Nearly six months ago three catastrophic hurricanes devastated parts of the United States and her territories, and the lives of millions of people in America. Although they were all Category 4+ storms, the impact and aftermath have been markedly different. While the recovery is ongoing, many communities in Texas and Florida are finally returning to normal life: schools are open, transportation systems are running, and homes are being rebuilt. By stark contrast, in parts of Puerto Rico, people are still struggling to survive without clean water and electricity.
What accounts for these differences in recovery? There is plenty of conjecture: people point to the level of damage inflicted, soundness of infrastructure, the condition of the local economy, as well as institutionalized discrimination.
Disasters also come in many forms—natural disasters, to be sure, but also chronic poverty, broad lack of access to health care, and other hardships a community faces. When these adverse factors co-exist, recovery is exponentially harder.
What we urgently need to understand is the confluence of factors that helps American communities develop resilience. “Resilience” is the capacity to prepare for, withstand, and recover from adversity. And, every community should have the ability to build resilience as chronic and acute challenges occur more and more frequently.
And that’s exactly what we aim to do through a new funding opportunity: Integrative Action for Resilience. It will provide two to four community-partnered research projects a total of $1.4 million in funding to study and advance the science of resilience.
At RWJF we believe community resilience is foundational for building a Culture of Health. People who face persistent health or social stress are especially vulnerable in the face climate-related or other disasters.
For that reason, the Integrative Action for Resilience grant focuses on developing partnerships between communities and researchers. Ask yourselves: how prepared is your community for an emergency? What are you doing to make your community more resilient? We want to test new ways of developing good physical and mental health, community cohesiveness, as well as social, emotional, and economic well-being. These qualities are crucial to have in place for a community to absorb and rebound from trauma.
We want to learn how communities change conditions, strengthen systems, and tackle inequities, to become more resilient. But communities don’t always have the evidence base to make the most out of their policies. Community-partnered research can help to strengthen communities’ capacity while building the science of resilience. In turn, the research can inform community practice widely.
A unique aspect of this funding opportunity is that we want to bring together people who have not worked together in the past in an effort to catalyze new ways of thinking about resilience and how to approach the research. We are not seeking joint proposals at this time. Instead, we are inviting two types of applicants to send us their qualifications.
The first type are those who are working on the front lines to mitigate the effects of sudden or long-term stress on their community. For example, we want to see applications from a non-profit organization who are implementing policies or procedures to tackle problems like natural disasters, disease outbreaks, violence, or discrimination, just to name a few. We are also interested in seeing applications from organizations that are working to develop community resilience leadership. These may include community engagement tactics, strategic decision-making, or effective communications during the time of a disaster. We want to learn how you are formulating and applying strategic plans in real life in an effort to improve a community’s overall resilience.
The second type of applicants we seek is researchers. The ideal research candidate will have experience working within communities and will have mixed quantitative and qualitative research methodologies. Ultimately, we want to turn the evidence into action, so communities far and wide can benefit.
After each applicant submits a letter stating their qualifications, we will invite selected people to attend a convening in June 2018 (expenses paid). The agenda is focused on resilience building and is designed to deepen our collective thinking on research questions as well as best practices. It is a chance for people to meet one another and learn about work that’s happening throughout the country.
The convening is an opportunity for researchers and community practitioners to meet, develop new partnerships, and jointly apply for funding.
Future disasters will inevitably come. By advancing the science and practice of resiliency, our hope is that the level of suffering experienced by Puerto Rico will remain a thing of the past.
Tracy Costigan, PhD, is responsible for the Foundation's organizational learning and coordinating institutional knowledge in support of effective and responsive strategies and programs.
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