Climate, conflict at core of changes to USAID resilience work

A scene from a panel discussion on the importance of resilience in food security, where USAID shared an update on its new bureau creation. Photo by: SID Washington

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Agency for International Development is structuring its work on resilience around the areas of conflict and climate as it prepares to stand up the new Bureau for Resilience and Food Security.

“It is really thinking about shocks and stresses as perennial features and not anomalies.”

— Christine Gottschalk, director, USAID Center for Resilience

Christine Gottschalk, director of the Center for Resilience at USAID’s existing Bureau for Food Security, said while work on resilience was “still a work in progress,” it is already showing clear results in increasing the capacity of both households and communities to withstand shocks.

“The elevation of resilience in USAID is an acknowledgement of that evidence,” Gottschalk said Thursday at a Society for International Development event. “Our focus on resilience, and our focus on bringing developmental solutions to areas of recurrent crisis, is very important. It is a change in how we're doing business, and we are talking a lot about it.”

Created as part of USAID’s transformation, the new Bureau for Resilience and Food Security will house Feed the Future, the agency’s food security initiative; the Office of Water, incorporated from the Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment; the Center for Resilience; and a new Center for Nutrition. The bureau will join the new Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance and Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Stabilization in reporting to a single associate administrator, which Gottschalk said is an acknowledgement that all three areas must have greater coherence and coordination in their work.

The agency defines resilience as “the ability to manage adversity and change without compromising future well-being,” and USAID’s work in the space stems from the 2011-12 droughts in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel that impacted agricultural outputs and heightened food insecurity. That crisis brought a renewed recognition that the international response to such events cannot be solely humanitarian but must also have a development approach.

“It is really thinking about shocks and stresses as perennial features and not anomalies,” Gottschalk said. “This is really about knowing that [droughts and floods are] going to happen. How do we plan for it so we can be responsive?”

USAID focuses on building resilience of people, livelihoods, and systems and institutions. To do this successfully, Gottschalk said, the agency aims to sequence, layer, and integrate multisectoral approaches across humanitarian and development work.

It also wants to shift the responsibility for building resilience solely from donors onto partner governments and the private sector. For every $1 invested in resilience reduction, there’s a $3 reduction in humanitarian need and avoided losses, Gottschalk said.

“We think a lot about what is the right use for public dollars,” Gottschalk said. “It is often in the policy environment. What is going to help the private sector with their own investments? It really is about looking at policies and actions and the governance structures to allow private sector to engage, to allow markets to function properly.”

About the author

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    Teresa Welsh

    Teresa Welsh has reported from more than 10 countries and is currently based in Washington, D.C. Her coverage focuses on Latin America; U.S. foreign assistance policy; fragile states; food systems and nutrition; and refugees and migration. Prior to joining Devex, Teresa worked at McClatchy's Washington Bureau and covered foreign affairs for U.S. News and World Report. She was a reporter in Colombia, where she previously lived teaching English. Teresa earned bachelor of arts degrees in journalism and Latin American studies from the University of Wisconsin.