Increasingly, extreme weather, wildfires, drought, sea-level rise, and other events are impacting the populations and communities CDFIs serve. Some CDFIs are finding innovative ways to help build climate resilience so that these communities are better prepared for such events. On October 24, before the OFN Conference officially kicks off, OFN is partnering with The Rockefeller Foundation, with participation from the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the CDFI Fund, for an all-day Resilience Academy.

To learn more about this event, CDFI Connect talked with Courtney Smith, Program Associate, Resilience, for the Rockefeller Foundation.

Tell us about the history of the Resilience Academy:

The Global Resilience Academy really started when the Rockefeller Foundation partnered with the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) on the National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC). This competition was designed to look at the way disaster recovery money is spent and allocated. Between 2011 and 2013, 67 communities experienced federally declared disasters. In that time the federal government spent $136 billion on disaster relief in the U.S. The competition was for $1 billion in HUD recovery block grants, and winners were just announced in January 2016.

The Rockefeller Foundation and HUD wanted to look at the best way to provide meaningful engagement for up to 67 jurisdictions, in the most efficient manner. This evolved into a series of two to three day regional workshops, or Resilience Academies, designed to provide a range of support to the jurisdictions and help them develop resilience strategies and projects.

What makes the Resilience Academy technique unique?

The Resilience Academy is a combination of principles and processes over a one to three-day workshop. It includes a set of content—plenary sessions with experts, facilitated exercises—and processes that are interdisciplinary, innovative and design-oriented. We teamed up with 350 experts who were rotated based on the need, and came from a range of backgrounds, including architects, designers, urban planners, economists, insurance experts, policy experts, and more. This range of professionals brought new ideas, fresh perspectives, and technical expertise to address the problems of creating an inclusive and interactive response. Typically, these workshops focused on three separate, progressive areas: Strategy Development, Project Development, and Measurement.

How has the Resilience Academy evolved?

Currently, the curriculum from the Resilience Academies is being adapted to help build resilience capacity and knowledge more broadly and for more global audiences. From the original Resilience Academy within the NDRC, we have spun out this new program called the Global Resilience Academy. This is really the space where we see an opportunity with OFN and with CDFIs. Over the course of the next year we are designing, scaling and testing in new domains to identify the highest value we can provide through the Academy as well as where the program is most valuable.

We have tested it in a number of places and it serves a number of different purposes. It helps with non-governmental and private organizations, financial institutions, and governments that are trying to develop strategies around resilience. It can also help to influence investment decisions and project designs, while building general resilience knowledge and understanding.

How did you come to recognize CDFIs as a partner in this project?

We see working with CDFIs as an opportunity to teach concepts of resilience to help inform investment decisions in communities. CDFIs represent one type of financial institution committed to social good with a history of making significant investments in communities around the country. CDFIs have played a large role in many of the projects that have come out of our previous resilience investments, including the National Disaster Resilience Competition, Rebuild by Design, and our work in New Orleans after Katrina. In the beginning of doing this work, investment institutions were not the initial targets, but we recognize the need for more investments in resilience infrastructure and we see CDFIs as a key player.

The mission of CDFIs really fit within the resilience framework. At the Foundation, we look at resilience holistically as a combination of the right factors of governance and leadership, health and wellbeing, economic opportunity and society, and infrastructure and ecosystems. CDFIs can make investments that contribute to each of these factors. But what we want to push for is investments that are proactive, rather than reactive. Investments that address current and future shocks and stresses a community may face, in order to mitigate against these challenges, but also to take advantage of opportunities in good times and bad. Through a resilience approach, CDFIs can begin to provide multiple benefits to the community—creating benefits under normal times, but also building the capacity for communities to adapt to new and uncertain challenges, and even transform when conditions require it.

How did the collaboration to add the Resilience Academy to the OFN Conference come about?

Both Rockefeller Foundation, the CDFI Fund, and OFN had relationships with the White House Council on Environmental Quality, so they played a large part in bringing us together. We were in the process of looking to partner and work with different groups and test new audiences for the Resilience Academy. We are really excited about the work that has happened so far, and we see this as a natural fit.

What can you preview about the Resilience Academy at the OFN Conference?

This is going to be a very interactive day for CDFIs to work with their peers and with other people in the resilience space. Over the course of the day, we will take a deep dive into the concepts and practice of resilience. We will be doing this through interactive, facilitated exercises around specific case studies in the CDFI world. The goal of the day is to highlight best practices, and to increase CDFI understanding of resilience to learn the practical applications, not just the ideas and concepts. We also expect this will highlight the value that CDFIs bring to the table in this sphere.


Registration for the Resilience Academy is limited to 80 participants and costs $150.00 is free. The Resilience Academy takes place Monday, October 24, 9:00 am-4:00 pm, and will be hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)* in the Conference hotel, the Hilton Atlanta.

All registrants will be placed on a wait list. If more than 80 people register, the organizers reserve the right to select the 80 that ensure the broadest representation of the CDFI industry. 

The OFN Conference is just weeks away, taking place in Atlanta, GA October 24-27. Register now!

*Editors note: Thanks to an added partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the workshop is now free and the location is moved to the EPA office, 61 Forsyth Street, SW, Atlanta, GA 30303


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