Resilience Building: Ideas for Change from Senior Leaders within The Commonwealth

Innovative, inspiring and inclusive are three terms I would use to describe a series of resilience projects co-created by leaders from across the Commonwealth and presented to a panel that I was privileged to be a part of at the end of May. If resilience is about working across sectors to imagine and propose ways of enabling our people, places and economies to rebound better from shocks, and the resilience dividend can be defined as gaining multiple resilience benefits from one project or programme, then the outcomes of the CSCLeaders Challenge 2018 demonstrated a rich understanding of resilience.

CSCLeaders brings together senior leaders from across the 53 countries of the Commonwealth to tackle challenges, to build global relationships and to develop the cultural intelligence needed by the leaders of tomorrow. This year’s Challenge, launched by the UK’s Prime Minister, is ‘What makes a city resilient?’. In describing its importance she commented, as leaders learn about resilience, ‘this work will offer choices to leaders; choices that could shape the future of our civilisation’.

The leaders participating in this programme, a partnership between HRH The Duke of Edinburgh’s Commonwealth Study Conferences and Common Purpose, were from 22 different Commonwealth countries. Their potential collective impact on the future through collaborative solution-building and idea-generation is perhaps best explained through a few facts about the Commonwealth:

  • home to 2.4 billion people and a third of the world’s young people aged between 15 and 29
  • member countries have a combined gross domestic product that is predicted to reach US$13 trillion by 2020
  • contains half of the top 20 global emerging cities.

Yet some countries face existential threat brought by climate change risks and the Commonwealth is actively working on vulnerability and resilience across many of its member states. Analysis by 100 Resilient Cities, an initiative pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation to help to find solutions to global resilience challenges, demonstrates that of the 100 cities in its network, 24 cities from 11 different countries are from the Commonwealth, reinforcing this active focus on resilience.

Following a week of activities that invited participants to deepen their understanding of resilience and to adopt new perspectives, CSCLeaders presented their ideas to a panel that included the Commonwealth Secretary General, Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC; Julia Middleton, Founder and CEO of Common Purpose; and Jon Stanton, CEO of The Weir Group.

The ideas were practical responses to the Challenge, informed by insights gathered from visits to Greater Manchester and London. Each proposal centred on a theme that resonated with a group of participants. They are summarised below:

  • Do-Tank: designing an approach to enable community-level solutions to urban stresses to become scalable and replicable. Through connecting community projects to relevant stakeholders, providing data analysis to demonstrate social return on investment and bringing financial appraisals and risk management to frame projects to appeal to potential investors, Do-Tank looks to leverage community ideas to effect urban change.
  • The Big Data Conversation: recognising that resilience often requires stakeholders from different sectors to work together, this project explores collaborative use of data from areas as diverse as economic development, health, infrastructure, sustainability and communities to answer resilience-related questions. At the heart of the idea is the use of culturally inclusive hackathons, drawing on the talents of a diverse range of people to design new solutions.
  • Vocal: focusing on transparent dialogue between local governments and their communities, this proposal is for a digital platform that not only enables citizens to submit issues and ideas to municipal decision-makers but also fosters citizen engagement in local government meetings through online facilitation. This proposal is designed to connect local governments with their citizens, enabling rapid identification of current issues but also enabling citizen engagement in the design of solutions to urban problems.
  • Community Manifesto: based on the proposal that strong and resilient places are those where the city government and the citizens can hold each other to account, this idea is to create resilience through a new social contract between a city and its communities. In developing the contract, the voices of the citizens within the city must be listened to with the contract embodying the core values of the community.
  • Growing Resilient Cities: recognising that many people across the world are hungry and that a circular economy can offer solutions to many global challenges, this proposal is to develop a myriad of urban farms reflecting the diversity of cities, cultures and climates in their delivery whether as hydroponic rooftop gardens, vertical farming and cultivating marginal land. Co-benefits range from improved mental health and tackling social isolation, reducing air pollution and encouraging exercise, to reducing crime and offering opportunities for education, all in addition to increasing the available local food supply.
  • Policy Salon: research shows that people often discuss the issues that matter as they go about their daily lives and interact with their social networks. Motivated by the comment that some people are ‘invisible’ to municipal governments, this concept is about using local convenors to talk to people in the everyday social spaces in which they feel safe. In this way local government can become inclusive, understand the views of all citizens and address the chronic stresses that really matter to people.
  • Insight City: responding to a need to enable leaders in a city who come from very different sectors to connect in practical and meaningful ways, this proposal partners up two leaders to intentionally ‘walk in each other’s shoes’ and to more fully understand one another’s perspectives as they seek to find innovative approaches to a resilience challenge. Through joining forces to develop a new appreciation of sometimes opposing views of the world, these exchanges can enable novel initiatives to bring real change.
  • Thriving People, Thriving Cities: challenging institutions to become involved in social issues, this proposal seeks to bring a city’s institutions across public and private sectors into actively helping communities tackle specific challenges. Sometimes organisations can be perceived as sitting separately from the social and community aspects of a city and this idea focuses on drawing on the resources of institutions, including their ideas, expertise and funding, to work with communities to their mutual benefit and to co-create thriving cities.

These proposals were offered as initial concepts and form a prospectus of ideas to inform resilience practice and thinking. They are freely available for use and development.

The Commonwealth hosts a digital platform, The Commonwealth Innovation Hub, to share, collaborate and create a common future for the Commonwealth. If any of these proposals are worked up, please consider sharing, whether through the Commonwealth Innovation Hub (cominnowealth.org) or across other resilience networks.