Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world

Nelson Mandela

The Building Resilience Through Education (BRTE) Consortium brings together partners from academia, the private sector and NGOs to find innovative ways to strengthen the resilience of communities affected by recurring disasters. This project has its origins in an ex-post impact evaluation of Concern Worldwide’s 25-year engagement in Wolaita, Ethiopia,  conducted by University College Dublin’s Centre for Humanitarian Action (UCD CHA) in collaboration with Wolaita Sodo University, the evaluation found that, despite significant improvements in communities’ capacities to both absorb the effects of recurring disasters and to adapt their livelihoods based on experience of recent disasters, they remain extremely vulnerable to their natural and environmental context. As a result, there is an urgent need for a novel approach that moves beyond supporting the mere absorption of or adaptation to recurring shocks and that transforms the capacity of exposed communities.

Recognizing this urgent need to transform the capacity of exposed communities, UCD and WSU entered into a partnership programme with education and research as the critical ingredients to build resilient communities in Ethiopia. In partnership with Concern Worldwide, the Network on Humanitarian Action, Dublin-based socio-economic research firm Future Analytics Ltd, the BRTE consortium has secured €2.1 million in Horizon 2020 funding under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (RISE) scheme. The duration of the project is four years, from January 2018- January 2022

The Building Resilience Through Education (BRTE)  programme aims to serve as a model of how education can drive transformative resilience in areas subject to recurring and protracted crises. To this end, programme will build capacity of Wolaita’s educational institution in pursuit of the following objectives:

  1. To build the requisite critical infrastructure to enable resilience education and research;
  2. To establish an educational platform that will build human capital and transform livelihoods;
  3. To develop research and innovation capacity that will radically promote social and economic wellbeing.

 The Consortium brings together partners from academia, the private sector and NGOs to find innovative ways to strengthen the resilience of communities affected by recurring disasters. This project has its origins in an ex-post impact evaluation of Concern Worldwide’s 25 year engagement in Wolaita, Ethiopia. Conducted by University College Dublin’s Centre for Humanitarian Action (UCD CHA) in collaboration with Wolaita Sodo University, the evaluation found that, despite significant improvements in communities’ capacities to both absorb the effects of recurring disasters and to adapt their livelihoods based on experience of recent disasters, they remain extremely vulnerable to their natural and environmental context. As a result there is an urgent need for a novel approach that moves beyond supporting the mere absorption of or adaptation to recurring shocks and that transforms the capacity of exposed communities.

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The BRTE programme builds on existing international collaborations and incorporates an emancipatory rationale that will promote transformative capacity building for the mutual benefit of all partners. This quality and credibility is justified on a compelling background and rationale supported by literature and policy. The consortium builds on the outcome of an ex-post evaluation undertaken to assess the impact of Concern Ethiopia’s interventions in Damot Woyde over a 25 year period from 1985 to 2010. The study was commissioned by Concern Worldwide and carried out by University College Dublin’s Centre for Humanitarian Action (UCD CHA) in collaboration with Wolaita Sodo University (WSU). It found that Damot Woyde progressed from one of the poorest districts in the Wolaita zone in 1985 to be ranked among the more developed districts in 2015 largely due to strengthened human, social and financial capital. However, Damot Woyde’s agro-ecological conditions and lack of availability of water continue to render it highly exposed to cyclical extreme weather and hence it is chronically vulnerable to disasters. Recurring disasters continue to interrupt development progress despite the undoubted enhanced capacity of the population to absorb climatic extremes. Wolaita has experienced disasters of varying impact in 1984, 1991, 2003, 2010 and it is also experiencing a severe drought at the time of writing this proposal. UCD CHA’s impact evaluation found that the absorptive and adaptive capacities of communities had been greatly advanced due to Concern Worldwide’s (CWW) interventions; however, many advances were short-lived due to recurring disasters.

Recurring disasters are not unique to this region. The world is experiencing a growing number of disasters due to both natural as well as manmade hazards. In 2016 alone, the world experienced 297 disasters due to natural hazards, which claimed 7,625 lives, affecting over 376 million others and causing economic damages of over US$92 billion [Reference] Most of the people affected are in the global South. For instance, between 2003 and 2013, disasters in developing countries affected more than 1.9 billion people and caused over US$494 billion damage. Least developed countries continue to rank highly on the INFORM index, especially in relation to hazards and exposure, vulnerability and lack of coping capacity dimensions. Food insecurity and recurrent crises in the Horn of Africa persist despite massive expenditure by the humanitarian sector since at least as far back as the 1980s. Ethiopia is currently experiencing its worst drought in 50 years due to the El Niño effect, affecting over ten million people. Aid agencies are warning that the disruption to education caused by the ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa could ultimately result in a “lost generation.”

The BRTE project will adopt a novel approach that is inter/multidisciplinary, intersectoral and that recognises the multi-dimensional nature of resilience, involving transformative as well as absorptive and adaptive capacities. The inter-/multidisciplinary nature of BRTE is manifest in the range of disciplines and the ‘whole  of university’ employed by members of the consortium. Its novelty is also underpinned by the form of relationship established between partners within the project. From the initial impact evaluation of Concern Worldwide’s aid programme in Wolaita conducted by WSU and UCD through to the preparations of the project by the respective Presidents and Research Vice-Presidents of both universities, and senior staff of Concern Worldwide, NOHA and Future Analytics, collaboration has been undertaken based on a principled research partnership. This approach has facilitated the development of deep trust within the consortium that is built on competence, commitment and companionship, and that will sustain collaboration in achieving transformative outcomes.