Community Resilience: Why It Matters to Companies and 3 Things Your Company Can Do

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Image by Brian McMahon on Unsplash

The increasing pressure on companies to account for their impacts on the environment and on communities has been hard to miss.

There are concerns that the salaries that companies pay to attract top talent may be contributing to rising housing prices and homelessness. Or that the working hours and compensation they offer perpetuate working poverty, leaving employees unable to pay for essentials. Or that they are asking employees to put their health, along with that of their families and communities, at risk on the job.

Given this interest, it should come as no surprise that many companies (including yours, I bet) are making an effort to also “do good” in the community, often through philanthropy or community investment.

But while many companies have expressed an interest in supporting thriving communities, they are often unsure how best to go about it. We wanted to help companies figure out how they can contribute. And that’s why we took a deep dive into community resilience. Here’s what we learned.

Community resilience: what it is?

At its core, community resilience is about a community’s ability to respond and adapt to acute shocks and long-term stresses. It’s a complex issue, of course, and there are many contributing factors. Consider for example how a community might be affected by a healthy natural environment, good local jobs, good health and wellbeing, access to housing, social engagement, strong cultural connections, inclusive banking and credit options, and reliable emergency services.

What community resilience looks like on the ground is as diverse as communities themselves. But there are some common frameworks that communities are using to start to define and build their own resilience. We created a handy reference list to help you understand these approaches and how your company might use them.

Why does community resilience matter?

A really good place to start is understanding the importance of community resilience to your company.

There is a symbiotic relationship between a company and the communities around it. The long-term success of a company is directly linked to the resilience of the communities where it operates, as well as the resilience of the communities of its workers, its suppliers, and its customers. And vice versa.

If, for example, your company contributes to income inequality either because it does not pay fair wages or pays salaries that that are well beyond local averages, your company is likely eroding the resilience of that community.

And a community that is not resilient (that, for example, experiences growing inequality) may see declining educational attainment or health outcomes over time. It may become less safe for its residents. Or the community may become adversarial towards your company if you’re seen as a cause (think public protests against tech giants for declining housing affordability).

As a result, your employees’ wellness or productivity at work may decline, or such changes may affect your ability to hire employees or to sell your products locally. It may even affect how welcome your company is in that community.

Here’s the takeaway: any positive or adverse impacts your company has on the communities in which you operate can affect more than just your company’s reputation. They may directly affect your organisation.

Despite this, in many organisations, efforts to create positive social impacts are treated as public relations or employee engagement activities. They often live more in the “nice-to-have” space than on the “strategic” side. Only rarely are they treated as a crucial part of the business. 

“So, what should companies do,” you might ask. “If we are already contributing to community organisations, isn’t that enough?“

To be honest, that’s just the start.

What actions can companies take?

Philanthropic efforts can make a substantial difference in the lives of individuals – there are plenty of inspiring stories, and this type of support can be crucial when disaster strikes or to address immediate needs.

But philanthropic efforts seldom address the systemic issues that cause and perpetuate inequity, environmental degradation, unequal access to healthcare and education, poverty, and other sources of declining resilience. And philanthropic efforts in one community certainly won’t balance out your company’s negative impacts on community resilience elsewhere.

This is not to say that your company should try to eradicate any and all social issues it becomes aware of. It shouldn’t and it can’t. What your company can do is contribute to supporting resilience building in specific areas where it makes sense to do so.

What that looks like will be different for each company and in each community. But here are some things to consider:

1) Learn more about local communities and their resilience

Start with making an effort to understand the local socio-economic and environmental context of the communities around you. This includes trying to understand each community's local definition and vision of resilience. Without knowing what resilience means in each local context, you can’t identify how your company could best contribute to it.

Many communities will not have an explicit, accessible set of community goals or a vision. In that case, there may be an opportunity for your company to support the community’s current or planned future efforts to do so. Not by demanding a set of goals, steering community processes, or getting overly involved, but perhaps instead by funding, making space for, or convening conversations if the community is open to it.

2) Learn more about your company’s potential impacts on community resilience

Your company should also understand its own points of intersection in building or eroding local resilience. Where in your operations or value chain are your community resilience impacts? And where in the broader system does your company have leverage or is it positioned to support resilience and system change? What does it mean to do your part?

Your company’s risk management processes are another tool for surfacing opportunities to affect positive change. Intentionally identifying opportunities as part of your risk processes positions your company to make strategic as well as impactful contributions to community resilience.

3) Let the community help guide what action you take

Now that you have a good sense of what the community wants to achieve and where your company has the greatest impact, your company can engage with community organisations, representatives, and local governments to find out if there is an opportunity for your company to contribute to this vision.

Remember, this is not about your company’s idea of what a community needs – this is about supporting the priorities that the community has defined for itself.

Maybe that means paying a living wage or ensuring equitable access to your products or services (such as banking, loans, internet, transportation, or energy). It may mean sharing your emergency response resources or providing access to the environmental data you collect.

Your company and colleagues may be able to leverage their networks, the reach of their voice, their expertise, or their ability to convene in support of community resilience. Or there may be opportunities for your company (and others?) to codesign or collaborate on initiatives with local communities to build resilience through multistakeholder partnerships.

The main point is that your company’s efforts to do its part in supporting resilience start with better understanding each community's own approach to resilience and by finding ways to support that vision. After all, building community resilience is both crucial to thriving communities, and a critical factor in your company’s long-term success.

And yes, this may also mean making financial contributions or dedicating volunteer hours to local organisations. But these efforts should be part of a more considered, broader strategy that puts communities first.

To learn more about community resilience, discover our curated resources.

Image by Brian McMahon on Unsplash