More about AmeriCorps VISTA and Resilience

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Resilience is necessary for effective, long-term poverty reduction. Resilience AmeriCorps lifts people out of poverty by helping them break the cycle of increased vulnerabilities leading to increased impacts from shocks and stresses (hazards). Some shocks and stresses can be avoided, or their severity decreased, through traditional AmeriCorps VISTA work. However, global changes are making shocks and stresses harder to avoid, more connected, more frequent, and more severe. There is also increasing uncertainty about when and how people will experience them. Resilience increases low-income individuals’ and communities’ capacity to prepare for, withstand, and recover from shocks and stresses by:

  • Looking at problems and solutions holistically: This means addressing the multitude of interconnected risks a community faces. Understanding how different risks play off one another is critical for truly understanding a community’s problems, including what puts and keeps people in poverty. It also means articulating and leveraging the co-benefits offered by strategies that mitigate those risks. Capitalizing on co-benefits creates efficient and effective resilience projects, and increases stakeholder buy-in.
  • Engaging whole community: This means bringing together unlike parties across multiple disciplines and breaking down silos. Increasing resilience of the community only happens with the support and inclusion of the entire spectrum of community members, especially low-income residents. Diversity of stakeholders encourages innovation, augments available resources, and improves project sustainability.
  • Planning for uncertainty: Integrating projects into, or fostering, local, organizational, or regional planning processes ensures that projects are aligned with community-wide resilience outcomes. Incorporating into those plans projections, based on best-available science, about the future severity and frequency of shocks and stresses ensures enduring relevance of projects and helps the community avoid maladaptations.

The Resilience AmeriCorps program is rooted in two sets of complimentary core values: AmeriCorps VISTA Core Principles and the City Resilience Framework Qualities of Resilient Systems

All AmeriCorps VISTA member activities must tie back to the four key principles of the VISTA program. The four principles are cornerstones of the VISTA program and are interdependent; success in one area supports success in the other three. For instance, a project that works closely with the low-income community being served will create capacity that individuals within the community will feel empowered to keep alive and sustain.

Key Principles of AmeriCorps VISTA

  1. Ending poverty: All VISTA activities must lead back to addressing the root causes of poverty for specifically defined communities of low-income and vulnerable individuals. Under the VISTA model, community resilience addresses the ongoing economic stresses of poverty in order to give communities the infrastructure and resources to reduce day-to-day vulnerability and bolster resilience during extreme events.
  2. Empowering communities: When applying for AmeriCorps VISTA resources, project sponsors must describe how they will engage residents of the low-income community in planning, implementing, and sustaining the project. Community buy-in at all stages ensures the VISTA project is creating something that will meet the needs of the people it intends to assist. Those who are from outside the community, though well-meaning, often lack sufficient understanding of the issues and are unaware of existing resources within the community and can lead to outcomes that are unwanted or even harmful. 
  3. Building capacity: Capacity building activities expand the scale, reach, efficiency, or effectiveness of programs and organizations. Such activities may also leverage resources for the program, for example, by expanding services, enhancing delivery of services, or generating additional resources. Capacity building activities achieve lasting positive outcomes for the low-income communities that VISTA serves. 
  4. Creating sustainable solutions: VISTA is a temporary resource and all VISTA outcomes are designed to continue long after the last AmeriCorps VISTA member has finished their term of service. VISTAs develop systems, relationships, and knowledge which they transfer to the organization and the community to sustain over the long-term. Sustainability and capacity building go hand-in-hand and require VISTA members to be constantly asking, “What will I leave behind when my term of service is over?”

Qualities of Resilient Systems
from the City Resilience Framework

Resilience AmeriCorps VISTA projects should also be able to demonstrate how they embody the City Resilience Framework Qualities of a Resilience System. Like the AmeriCorps VISTA Core Principles, the Qualities of a Resilience System are interdependent: success in one area supports success in the others.

  • Inclusive: Inclusion emphasizes the need for broad consultation and engagement of communities, including the most vulnerable groups. Addressing the shocks or stresses faced by one sector, location, or community in isolation of others is an anathema to the notion of resilience. An inclusive approach contributes to a sense of shared ownership or a joint vision to build resilience.
  • Integrated: Integration and alignment between systems promotes consistency in decision-making and ensures that all investments are mutually supportive to a common outcome. Integration is evident within and between resilient systems, and across different scales of their operation. Exchange of information between systems enables them to function collectively and respond rapidly through shorter feedback loops throughout the community.
  • Redundant: Redundancy refers to spare capacity purposely created within systems so that they can accommodate disruption, extreme pressures or surges in demand. It includes diversity: the presence of multiple ways to achieve a given need or fulfil a particular function. Examples include distributed infrastructure networks and resource reserves. Redundancies should be intentional, cost-effective and prioritized at a community-wide scale, and should not be an externality of inefficient design.
  • Robust: Robust systems include well-conceived, constructed and managed physical assets, so that they can withstand the impacts of hazard events without significant damage or loss of function. Robust design anticipates potential failures in systems, making provision to ensure failure is predictable, safe, and not disproportionate to the cause. Over-reliance on a single asset, cascading failure and design thresholds that might lead to catastrophic collapse if exceeded are actively avoided.
  • Resourceful: Resourcefulness implies that people and institutions are able to rapidly find different ways to achieve their goals or meet their needs during a shock or when under stress. This may include investing in capacity to anticipate future conditions, set priorities, and respond, for example, by mobilizing and coordinating wider human, financial and physical resources. Resourcefulness is instrumental to a city’s ability to restore functionality of critical systems, potentially under severely constrained conditions.
  • Reflective: Reflective systems are accepting of the inherent and ever-increasing uncertainty and change in today’s world. They have mechanisms to continuously evolve, and will modify standards or norms based on emerging evidence, rather than seeking permanent solutions based on the status quo. As a result, people and institutions examine and systematically learn from their past experiences, and leverage this learning to inform future decision-making.
  • Flexible: Flexibility implies that systems can change, evolve and adapt in response to changing circumstances. This may favor decentralized and modular approaches to infrastructure or ecosystem management. Flexibility can be achieved through the introduction of new knowledge and technologies, as needed. It also means considering and incorporating indigenous or traditional knowledge and practices in new ways