What if we conceived resilience in terms of thriving, rather than merely surviving? Philanthropy is well-placed to help lift the ambitions of actors to see resilience as the necessary force for cultural shifts and new thinking, self-determined futures, agency, and purpose; to become a catalyst for positive change within and against systems that are designed to maintain the current conditions; and to support resilience more meaningfully, in particular by unpacking concepts like redundancy, complexity and diversity.

During the PEX Forum 2022, I co-hosted a discussion on ‘Building Resilience in Philanthropy and Development’, together with Chandrika Sahai from Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace (PSJP), and Maria Chertok from the Charitable Foundation for Philanthropy Development. The format was inspired by the methodology of the warm data lab, a group process which highlights the interdependency, relationality and systemic patterns which are woven into the complex fabric of the issues we are working on.

Three key concepts informed our discussion on resilience: looking at redundancy, connectivity, complexity, and diversity as healthy components of resilient systems; naming the ways that relationships create buffers and support for resilient behaviours; and framing resilience not as individual behaviours devoid of strategic, disruptive and transformational potential, but as a force for imagination and change inside broader systems of injustice.

The central question on our panel was ‘resilience at what cost?’ The author and speaker, Prof. E.J. Ramos David says of marginalised communities that dominant systems have learned to ‘take our resilience as permission for our continued oppression’. Given how much has already been written on the romanticism of resilience, the panel came together to explore how to stop resilience from becoming ‘a way of life (even when it seems there is no hope of positive change)’, and to inquire critically about how resilience discourse has been used to let ‘power structures off the hook’, putting the onus on the person to endure and accept hardship and ‘to fix things that should be a priority of the state…’.

Corrupt and dysfunctional systems are resilient too, and philanthropy is a byproduct of one of the most enduring and arguably harmful systems that exist today: capitalism. But the intention of this article is not to argue how to make these systems redundant[1] (in the sense of extinct or entirely transformed[2]), nor to remove resilience from current discourse. But rather to reclaim it.

Read the full article about reclaiming recilience by Josiane Smith at Alliance Magazine.