The current state of play in respect to the way we deal with disasters, especially when it comes to the resilience element, resembles Abraham Maslow’s often repeated observation ‘when the only tool you have is a hammer then all the problems start to look like nails’. This applies equally to most of the countries in the world and there is plenty of evidence to indicate that resilience has not become a part of most people’s everyday lives. A strong resilience culture is the aspiration that offers the best answers to the high levels of disruption to socio-economic, political and cultural life globally.
Business communities, cities, societies and local communities now operate in a reality that is marked by disruptions which are not showing signs of decline. A culture of expectation of change is the order of the day. Among the most visible and most challenging disruptives, natural disasters (including Wexelblat disaster*) are perhaps a key area that can be reined in by focusing on a particular view of resilience; namely resilience building, which could be considered as a process through which all stakeholders can focus on the growth and competition (with the capacity to include collaboration) that resilience building offers. Instead of focusing on ‘bouncing back’, disasters offer innovative potential for businesses and others to bounce ahead, continue to grow and minimise the cost of disruptions that may lay ahead.
Over the past decade we have seen an increase in discussions on how to best deal with natural disasters. A significant argument has emerged with strong global consensus (Hyogo and Sendai are two most prominent examples) that a collaborative approach is the key. FEMA’s unprecedented enlistment of Frog design consultancy during Cyclone Sandy which consisted of “a group that brought an unlikely mix of minds into the Sandy recovery process, including experts in fields ranging from art and science to mathematics, technology, and design“, is another recent example pointing in right direction. However, the right model of collaboration (meaning specific governance and strategy models) has not been forthcoming. Apart from grand announcements, a flood of recommendations and unrealistic promises on behalf of governments, combined with a largely lethargic and uninformed general public and confused and inactive business community, very little has been done towards achieving a measurable increase in resilience. By far the largest amount of resources (specifically cash) has been poured into post disaster recovery, as opposed to resilience building.
The Global Resilience Collaborative (GRC) has as its model, an innovative strategy and approach as to how the best resources can be brought into focus with the specific goal of making cities, businesses, communities and individuals genuinely resilient. As Rockefeller Foundation President Dr Judith Rodin said, “building resilience cannot be done by a single actor or sector, no matter how innovative or passionate they may be”. In a nutshell, the features of this innovative network are as follows.
- A multidisciplinary global collaborative. The network consists of a small team of people who manage it as a business unit and ensure its corporate governance under Australian law is at the required standard. The key talent is derived from a network of independent professionals offering their services on a consulting basis. The associates may or may not be additionally engaged in other work in their existing fields.
- Flash teams. Flash teams are composed of tactical groups of associated members assembled according to the nature of the assignment. These flash teams are an innovative way of ensuring that the best team is put forward for every commission.
- Brokerage: The network has been set in such a way as to attract and grow the best possible network of active professionals, as well as providing access to all markets globally. The network will ensure that quality of work is consistent. GRC will apply the same standard of project management to all its work, which will be planned and executed with the input of associate members.
- Think tank. Members of the global collaborative regularly share knowledge and ideas, and work together to expand their capacity. The network aims to be a thought leader in the areas of resilience building as it proactively incorporates experience from projects and the work it conducts.
- Technology enabled. The network operates with an open organisation approach with little requirements to invest in traditional organisational structures. It uses technology as the key instrument for its operations, including management, communication etc.
- Client specific focus. Cities, businesses, communities, workplace, governments and individuals – each is driven by different motivations, trends and factors. For instance, framing resilience for, say, a city requires a different process than doing the same for a small local business that employs 15 or less staff. A broad level of knowledge across many disciplines and sectors forms the basis for our high capacity to craft products for each client group.
- Marketplace. Associates of the collaborative would be given an opportunity to promote any existing products and services that align with the mission of GRC. We recognise that many people eager to collaborate have expertise in their own areas, and we would be pleased to offer a platform for launching and promoting existing work such as books or other products. In the true spirit of collaboration, GRC is focused on ensuring that capacity sharing is of mutual benefit.
- Corporate Social Responsibility. The network will aim to establish the means of channelling resources into local communities through a variety of ways; from pro bono services, small grants and funding, sourced both from corporate partners willing to utilise the brokerage services of GRC, as well as from the company’s own funds. While GRC aims to be sustainable and financially independent, it also recognises that close links to local communities is a vital strategy in achieving a behavioural shift towards building a resilience culture.
*Wexelblat disaster (n.) – A natural disaster whose effects are magnified by human intervention, usually because a human construct is damaged by the initial natural disaster, and the fallout from the destruction of the human construct is far worse than the damage caused by the natural event. For example, a storm that capsizes an oil tanker will inflict far more damage via the oil spill (the human construct) than the natural event (the storm).