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Adaptive social protection and resilience

In the last two decades, the concept of resilience has made its way into academia. It is now becoming a central paradigm in many disciplines. In particular in domains where issues of shocks, vulnerability and risks are critical (such as disaster risk management (DRR), climate change adaptation (CCA), or even social protection (SP)), the growing influence of the concept of resilience is particularly prominent. While practitioners and NGOs are now exploring how to implement it in the field, policy makers, donors and international development agencies have also largely ‘appropriated’ the term.At least two main reasons can be identified for what seems to be the emergence of a new paradigm around resilience in relation to DRR, CCA, and SP:

  • Resilience seems to be inversely related to vulnerability. Reducing vulnerability seems therefore to be synonymous with increasing resilience. In the context of increased vulnerability (due to climate change-related disasters, or economic crisis) the concept of resilience is thus increasingly becoming one –if not the major- objective in many projects is the fields of DRR, CCA, or SP.
  • The idea behind resilience is also incredibly ‘intuitive’. It has been used already in many disciplines but it actually ‘speaks to people’ more generally, across many fields. As such – and because of this ‘intuitive’ meaning – the concept of resilience is becoming a policy narrative that creates common grounds on which dialogue can start.

Resilience encourages, or facilitates, integration: integration between disciplines, integration between communities of practices. This integration is also what is advocated through the Adaptive Social Protection approach which strives to facilitate synergy between DRR, CCA, and SP.

One note of caution however may be necessary: many recognise that despite (or because) of this intuitive nature, far more clarity and rigor may also be needed about what resilience is exactly, or more specifically what it means for the households or communities to which it is applied (usually following a top-down approach). Indeed, as some scholars have pointed out, resilience is neither good nor bad. One can have a very resilient community, which actually relies on a very inequalitarian power system, one that keeps half of the community (say, women, or a minority group) socially excluded. There is therefore a risk associated with the systematic use of resilience as a policy narrative, which needs to be more explicitly acknowledged.


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