Don’t reinvent the wheel, just let the wheels turn

WEB_Wheels turn

Along with beards and bicycles, resilience is experiencing a modern-day resurgence. Talk of it is rife among policy-makers, and it has become a cornerstone for disaster management policy in Australia. But amongst the hype, a crucial element is often missed – the community sector. BRIDGET TEHAN explains.

While the term resilience may be new to some, it is not new to all. With talk of resilience flowing freely at all levels of government, and as policy-makers come up with new and inventive ways to build resilient communities, they often fail to recognise the mechanisms for doing it already exist. In many new resilience strategies being developed across Australia, despite all the work being poured into them, a yawning gap remains. That gap is the community sector and its work and connections within communities.

The key role community organisations play in building resilience has been recognised in many strategies released by cities around the world under the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities program. Cities from New York to Glasgow have acknowledged that communities’ inherent strengths must be built on to increase social cohesion and resilience.

New York City’s OneNYC resilience plan aims to strengthen communities by building neighbourhood community, social, and economic resilience. It emphasises deepening resident, non-profit and business participation, and acknowledges the critical role community organisations play in social cohesion:

“Social infrastructure plays an important role … the City will work to build capacity in communities by strengthening community-based organizations that serve their neighbors and by working to expand civic engagement and volunteerism.”

New York City’s plan aims to encourage better coordination, collaboration, and decision-making, and to connect organisations. It will also bolster neighbourhood resilience and civic participation by strengthening community-based organisations’ services, information capacity, and ability to conduct community level emergency and resilience planning. Importantly, it will study a model for ‘social empowerment zones’, targeting funds and capacity-building support to critical local service providers, to increase residents’ resilience in under-resourced neighbourhoods.

In California, the Berkeley Resilience Strategy recognises the city’s threats are not only natural disasters and climate change, but also its racial, social and economic inequities. Its strategy is based on building resilience by building community; recognising that strong connections between neighbours, and lasting partnerships between community organisations, are vital to helping all residents thrive, especially those most in need.

Similarly the Resilient San Francisco strategy acknowledges that in times of crisis, communities lean on trusted institutions, service providers and faith-based organisations in their neighbourhood or community. It states:.“…community trust is critical, as those in need may not be as willing to engage with an outside institution that is unfamiliar with the community. Building empowered and resilient neighbourhoods means leveraging existing community support channels, rather than creating competing or redundant organizations, to build resilience.”

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Common to each of these strategies is the understanding that the community sector can and should play a critical role in building resilience.

Glasgow’s resilience strategy, Our Resilient Glasgow, recognises its existing emergency management capacity and capability is robust, and instead focuses on the chronic stresses the city and its people face, in particular those relating to poverty and inequality. It offers an inclusive approach to building people and institutions’ resilience, emphasising empowerment, unlocking place-based solutions, economic growth and fostering civic participation. Key among Glasgow’s goals are equitable access to quality local services that foster wellbeing, improved cooperation between city partners and the community sector, and influencing the government agenda on social and community resilience.

Common to each of these strategies is the understanding that the community sector can and should play a critical role in building resilience.

The City of Melbourne, and Victoria more broadly, are working to understand what resilience encompasses and how to build it. It is critical in this that the day-to-day work of the community sector is recognised, supported and incorporated.

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Community organisations connect people. They serve and know those who are most in need of support.

Building resilience is what the community sector has always done and will always continue to do. It is the core work of the thousands of community organisations embedded within our communities. Their networks and services overlay, underlie and weave throughout communities. They are the main providers of services that many people rely on at some point in their lives, and are part of trusted networks at the heart of communities.

Community organisations connect people. They serve and know those who are most in need of support and the risks they are most vulnerable to.

They possess unique skills for working with diverse groups. They strengthen people’s capacity to become more resourceful, and to adapt and rebound from stressful life events. They focus on prevention, early intervention, crisis support and community building activities, and support individual, family and community wellbeing, strength and ability to cope with adversity. They help mitigate against social problems emerging and entrenching.

With these frameworks, programs and networks already in place, what Victoria needs to build resilient communities is better use and coordination of them, not the invention of whole new resilience strategies that are oblivious to them.

It is through these type of resilience approaches, using community organisations’ long-time, established strengths, and the frameworks and networks already in place, that Victoria can best understand the buzzword and deliver on the hype, to build more resilient communities.

Top image: Arthur John Picton/CC



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