New research offers route to resilience for fragile states

By Jillian Slutzker

February 13, 2017

A new model of conceptualizing state fragility and resilience may lead to long lasting transformations in governance and offer a promising route to recovery for struggling states.

Presented in the five-part “Reframing Fragility and Resilience” publication series by Pauline H. Baker, Senior Governance Advisor at Creative Associates International, the model conceptualizes fragility and resilience along a continuum, noting that both exist simultaneously in societies, rather than sequentially.

It encourages practitioners to recognize and reinforce existing assets as well as addressing points of fragility, in contrast to the majority of current approaches, which focus principally on fragility.

The model is based on a statistical examination of the correlates of violent conflict in 91 countries selected from the Fragile States Index and three in-depth case studies of Egypt, Honduras and Pakistan.

New meaning of resilience at a critical time

“Resilience is not simply the capacity to ‘bounce back’ from a shock. In this context, it refers to the capacity of a state to do better—to better anticipate, prevent and overcome shocks, and to do better at reducing existing pressures, so the conditions which caused fragility in the first place are not reinforced.”

Pauline H. Baker, Senior Governance Advisor at Creative

Baker says the model is a far-reaching and much-needed deviation from traditional development approaches to fragile states.

“Traditional [development] approaches neglect resilience factors; they focus on reducing weaknesses, not on reinforcing strengths,” explains Baker, who is also President Emeritus of the Fund for Peace.

Traditional programs that aim to address weaknesses by improving service delivery, enhancing skills of state employees and supporting civil society are “important, but insufficient responses,” she says. These efforts are often what Baker calls “palliative”—relieving symptoms without addressing underlying conditions. Even with improvements in these areas, states often remain fragile and experience violent conflict, she notes.

This is because such approaches fail to adequately address what Baker calls the “root drivers of fragility” and, alternatively, the main sources of resilience—factors that influence the quality of governance, such as political legitimacy, social inclusion, group grievances and inequality.

By cultivating strengths, practitioners and policymakers can help fragile societies peacefully transform power structures, economic systems and social institutions, striving toward a trajectory of stable recovery and reducing the risk of backsliding into cycles of conflict.

The concept of state resilience must also be better understood, says Baker.

“Resilience is not simply the capacity to ‘bounce back’ from a shock,” she explains. “In this context, it refers to the capacity of a state to do better—to better anticipate, prevent and overcome shocks, and to do better at reducing existing pressures, so the conditions which caused fragility in the first place are not reinforced.”

This new model comes at a critical time.

A record 65 million people around the world are displaced due to conflict and instability, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The OECD projects that by 2030, more than 60 percent of the global poor could live in fragile states.

From good to transformational governance

The new Fragility/Resilience model urges practitioners of development programming in fragile states to augment sources of resilience to support fragile states in striving beyond good governance to “transformational” governance.

Deborah Kimble, Director of Governance and Community Resilience at Creative, says this goes beyond service delivery and improving administrative functions, such as paving roads or conducting elections. It requires strengthening relationships between citizens, governments and other actors.

“Transformational governance is really focused on ensuring that we change from a supply-and-demand paradigm of governance to one that looks at a shared responsibility and shared success among all the different actors in a local governing system…. recognizing that no one entity can accomplish everything that is necessary and that everybody has some responsibility in building a stable and resilient community,” she says.

Kimble and Baker explain that this can be achieved by fostering more inclusive systems that provide wider access by citizens to vital resources, such as land, credit, employment, education, and representation in state institutions—resources often monopolized by exclusive networks of ruling elites. It also necessitates efforts to ensure that government agencies, civil society, and the private sector understand what they can expect of the system and what is expected of them.

Transformational governance, says Kimble, contributes to lasting growth, development and resilience—a strong buffer against regressing to conflict and fragility.

“We want countries to be in a position where they are not just improving efficiencies, but moving forward so that they’re able to independently support growth and development, create a better living environment for their citizens, and focus on what they can do,” she says.

Read or download the “Reframing Fragility and Resilience” publication series.

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