From Russia with Resilience

| No responses | Posted by: Nina Mguni | Theme: Health & Wellbeing, Research, Work with Communities

The Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad, which commemorates the victims and survivors of Leningrad greeted my arrival to the Park Inn Hotel, the venue for the World Health Organisation (WHO) Annual Healthy Cities Conference. The view of the memorial lent a sense of drama and grandeur to proceedings.

Inside the hotel, delegates from all over Europe had gathered to share knowledge and grapple with the big questions facing public health in cities. There were local and regional politicians and strategic health professionals of all stripes.
The purpose of the Healthy Cities conference was to support the efforts to put the WHO’s Health 2020 policy framework into practice. Earlier this year, the WHO published Health 2020: leadership for health and well-being in 21st century Europe. Wellbeing and resilience is key area of the Young Foundation’s work, and we were glad to share our knowledge and learning and be part of the conversation.

Community resilience is clearly a priority for the WHO. The Health 2020 document contains an action-orientated policy framework aimed at city, regional and national leaders and sets out six areas for action, the second of which is creating resilient communities. This is interesting because there has been a lot of discussion around the resilience of individuals, but not so much about what happens on the community level.

I participated in a debate on building resilience and wellbeing alongside Christoph Hamelman from the UNDP, Erio Ziglio and Agis Tsouros of WHO Europe, and Ilona Kickbusch of Graduate Institute. Exploring wellbeing and resilience together, we examined the practical implications for the WHO’s Healthy Cities agenda.

The appeal of a concept like community resilience is that it engages community assets and identifies vulnerabilities to help communities shape and prepare for change – both sudden and gradual. The WHO sees this as ‘central to promoting and protecting health and well-being and especially important during this period of austerity.’ The ambition of Health 2020 is to mobilise civic society, businesses, and local agencies to strengthen the resilience of their communities, a goal the Young Foundation supports.

Much of this thinking chimes with the work of the Wellbeing and Resilience practice at the Young Foundation. The focus of our work is to understand how wellbeing and resilience plays out at a local level. We then take that knowledge to design interventions that promote protective factors and life satisfaction amongst residents.

So, how do we take this new knowledge about resilience and put it into practice? One example is the Full of Life emotional resilience programme, which is based on cognitive behavioural therapy. This programme is designed to improve the wellbeing and resilience of people aged 65 and over who were experiencing isolation, mild anxiety or depression, through peer support in a community setting. The recent report by the London School of Economics and Lord Layard, How mental health loses out in the NHS, emphasises how vitally important it is to make cognitive behavioural therapy interventions more widely available.

As for analysing the impact these programmes make, our Wellbeing and Resilience Measure (WARM) provides a useful diagnostic tool for policy makers to take the temperature of their local communities. WARM uses a number of indicators which reflects the fact that our understanding wellbeing and resilience must take into account the fine balance of a number of characteristics and resources – at both an individual and community level.

During our roundtable discussion there was general agreement though that the concept of community resilience currently lacks clarity. At the same time, this offers both opportunities and challenges in thinking through how the concept can be usefully applied when it comes to making policy decisions. As we learn more on an international scale about how people and communities cope, adapt and thrive against the odds, we can both refine our understanding and adjust our programmes to build community resilience more effectively than ever before.


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