Tearfund defines resilience for both people and communities as the ability to ‘cope with shocks or stresses without crisis and to recover quickly’. This ability is built on six pillars, as shown in the diagram below:

Coping without crisis

1. Adaptive capacity describes the ability of people and communities to make changes in their lives and livelihoods.

2. Resilient livelihoods describes income and food sources that are secure, risk diversified and flexible. Secure, in this context, describes predictability of return. 

3. Sustainable natural resource management describes the use and care of natural resources that results in their long-term flourishing for the good of all.

4. Disaster risk management (DRM) includes Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and disaster preparedness where the emphasis is on reducing and managing known risks.

5. Health and relationships describes the physical, mental and social wellbeing of people and communities that enables active engagement.

6. Hope describes the personal belief that despite current problems things will improve; that in the long run good will win out and justice will prevail (eg. Isaiah 40:31; Jeremiah 29:11; 1 Corinthians 15). This is often based on a faith worldview that there is more than can be seen.

Building Resilience

Fundamentally, resilience building is a call to increase our focus on risk management rather than disaster management. For example, putting more effort into reducing vulnerability to and the impact of a disaster before it takes place rather than into responding to the needs of those impacted by shocks and stresses after the event. These are intrinsic to truly sustainable development.  

The focus then is not so much on getting people and communities back to where they were – vulnerable to whatever the shock or stress was – but helping them reduce their vulnerability. In this way they are less likely to suffer the same level of impact for a similar shock or stress.

Designing a resilience-building programme

The top two distinctive things to keep in mind when designing a resilience-building programme are integration and uncertainty.

  • Integration: resilience programming should not focus on just one category of shock or stress (such as natural disasters, high food prices, climate change or conflict). Rather, we need to design a holistic response that addresses the most significant shocks and stresses together.
  • Uncertainty: resilience programming needs to help people prepare for unpredictable and unknown risks – not just the risks we can predict based on what’s happened in the past.

Also, some aspects of general sustainable development good practice are especially important for resilience programming. These include:

  • A focus on strengthening/building community institutions. By institutions, we mean both community organisations (for example, leadership councils, churches and farmer groups) and the ‘rules of the game’ that they work by (for example, how leaders are chosen and how resources are shared). Strong institutions are required for joint decision-making and action, management of common resources, and experimentation and learning – all vital activities for resilience.
  • A thorough understanding of all the livelihood strategies available in an area – that is, how people use their available assets to obtain food, income and other necessities. Resilient people have diverse, flexible and ecologically sustainable livelihood strategies.

resources on resilience

Integration (PDF 67 KB)
This document gives practical examples of holistic and integrated approaches to resilience programming.

Uncertainty (PDF 59 KB)
This document gives practical example of how to ‘plan’ for uncertainty in our programming.

The Characteristics of a Disaster Resilient Community (PDF 2.4 MB)
Based on the community-based disaster risk reduction work of many NGOs, this publication describes 168 characteristics of a community that is resilient to natural hazards.

Towards Resilience, Emergency Capacity Building Project (PDF 2.3 MB)
A guide to Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change adaptation.

What has Disaster Risk Management got to do with resilience?

There is a strong connection between resilience and disaster risk reduction and preparedness. Disaster Risk Management (DRM) puts the emphasis on reducing and managing known risks. It describes efforts by government, civil society, the private sector and wider international community to reduce the impact of shocks and stresses, recognising that each have a role as part of a system. 

National governments have primary responsibility to reduce both exposure and vulnerability of their citizens to shocks and stresses. However, international and local organisations can play a part in influencing and assisting governments to help the most vulnerable as well as aiding individuals and communities in identifying, assessing and managing what they consider to be the most important risks.

Find out more