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Keep calm and bounce back

Determination, grit, growing from failure, the ability to bounce back from a difficult experience. This is resilience. The quality that enables someone to rise above adversity. In children, it is considered an especially important quality in order to develop into well-functioning adults. But organisations need resilience too. Organisational resilience becomes essential in uncertain economic and political times like those we face right now across the globe. The ability to assess, adapt and survive a crisis is a key component of an organisation’s sustainability.

Psychologists have identified some of the factors that make someone resilient, among them a positive attitude and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback (Psychology Today). Most child development experts believe this is an important trait for children to have as it enables them to face disappointment, adapt to change and cope with loss.

Imagine finding out you are HIV positive, or that you have TB. It may come as a shock, you may get depressed and feel that you can’t cope. This will affect your mental health and could negatively affect your long-term wellbeing. Cultivating resilience is therefore also a useful tool for those working with people affected by HIV, AIDS and TB.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill


Psychologists have identified the common characteristics of resilient people (Dr D Charney and Dr S Southwick). These include:

  • Optimism
  • Altruism
  • A set of strongly held beliefs, faith and/or spirituality
  • Humour
  • Social supports and good role models
  • Having a mission or meaning in life
  • Training

These characteristics are not necessarily genetic traits; they can be learned over time. You can develop active coping skills with training and practice. Resilience in children can be developed; just as an adult living with HIV or someone who has survived sexual assault can be supported to be resilient.


The ability to respond quickly, decisively and effectively to unforeseen and unpredictable forces is how the Harvard Business Review defines organisational resilience (Everly, S. Building a resilient organisation). To be able to do this, an organisation needs to anticipate, prepare for and respond and adapt to change.

If resilience can be cultivated in individuals, so groups, organisations and even communities can develop a culture of resilience. How organizational resilience be fostered in an organisation? Some important factors are:

  • Leadership: it starts at the top. Optimistic, determined and decisive leaders are an essential factor for building a culture of resilience.
  • Support networks: individuals need support networks and so do organisations. Collaborations, strategic alliances, belonging to networks or groupings and mentoring all support the survival of organisations in difficult times.

“Provide encouragement, support, and even mentoring. Research suggests that the single most powerful predictor of human resilience is interpersonal support.”  – George S. Everly, Jr.

  • Planning: sustainability, succession and risk management planning is essential but many organisations don’t prioritise strategic thinking in these areas.
  • Learning from failure: project post-mortems, peer reviews and honest self-reflection looking not just at what is working but also what is not working.
  • Wellness: healthy and happy people respond better to adversity. Promoting wellness within your organisation or community can improve your chances of responding well in a crisis.
  • Innovation and agility: change is a slow process in many organisations. Resilient organisations adapt quickly to changing circumstances and find new ways of doing things better.

Whether you are supporting a rape survivor through trauma or leading an organisation facing funding difficulties, building resilience can help people and organisations to survive and even thrive in the face of adversity.