram

 By 'deal with' we mean: 

  • Withstand
  • Absorb
  • Recover from
  • Adapt to
  • In a timely fashion
  • Without losing core capacities or fundamental identity 

The concept of resilience has become popular because it helps us think holistically about things we often keep separate:

  • Humanitarian relief and development. Instead of seeing their goals as very different, we can take 'increasing resilience' as one primary goal of both relief and development work. This use of resilience has become especially popular in areas of chronic crisis such as the Sahel, where increasingly frequent and intense shocks and stresses mean that traditional relief and development strategies have become less adequate.
  • All the 'sectors' of development work that focus strongly on managing risk and disruptive change. These sectors usually focus on just one category of shock and/or stress; resilience helps to bring them together. 

Disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) are two of the main sectors that have contributed to development workers' thinking on the issue of resilience. Many resources on resilience use the language of these sectors (for example, see this Toward Resilience book produced by several major INGOs).

But resilience should be more than just integrated DRR and CCA. The new wave of resilience thinking also seeks to draw insights from conflict/peacebuilding, food security, natural resource management and any other sector that focuses on managing shocks and stresses.