Two experts describe its importance to the impact economy

Resilience. Most people understand and know the word, but how is resilience defined as an industry, as a field? To explore this concept further, this correspondent reached out to David Dodd and Stewart Sarkozy-Banoczy, experts in resilience.

In Stewart’s experience, people often tend to fall into a disaster risk-reduction view of resilience. For him, though, it’s about more than survival or adaptation; it’s about thriving. He takes a systems-view of resilience. So, whether it’s island or city resilience work, he looks at the system itself, and the entirety of the “organism” that surrounds the community, whether that is individuals, families, businesses, government, etc. Resilience is the characteristic of such a system that enables the system to survive, adapt, and thrive in the face of multiple shocks and stresses.

Using this as a definition, resilience includes many pillars that depend on both government and the private sector. This systemic definition of resilience has gained wider acceptance broadly over the past three years since the Covid-19 pandemic, as more people have come to understand interconnectedness in systemic issues.

Fish in ocean

David’s definition of resilience is similar, but with more of an emphasis on people. When discussing resilience as a field, David mentions that it used to be just “build back”, but now, it’s “build back better”. The classic definition of resilience is to better withstand and more quickly recover from natural or man-made hazards, but for David, it’s the ability of people to cope with stresses on their environment, and more importantly, bounce back after a disturbance of any kind happens.

Resilience is about more than survival or adaptation; it’s about thriving.

This includes not only natural disasters, but also man-made ones, acts of terror, conflict, and economic turmoil. David has been through economic cycles that have been devastating to people and feels that those cycles can be as much of a disaster as a Category Five hurricane. David’s catchphrase is “transformative recovery”, which is a new paradigm in recovery. He wants to transform the economy to make it more resilient, more robust, and more wealth-generating for the location and its people.

Stewart Sarkozy-Banoczy and David Dodd Discuss Resilience Work In Puerto Rico

To illustrate this, David and Stewart described a major project underway in Puerto Rico that focuses on resilience and the blue economy: the Blue Economy Resilience Initiative. The goal is to build an ecosystem that will support local businesses, and one of Puerto Rico’s greatest assets is the ocean; hence the project’s focus on the Blue Economy. This effort to drive investment is three-pronged: 1) Bluetide Puerto Rico, a nonprofit that is the hub of all this work; 2) Activities that set the stage for investment; and 3) Capacity-building and entrepreneurship training in the nonprofit sector (e.g., 30 nonprofits have been led through Six Sigma training, grant administration training, etc.).

Bluetide was given an economic development administration grant and is the hub for all the activity. One of the main principles of economic recovery is local primacy so all the experts involved in the project are there to serve the local efforts of Bluetide Puerto Rico. They will hand it all over eventually to Bluetide, which will be responsible for continuing to implement it. There are two areas of focus: The first is strengthening coral reef assets – which is an economic driver but will also provide increased resilience for the island. Bluetide has a 3-D printer and is printing housing units for animals that live in coral. The second is fish-aggregating devices that attract small fish as feed stock for larger fish. Fishing is a major activity in the island economy. With these devices, fishing vessels will only have to go out two or three miles to catch the same fish instead of going out to the deep sea. This creates both an economic and climate benefit: more fish, and less gas used to motor boats long distances. These dual benefits are important for the impact investing community because they want both financial and social returns.

David Dodd and Stewart Sarkozy-Banoczy Discuss Connection Between Resilience and Economic Growth

David has been a permanent part of the project since 2018, and recently brought in a series of other experts to help with the work. In terms of division of labor, David is the “inside person”, with dual roles: 1) He manages the experts on behalf of the recovery project and is the interface between them and Bluetide, ensuring that experts receive the support that they need and that they stay on track; and 2) He provides his own expertise and contacts to this operation, including his background in finance and economic recovery. He also works with the companies and organizations on the ground. David has always believed in locally owned businesses and believes that they have more of a positive impact than non-locally owned ones.

The project was designed to be replicable and adaptable to any island nation or coastal region.

Stewart is there for two reasons: his expertise in the impact investing community, and, using his experience in it, he also trains leaders on the ground on what they need to know to successfully develop this blue economy initiative. Stewart will train a cohort of leaders, including some of the nonprofits, and some of the Bluetide leadership, in what this really means in practice. One example of Stewart’s work: He has enough of a background in biology and policy to straddle the worlds between the two and make the connections about what people need to know. He’s not a scientist working to do coral restoration, but he knows enough about it to connect it to policy. An important part of the project is to show people how this is all interconnected and how they can move it forward. David and Stewart’s work is complementary: Stewart focuses on biology and habitat, while David focuses on economics.

Sea turtle in ocean

From the start, David and the other project leaders have viewed this blue economy resilience project as a potential knowledge export from Puerto Rico to the rest of the world. The project was designed to be replicable and adaptable to any island nation or coastal region. Anywhere there’s a coast, this can be implemented. David sees Bluetide as the entity that takes this idea around the world. It is original work, and he would like organizations and agencies to see the success of it and implement this model in all future recoveries from natural disasters.

Any initiative, no matter how bold it is, lives or dies by implementation. Implementation takes two things: commitment (Bluetide has this in droves with its leadership and staff) and funding. That’s why the upcoming Bluetide Caribbean Investment Summit is so important. David and his colleagues want to get the message out that this blue economy resilience initiative is a solid investment opportunity and show the investor community that resilience initiatives are desirable, feasible, and sustainable.

This article is Part Three of a series produced by Impact Entrepreneur about current and planned “blue economy” and resilience initiatives in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and broader Caribbean. This series is an outreach effort to communicate the Blue Economy Course of Action ECN 10 found in the Economic and Disaster Recovery Plan for Puerto Rico and bluetidepr.orgOther articles in the series are listed below as they appear.

I. A New Framework for Economic Revitalization in Puerto Rico

II. Measuring Impact in Puerto Rico’s Emerging Blue Economy

IV. Restoring Coral Reefs Is One Key to Puerto Rico’s Economic Future

V. Technology and Sustainability: A Way Forward for Puerto Rico?

VI. El Bienestar Común, or How Puerto Rico is Taking Care of Itself

Allison Lee is co-founder of Alpine CSR Advisors, which specializes in CSR/ESG strategy and implementation, with a focus on business and social impact metrics. Allison has several years of experience in the CSR/ESG sector, and previously worked at MIT, the Center for Corporate Citizenship, Cone Communications, FSG Social Impact Advisors, ... Read more

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