How resilience helps leaders navigate development crises, from local communities to global governance

How resilience helps leaders navigate development crises, from local communities to global governance

While late 2019 and 2020 saw an unprecedented global health crisis affecting every country, 2021 has become a turning point where some countries are beginning to spring back into shape from Covid-19 and others are left behind. It would be odd to deny that leadership plays an important role in recovery from a crisis.

Defined as the capacity to recover quickly after a difficult situation, resilience is now a buzzword in public discussions and online forums as to which organisation, community, industry, or nation can bounce back at the earliest and continue to grow sustainably instead of getting stuck in the mire.

Prof. Dr. Kittipong Kittayarak, Director of the Rule of Law and Development Program and Special Advisor to Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ), spoke at the 9th TIJ Public Forum on the Rule of Law and Sustainable Development (The International Virtual Forum: Resilient Leadership in Practice), held on 11 June 2021.

“Covid-19 makes us see that a leader has to be resilient with rule of law as guiding principle in order to protect human rights for everyone, especially marginalised and vulnerable groups,” he stated. “In particular, those left furthest behind need to have their voices heard and be part of the solutions. Equitable and sustainable development requires universal access to justice and rights, and no one must be left behind.”

A session dubbed “Stories of Resilient Leaders: Vital Roles in the Covid-19 Response” featured an example of such a resilient leader in Ms. Siriporn Pomwong, Head of Khlongtoey Dee Jung Project, who has closely worked with the Khlong Toei community since pre-Covid days.

She explained that for a vulnerable community that is typically hit harder amid crises, empathy is of paramount importance: “Besides the hotline we established to share information as well as provide access to emergency healthcare, we also provide food, a central kitchen system, and financial aid for rent – everything that can help them rise above while still living in the area. All this makes virus control more feasible.”

Going forward, Ms. Siriporn stressed that a community needs a chance to self-manage itself: “No one wants to always be on the receiving end. In truth, with a good system, they can manage their own resources. It is important that no single party monopolises the help because it won’t lead to a sustainable improvement. A leader should serve merely as a facilitator.”

Besides helping communities, resilience is crucial to supervising larger-scale areas.

Mr. Narongsak Osotthanakorn, Lampang Governor, believes that resilience should be at the forefront in managing local administrations during times of crisis. “The most important factor is correct mindset. Covid-19 is a disaster, and therefore the risk management has to be in crisis mode. Normal measures simply won’t suffice,” explained the governor.

“Since early 2020, we formulated multiple plans to tackle the crisis, alongside rehearsals. We prepared hospital facilities and organised our human resources to work in different no-contact shifts so we could ensure their availability.”

Mr. Narongsak shared that the best strategy is honest communication to build public trust and cooperation among local communities.

 “A resilient leader needs to have the right mindset and system,” he concluded. “With public trust and cooperation, sustainable recovery is possible.”

Resilient leadership is equally important for the country, according to Mr. Santitarn Sathirathai, Group Chief Economist and Managing Director of SEA Group, who pointed to how Singapore has applied the principle of resilience in tackling the Covid-19 crisis. 

“Singapore puts great emphasis on data-based agility. Early on, the country went on guard, even though the number of cases didn’t significantly increase, because the data suggested a cluster among medical personnel. The action might have caused some controversy but the efficient tracing system prevented another wave of spread.” Moreover, Mr. Santitarn, explained further, resilience for Singapore also means getting everyone on board once the crisis is over. 

“They are constantly looking ahead and preparing for possible scenarios. They got serious about developing convenient, affordable, and rapid Covid-19 testing because a new variant might occur. They minimised risks by providing various vaccine options, so that no matter what the health condition of a person, everyone could get a shot. Meanwhile, their communication is tailored to suit each of their diverse population groups, so no one is left behind.”

Mr. Santitarn added that Singaporean resilience also extends beyond health-related issues.

“Compensation has been dispersed so people can keep their jobs, especially those in the tourism industry. Reskilling and upskilling sessions have been promoted to brace the country for the new normal.”

Dr. Phiset Sa-ardyen, Executive Director of TIJ, concluded: “In light of the Covid-19 crisis, it is clearer than ever that justice is everyone’s matter because no one can solve the complicated issues alone.” 

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