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Understanding Resiliency: One of the most important aspects of sustainability

In the face of unwanted forces and difficulties, how do we continue to move forward? How do we design systems that can cope with and continue to function in the presence of shock and stress? And why is it more important to adapt and transform rather than fight and resist the forces of change?

Dave Storey, an ecologist and rehabilitation specialist spoke to our team about the power of resilience; to be able to withstand and/or recover from and come back to homeostasis in the aftermath of natural or man made crises. A long term Aurovilian, Dave is a systems thinker who seeks to build resilience through empowering people starting with their individual and social context. He has been working along with UNDP as an advisor on developmental challenges for governments of vulnerable regions like Sierra Leone and Zambia.

Yuvabe youth attending workshop on Understanding Resiliency

In his fascinating talk, we learnt about resilience as one of the most important aspects of sustainability. Afterall, if something is incapable of adapting, and perishes in the face of change, then it is not very sustainable! Within nature, we find uncountable examples of highly resilient species. The evergreen bamboo, found all around Auroville, is one such excellent example. It is able to withstand the most violent of cyclones and storms (making for excellent construction material!) It also grows easily in many kinds of geographies and topologies.

Using a simple analogy of a ball in a basin, we learnt that the current definitions of sustainability often focus on keeping the ball, representing an ecosystem, within the boundaries of the basin, representing a system’s threshold. Once the threshold is crossed or eroded, it is nearly impossible for the ball/ecosystem to return back to its original place.

In a resilient system, the additional attribute is the ability of the system to adapt to the change, transform and create new boundaries or thresholds! We learnt that resiliency itself can have many facets to it.

Depending on the situation, being resilient could mean a variety of things like:

  • Transformation

  • Having the capacity to learn from failures

  • Innovation and renewal

  • Reorganization at a systemic level

  • Or even just the realization that a new state would be more sustainable in the existing (social, biophysical, political) scenario

This capacity to bounce back from difficulties is something that is essential at all levels of life: individual, organizational, community, national as well as international. Cultivating a resilient mindset helps us to anticipate, prepare, cope and adapt to the changing environments and eventually learn from the experience, expanding our capacities and our toolkit.

In our local context, that is Auroville, we discussed what could be the possible threats that we as a community need to build resilience for. Some of these things are economic instability, social and political threats due to inability to build relations with the neighbours, and ofcourse climate change threats. We also discussed our community’s capacity to withstand these anticipated future problems.

The great thing about resilience is that it is a learnt behaviour. Through constant cycles of evolution, many species in nature have become masters of resilience. And it is a trait that we as individuals and communities can cultivate too.


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