Isn’t resilience just a buzzword?
Not the way we see it. We define resilience as the way a community, household or person is able to face shocks or stresses by maintaining, adapting or transforming their living standards without compromising their long-term prospects.
Resilience is primarily about capacities. A focus on resilience means putting greater emphasis on what people and communities can do for themselves and how to strengthen their capacities, rather than concentrating on their vulnerabilities or needs.
In terms of humanitarian aid, and the way we practice it, it involves analysing the context as a system, by looking at interactions between groups of people and the way they are affected by their environment. It means that even if we cannot address each of the issues that affect them, we try to prioritise those actions that will have more impact in supporting the community’s resilience to the particular threats they have identified.
This approach encourages us to be solution oriented and identify opportunities beyond the traditional frontier between the humanitarian and development worlds. It is also a commitment made to our partner communities that we will listen to them and constantly try to improve the quality of the support that we provide, based on their (not our) priorities.
How do we measure resilience?
By supporting and encouraging communities to build their own resilience, BRCiS aims at saving lives and creating better life conditions, not only for the duration of a project, but for the long-term.
To evaluate the impact of the programme, we are using a combination of internationally recognized indicators: The Coping Strategies Index, the Dietary Diversity Score, Food Consumption Score and the Household Asset Score. In addition to these recognized variables, we added a number of indicators that are relevant to Somali society in general and for our partner communities in particular. These range from literacy levels to access to safe water and sanitation, and from income diversification to the community capacity to mobilize against hazards and solve internal disputes.
The BRCiS baseline was designed and conducted to capture a thorough picture of these indicators in a representative sample of households from across the BRCiS communities. It was published in November 2019 and is available here. The findings of the BRCiS baseline are updated through periodic surveys, undertaken every year in October, allowing us to monitor the changes taking place in the communities we are working with. In addition, extended interviews are undertaken with 1 in every 7 beneficiary households throughout the length of the BRCiS programme, collecting all core indicators on a continuous basis so as to reveal indicator trends all year long.
We also want to make sure that we are addressing the most relevant issues, according to the people that are directly involved. Not only do we schedule a participatory revision of the community plans every year, but we try our best to listen to the hidden voices in the communities. To this end, qualitative information is collected by our staff through open conversations with community members, week after week. This qualitative approach is helping us get one to one, confidential feedback to complement the information that we obtain through the activity monitoring and the consultations with the local committees. The gathered information is carefully analysed to maintain the high quality implementation standards for which the BRCiS Consortium is renown.
What is the BRCiS theory of change?
The underlying theory of change for building resilient communities in Somalia places strong focus on strengthening linkages between humanitarian and development assistance. With the community in the centre, through a systems approach, the objective is to establish or enhance linkages between communities and stakeholders that belong to their greater ecosystem, connecting marginalized and vulnerable groups to larger networks through markets and businesses and better management of shared natural resources.
The overarching theory of change to achieve resilient communities in Somalia therefore assumes that:
IF: Vulnerable communities have the capacity to withstand shocks through improved economic opportunities, social safety nets, and strengthened human capital.
And IF: Communities are well connected within ecosystems that help to mitigate the impacts of future shocks through effective management of shared natural resources, strong local governance, and strong social cohesion.
Then: Vulnerable and marginalized communities are more resilient to recurrent shocks and stresses, engage in sustainable livelihood strategies, and contribute to the long-term development goals outlined in the National Development Plan.
How do we engage beneficiaries?
Our programming is based on a participatory process, which includes joint assessment of the hazards, vulnerabilities, needs, and capacities of the local communities. During the first phase of a project, Community Resilience Committees are created. Among other things, these Committees are our interlocutors and share community feedback on a regular basis. Members have been chosen by the communities among the various local groups and are meant to represent its diversity.
Feedback on implementation
Each community has been part of the planning and is aware of the action plan. The plans go through a participatory review every year so as to allow beneficiaries and others to provide feedback and express concerns regarding the implementation. Of course, the situation in some areas is very fluid and more frequent amendments to the plans are possible, and have already been carried out, depending on the specific context.
Because not everything can be expressed in public sessions, BRCiS has developed the use of informal conversations. Every week, our staff conduct informal conversations with individuals from the target communities. This provides the management with qualitative feedback and information on not only the project itself, but also on the underlying trends and currents within the community. The information is then triangulated and analysed and the relevant pieces are used to improve the quality of the programme.
How do we ensure the sustainability of the project?
Some of the activities that we implement can look like they have only short-term impact. For example, with cash for work activities: when we remunerate a group of people to dig an irrigation canal, we provide an income for a number of days or months. When the canal is completed, the pay cheque stops coming too.
However, and because this activity has been targeted as a need at community level, its impact goes further. The canal improves the productivity of the farming land, so agricultural yields go up; the canals can also help control flooding, reducing risk to crops, people and animals. Also, those who have been involved in the cash for work might get together to build other canals, since they now have the skill to do so.
Other activities are more evidently long-term: re-greening and stabilising soil through tree planting, vocational trainings for young people, farming schools, construction of water sources, markets or community spaces, etc.
However, at the heart of the design of the programme, the main element that we believe is going to contribute to the sustainability of the project is the empowerment of the community in terms of managing their environment. Through consultations, open dialogue and trainings, the communities are encouraged to anticipate the shocks, and to try to collectively develop positive mitigating measures, through a holistic network of short, medium and long term activities.
The Community Resilience Committees are trained in Disaster Risk Reduction and Early Warning / Early Action systems, and the Consortium member agencies support them in analysing and using this information to act early rather than wait until the situation is at crisis level. This places communities at the centre of providing information on potential upcoming shocks, allowing an early response to mitigate the impacts. This response can come from the consortium members, or through the communities own actions or lobbying with local authorities and other actors.
By being able to act early to potential shocks, the resilience gains made elsewhere are protected and costs of humanitarian action reduced. By supporting the implementation of the Community Action Plans, which communities also provide financial or other contributions to, we hope that this enabling process will have had the time to grow, prove its benefits locally and become a pillar of the response to stresses at community level.
How do we manage risks?
Like any humanitarian organization working in Somalia, BRCiS is subject to a number of circumstances that limit our access and our capacity to implement the activities. Some are quite obvious (access made impossible by flooding or intensification of the armed conflict), and some are less (inter-clan tensions, disease outbreak, population displacement).
In any case, they require constant monitoring at local level. All nine members of the Consortium have a long experience of working in Somalia and have facilitated access to relevant information through their networks of local stakeholders and authorities, as well as the skills to analyse the context.
Sometimes, risks may escalate to the point where they require an adaptation of the plans, or the restriction of field visits; sometimes it is necessary to halt implementation for a certain period of time. We deal with this by placing the security of staff and beneficiaries first.
We have several positive opportunities to do so efficiently. Firstly, we carry out multi-year programming with a focus on adaptive management; if we put activities on hold for a few weeks, we still have the possibility to catch up on the plans at the end of the crisis.
Secondly, the strong link that has been established with the communities helps us obtain timely information and reduces tensions.
Finally, we also have the possibility to review our priorities regularly, to make sure that we are able to address any new development or upcoming situation appropriately, by using our crisis modifiers or by building in a new component to our programme.
Where is BRCiS going?
The BRCiS Consortium will continue to use adaptive management and community-designed and led solutions to build resilience to local shocks and stresses. It focuses on reinforcing social accountability and natural resource management capacities, nurturing economic opportunities, and enabling access to and utilization of basic services through innovative approaches that strengthen existing services and adapt to learning, changing contexts, and demand-driven priorities.
We aim to complete the existing programme on time and within budget, documenting the evidence of what we have done and the impact on community resilience, as well as to extend the approach to other sectors and locations. We operate in 490 communities and are able to expand based on needs and funding opportunities.
Other initiatives will follow, always with the objective to help the communities anticipate and cope better with the shocks and stresses that they prioritise.