Cultivating Resilient Communities


An Emergent Framework for Cultivating Resilient Communities in the 21st Century 2012 series: excerpts from SAGE publication.

Global indicators suggest that fulfilling a vision of collective wellbeing and thriving balance will require embracing the 21st century as the age of sustainability and community, leaving the blind spots of previous ages behind. Fortunately, both are accessible by balancing modernity’s progress with a return to earlier ways of knowing and being that are naturally human. Restorative leadership is an approach that helps us remember what we have forgotten, drawing on the best of 3.8 billion years of evolution and bringing out the best of diverse humanity to answer the great question of this age:  how can we meet the needs of 10 billion in a sustainable, equitable, and harmonious way? We know from Charles Darwin’s guidance that species survival is most dependent on responsiveness to change.

Fortunately, we can learn a tremendous amount about being responsive and leading for positive change by studying cases like those of Molly Melching with Tostan International and Wangari Maathai with the Green Belt Movement. Their examples remind us that there are emerging distinctions in what is needed for leadership at this time in our evolutionary history. For example, it is distinct to lead in a way that inspires community members to trust themselves and each other enough to examine and consciously abandon millennia-old social norms that have become incongruent with core community values. It also is distinct to lead such that community members are inspired to engage in forty-seven million small acts that collectively transform livelihoods and bio-regions. Our analysis of case studies like Molly and Wangari reveals that distinctions in the guiding framework of restorative leadership include the following:

  • a belief in the potential and power of community;
  • a substantive understanding of interconnections that can be shared with and taught to others
  • clearly and concisely;
  • an ability to engage individuals and communities in bridging that understanding of interconnection to a recognition of personal and collective rights and responsibilities in the web of relatedness; and
  • participatory skills that empower self-organizing capacities and confidence while forwarding current priorities for collective wellbeing.

Remarkably, an additional distinction of restorative leadership is that it produces not only positive impacts like the scale of those highlighted by Melching and Maathai, but also cultivates resilience. Having the conditions for resilience as a byproduct of restorative leadership is particularly relevant at this time when disasters are occurring with increasing frequency and severity. Resilience has gained heightened relevance in the face of climate change, breached criticality thresholds, and the reduced likelihood for communities to be able to rely on external aid as trends continue. Amidst such large-scale and complex challenges, it is hopeful to notice that resilience is a community-level phenomenon and that restorative leadership helps to cultivate it.

Read more about how to lead for resounding impact in our recent SAGE publication.