What is resilience and how do we get there?


Prof. Hadara Bar-Mor


In the ISTR 15th Conference Dr. Elisabeth Searing, assistant professor of Public and Nonprofit Management, School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, University of Texas at Dallas moderated a roundtable on the issue of resilience in a crisis-prone environment such as the 2020-2021 pandemic. She posed two questions which the participants discussed: What is the best definition of Resilience, and How Do We Get There? The participants were: Dennis Young, Charles Gray, Robert Fischer, Kennedy Musyoka and Hadara Bar-Mor.

The basis of the discussion was the theory that Contemporary nonprofit management practice falls short in several dimensions: First, it fails to adequately address risk. Second, it focuses on the short term rather than the long run. Third, it insists on stringent deployment of resources rather than providing margins for flexibility and cushions to absorb shocks. Fourth, it often fails to support organizational learning and innovation that can turn crisis situations into opportunities for growth and renewal, and to better prepare organizations for future crisis situations.

By contrast, Nonprofit Resiliency Management (NRM) emphasizes accounting for risk and long run performance; developing a culture of learning, adaptation and innovation based on continual collection and processing of information; allowing for margins of error and prudent levels of organizational slack; maintaining reserve resources, redundancy of capacities and flexible structures; and distinguishing between preparation for crises and navigating through them (e.g., by building slack and using it when needed). NRM is a comprehensive paradigm that addresses many different dimensions of nonprofit management practice, including balance sheets, cost structure, income structure, technology strategy, external network relationships,

Prof. Dennis Young, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University, Emeritus Professor, Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Case Western Reserve University opened the session after Dr. Searing’s introduction. He called for a paradigm shift in nonprofit management practice and training. Using his forthcoming book (with Dr. Elizabeth Searing) and the National Center on Nonprofit Enterprise (NCNE) resilience training as outlines, Prof. Young addressed the variety of different strategies that nonprofit organizations should be mindful of.  Whether such strategies are financial, entrepreneurial, technological, or any other type, using just the right amount of slack and innovation holds the key to long term resiliency.

Prof. Charles M. (Mel) Gray—Professor Emeritus of Business Economics, Department of Finance, and Senior Fellow, Center for the Common Good, University of St. Thomas, Minneapolis, in his presentation, viewed strategic resilience through the lens of social entre/intrapreneurship. He introduced two sets of tools to enable entrepreneurial thinking and behavior: a) An adaptation of Michael Porter’s Five Forces framework to the nonprofit sector, broken down into the value/supply chain and competitive environment; b) Use of organizational architecture elements to foster the appropriate culture (empowering, evaluating, and rewarding innovative thinking).

Prof. Robert Fischer, associate professor, Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Case Western Reserve University, argued that nonprofit resilience management requires data on changes in the external environment (funding, policy, economic) and organizational operations (finance, HR, service delivery). Metrics can be monitored by NPO leadership to inform strategic decision-making in both short and long term. NPOs and their funders will need to invest in internal data infrastructure and data culture change to support this type of thinking.

Kennedy Musyoka, Ph.D. student, James Madison University School of Strategic Leadership Studies shared his perspective on resilience in the global south and specifically in Sub-Saharan Africa. The presentation focused on the resilience of nonprofits in sub-Saharan Africa, and first, he emphasized the need to define resilience from the macro level or industry level. Then, he went further to illustrate how nonprofits in Sub-Saharan Africa are vulnerable (e.g., the Civil Society Organization Sustainability index report by Fhi 360) and why there is a need for more studies in the region. Next, he gave the rationale for applying the theories from the for-profit sector and other disciplines to help the nonprofit sector, e.g., dynamic capabilities theory. Finally, he recommended the need to develop measures of resilience/financial sustainability.

Myself with Dr. Gil Sharoni, School of management, Netanya Academic College introduced a new paradigm of legal resilience v. economic resilience. Since the concept of resiliency describes an entity’s ability to survive a change, she discussed the influence of legal amendments and new regulation on the resilience of third-sector organizations. She brought the example of the case of Ecodefence and Others v. Russia (nos. 9988/13 and 60 others) where the European Court of Human Rights held, in June 2022, unanimously, that the Foreign Agents Act 2012 enacted in Russia and measures imposed by virtue of this act on the 73 applicant non-governmental organizations involved in civil-society issues, human rights, protection of the environment and cultural heritage, education, social security, and migration in Russia, violated of Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The legal resilience aspect here is that many of organizations had been either forced to dissolve or had been wound up because of this act. A similar phenomenon had happened in Hungary. She also discussed modes of survival of organizations hit by such sudden regulation measures. One answer is belonging to international networks to facilitate defense tactics such as bringing a civil suit against the government based on international conventions. Hadara Bar-Mor and Gil Sharoni also discussed aspects of economic resilience in view of the current covid crisis where collaboration between government ministries and welfare non-profit organizations during the pandemic crisis was most important to the resilience of non-profit organizations during the pandemic.

The roundtable incited thoughtful discussions concerning different aspects of resilience around the world. Thank you to Dr. Searing and the participants.

Prof. Hadara Bar-Mor, associate professor, Dean, Law School, Netanya Academic College

Tagged in: #ISTR2022

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