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I attended the Dialogue on International Food Security 2014 in Edmonton, Alberta a few weeks ago, and had the pleasure of delivering one of the keynote addresses. I spoke on the links between agriculture and nutrition. The slides that I used, with notes, are available here.

There were many other talks and many bright and passionate people and it was a pleasure to be there. Perhaps the most interesting talk was by Susan Walsh, Executive Director of USC, entitled Through A Resilience Lens: Keeping Farmers On Their Lands And Reducing The Hunger Count.

There must be a million ways of defining resilience in development work – usually something to do with being able to cope with whatever comes along. But the way that Walsh described a resilience lens was different. With a resilience lens you focus on what people have, their accomplishments, strengths, and potential. This contrasts with a poverty lens which focuses on what people don’t have and can’t do. Whereas a poverty lens is disempowering and calls for the interventions from outside, a resilience lens is empowering and calls for improvement from the inside. What a tremendous difference these lenses make in the way I see the populations I work with.

When I am in the Bolivian Andes I always feel in awe of the people and how they are able to live in such a harsh environment. I might be able to survive a night or two… certainly not a lifetime. There is strength, knowledge and potential there in the people that can be harnessed to improve the quality of life – let’s not romanticize the rural poor: they are resilient, but there is scope for improvement – but with a resilience lens, we recognize our role not as “deliverers of aid” but as… what? “facilitators of improvement”? “amplifiers of endogenous capacity”? I need to think some more about this.