PopTech Blog

Jack Campbell, a disaster risk expert, in the audience at 'The City Resilient'

Like all PopTech audiences, the crowd attending the upcoming event, "The City Resilient," will be filled with people of extraordinary talent and knowledge. As examples, PopTech asked a handful of these thought leaders to answer three questions about their work and their views on community resilience. Here is Jack Campbell, Disaster Risk Management Specialist, World Bank.

 

Please briefly describe your work and your typical working day.

I'm what's known as a Disaster Risk Management Specialist, working at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. I work as part of a community of more than 100 people here who focus exclusively on harnessing the resilience-building potential of the huge projects that the institution delivers in roads, bridges, cities and rural communities around the world.

This is a diverse and relatively young field, and our focus is as broad as the concept of resilience suggests. Projects we work on may look at conducting project risk assessments to make sure disaster risks are understood, or improving early warning systems, or increasing coverage of insurance programs for vulnerable farmers. My job involves managing a portfolio of small-grants projects in South Asia, with a particular focus on urban resilience. My working day usually kicks off with a few Skype calls with staff based in South Asia, before they go to bed. It continues with any number of meetings and video conferences to coordinate with partners, come up with plans and monitor the program.

Jack Campbell

How does your work relate to efforts to build resilient communities?

The success of my work is directly judged by the extent to which we are able to help countries successfully manage disaster risks, and thus contribute to resilience. Making this tangible and quantifiable remains a challenge, and one I hope to be able to discuss with fellow participants next week.

 

Please describe one key principle for building resilient communities.  

Resilience comes from within the human spirit, but needs the support of visionary policies and plans by leaders to flourish.

Look for clean energy innovator Erik Birkerts at 'The City Resilient'

Like all PopTech audiences, the crowd attending the upcoming event, "The City Resilient," will be filled with people of extraordinary talent and knowledge. As examples, PopTech asked a handful of these thought leaders to answer three questions about their work and their views on community resilience. Here is Erik Birkerts, Executive Vice President, Clean Energy Trust. 


Please briefly describe your work and your typical working day.

Clean Energy Trust works to accelerate the pace of innovation and commercialization of clean energy and water technologies in the Midwest. In a typical day we may spend a portion of our time working with researchers at Argonne National Lab, scientists at the region's leading universities, or with entrepreneurs in their proverbial garages. A typical day may also find us working with policymakers and legislators, helping to create a policy and regulatory environment that is conducive to clean energy deployment and adoption. And, when the opportunity presents itself, we may conclude our day by sharing a drink with various constituents as part of our effort to build a stronger community and ecosystem through relationships.    

Clean Energy Trust
 

How does your work relate to efforts to build resilient communities?

Our work in helping entrepreneurs become successful not only creates economic opportunity and jobs but it also creates a commercialization path for groundbreaking innovations that may help solve some of our most intractable environmental and climate challenges.

 

Please describe one key principle for building resilient communities.

Communities and people need to feel confident that the future will be good; confident that there will be economic opportunities to earn livelihoods and to provide for families; and confident that the planet and the environment will be safe, healthy and able to sustain future generations.

Personal resilience expert Pat Christen will be at 'The City Resilient'

Like all PopTech audiences, the crowd attending the upcoming event, "The City Resilient," will be filled with people of extraordinary talent and knowledge. As examples, PopTech asked a handful of these thought leaders to answer three questions about their work and their views on community resilience. Here is Pat Christen, Hopelab President & CEO.


Please briefly describe your work and your typical working day.

My work involves curation, synthesis, connection and cultivation of shared vision. I oversee the work at HopeLab, working with a gifted team of colleagues and an inspiring board of directors. We apply scientific research and iterative product design to create tools that unlock human resilience to improve health and well-being. I am an early riser and like to read for 30 minutes or so to start my day. (At the moment, I’m reading "Nine Lives," by Dan Baum. Many incredible lessons in resilience.) The bulk of my working hours are spent in conversation with colleagues, thought leaders and practitioners who can inform and improve our thinking on human resilience and its “active ingredients” — a sense of purpose, a sense of connection and a meaningful sense of control. This puts me in contact with an eclectic and fascinating group of people, including Andrew Zolli, Tenzin Priyadarshi, Pierre and Pam Omidyar, Arianna Huffington, Soren Gordhamer, Joan Halifax, and Chris Anderson, in addition to colleagues like Drs. Steve Cole, Janxin Leu and Jana Haritatos. Really, I can’t believe I get paid to spend time with folks like this — it's a privilege to learn from such exceptional people deeply committed to leading high-integrity, high-impact lives.

Pat Christen

How does your work relate to efforts to build resilient communities?

Our work at HopeLab focuses on individual human resilience and, by extension, resilience in communities and the systems humans create. We believe resilience — the ability to bounce back from adversity — is an innate human characteristic. Creating tools to help people tap into their natural resilience has the potential to transform psychological well-being and biological health. Based on insights from science, we believe there are three key substrates, or conditions, that activate human resilience: having a sense of purpose, having a sense of connection and having a meaningful sense of control. We are collaborating with researchers, technologists and product design partners to create tools that foster these experiences and to evaluate their impact on health. As examples, HopeLab's Re-Mission video games and our Zamzee product apply these concepts to help young people fight cancer and to motivate physical activity as a way to improve health.

More personally, I see the power of these concepts in my everyday life as a mom to four resilient kids. Purpose, connection, control — harnessing the power of these experiences — is an opportunity for us all to live happier, healthier, more purposeful lives.

My HopeLab colleagues and I welcome conversations with others interested in the concept of resilience. You can connect with us at ResilienceTech.org or reach out to me directly. Ideas welcome!

 

Please describe one key principle for building resilient communities.

Resilience is an innate human characteristic; it's up to us to find ways to tap this natural resource to support individuals and communities facing adversity. Delivering experiences that amplify purpose, connection, and control — the substrates to resilience — can catalyze healthier responses to adversity. Paying attention to these concepts also can help us understand how resilience is undermined, and why individuals or communities appear fragile or brittle in the face of adversity.

Charles E. Allen III brings Katrina lessons to 'The City Resilient'

Like all PopTech audiences, the crowd attending the upcoming event, "The City Resilient," will be filled with people of extraordinary talent and knowledge. As examples, PopTech asked a handful of these thought leaders to answer three questions about their work and their views on community resilience. Here is Charles E. Allen III, Advisor & Director, City of New Orleans Coastal and Environmental Affairs

 

Please briefly describe your work and your typical working day.

I serve as advisor to Mayor Mitch Landrieu on coastal and environmental affairs. I also direct that same office. A typical work day involves interacting with various colleagues and associates to advance our city and state’s efforts to improve coastal and urban wetland restoration efforts. So, in that regard, I interact with counterparts of mine in our state government, representatives from various environmental NGOs and members of our state’s congressional delegation from time to time. All this is done with the ultimate purpose of advising our Mayor and administration on coastal and environmental issues. I also work within and outside of our city’s government with partners and others to help our city continue to make progressive strides toward being an energy efficient and long-term resilient community.

new orleans

How does your work relate to efforts to build resilient communities?

My work touches on coastal/urban wetland restoration, energy efficient projects and urban water management. It all comes together to help further chart a “path of resilience” going forward for New Orleans. My work involves me working with various other city and municipal agencies to ensure that resilience and long-term environmental sustainability undergirds as much of our work as possible for present and future generations.


Please describe one key principle for building resilient communities.

An important key principle for building resilient communities is to ensure that you tap the resilience and energy that already resides within neighborhoods in cities. One of the very important lesson we learned after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans was that a great deal of resilient wisdom already existed in our various neighborhoods, and that wisdom is what really helped to drive the recovery of our community.

New Orleans photo by SteveSchaaf.

In the audience at 'The City Resilient:' Deb Markowitz

Like all PopTech audiences, the crowd attending the upcoming event, "The City Resilient," will be filled with people of extraordinary talent and knowledge. As examples, PopTech asked a handful of these thought leaders to answer three questions about their work and their views on community resilience. Here is Deb Markowitz, Secretary, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

 

Please briefly describe your work and your typical working day.  

I am the CEO of a large organization that operates all across the state of Vermont that is charged with protecting Vermont’s environment and enhancing Vermonter’s access to the outdoors.

We have three departments. The Department of Environmental Conservation runs our regulatory and permit programs that are designed to protect air quality, ensure clean water, oversee the state’s dams, manage Vermonters' solid waste and prevent and respond to hazardous waste spills. Through our Department of Fish and Wildlife we manage game and nongame species, focus on aquatic and terrestrial habitat management and protection, and encourage wildlife-based outdoor recreation opportunities. Through our Department of Forest Parks and Recreation we manage 51 state parks and hundreds of thousands of acres of state forest and we engage in important land conservation projects.

Deb MarkowitzAs Secretary, I spend a lot of my time focused on climate change mitigation and climate resilience. Through the governor’s Climate Cabinet (which I chair) we are addressing Vermont’s contribution to greenhouse gases by implementing investments and policies designed to move Vermont toward our state goal of reaching 90 percent renewables by 2050. We are leading a statewide discussion about  the need for climate resilient strategies related to floods, ice storms and other climate-related disasters, and the vital role of our natural infrastructure (un-fragmented forests, flood plains, wetland, etc.) And, in partnership with our land conservation nonprofits we have begun an initiative to focus our land conservation investments on projects that will strengthen resilience to climate change.

 

How does your work relate to efforts to build resilient communities?

Climate change adaptation actions are adjustments in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic effects that moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. Particularly in a rural state like Vermont, the foundation of resilient communities is our natural infrastructure. It is therefore not surprising that many of the actions needed to build resilient communities are the same actions needed and already initiated to support the resilience of our ecosystems and to reduce various types of pollution in Vermont’s watersheds. For example, when we build bridges and culverts to withstand future flood events, it provides aquatic species passage and prevents streambed and bank erosion. When we conserve wetlands it protects water quality and riparian habitat, it also protects upstream communities from flooding by serving as a catch basin during extreme weather events. In addition to working to properly design our infrastructure so we are prepared for future extreme weather events, we are engaged in a robust statewide conversation about how to encourage infill growth in our built communities (which are almost all along our river corridors) while preserving the open spaces so that we can, where it is still possible, benefit from our natural infrastructure by reconnecting our rivers to their flood plains.  

 

Please describe one key principle for building resilient communities.

Recognize the importance of the interconnected network of natural and undeveloped areas needed to provide a wide array of environmental, health and economic benefits. Not surprisingly, particularly in our urban areas, our natural infrastructure has been declining, both in quality and in quantity. Sprawl and poorly planned communities are at fault. As we rethink how we live on the land in light of the uncertainties of climate change, we need to be more strategic and intentional, using the best scientific information available to support long-term sustainability.


 
 

 


Grassroots/Government guru John Crowley to attend 'The City Resilient'

Like all PopTech audiences, the crowd attending the upcoming event, "The City Resilient," will be filled with people of extraordinary talent and knowledge. As examples, PopTech asked a handful of these thought leaders to answer three questions about their work and their views on community resilience. Here is John Crowley, Lead, Open Data for Resilience Partnerships at the World Bank/GFDRR.

Please briefly describe your work and your typical working day.

I connect grassroots and government via open data, open standards, and open technology. As curator of the TIDES "Camp Roberts" humanitarian technology accelerator for the US government and consultant to the World Bank's Open Data for Resilience Initiative, I am probably one of the few people who jump between each part of the disaster risk management cycle every day.

John Crowley

In the morning, I might interview a colleague in Kathmandu about efforts to teach the communities there how to map their city in OpenStreetMap so that they can catalogue their seismic risks. I might follow that with a conference call between a risk modeler and government donor about how to improve the collection of OpenStreetMap data to better calculate seismic damage and how to build these practices into global data standards.

In the afternoon, I might hold a conference call between FEMA, FEMACorps, and several companies about how to design a mash-up experiment at Camp Roberts where we accelerate damage assessment after an earthquake. One idea under review today fuses two ideas: how to use an unmanned aerial vehicle to image a neighborhood and provide real-time imagery to field teams; and how to bounce radio signals off the UAV to connect the field team's land-mobile radios with crisis mappers via Skype and upload field data collected back to the crisis mappers in near real-time.

In the evening, I'm probably in a coffee shop writing a policy memo about a way that the U.S. government could allow the fusion of mapping data from FEMA and crisis mappers into analytical products that can be used to accelerate the decisions about individualized assistance to families whose houses have been damaged (and figuring out how to get permission for the UAV to fly and/or make all the data open!). Or I might be writing a paper on the legal and policy challenges of connecting grassroots and government.

 

How does your work relate to efforts to build resilient communities?

Communities are becoming ever more interconnected. Mutual aid used to mean either an agreement to offer help across adjacent communities or a bilateral agreement for humanitarian aid between nation states. Today, it means were are a deeply intermingled global community, where citizens can help other citizens from across the planet using open platforms and open data.

I get to work on the problems that emerge when we move from old conceptions of mutual aid based mostly on sovereignties helping sovereignties to a set of decentralized informal networks working around and within these more formal networks. I get to work in partnerships to create mashups of organizations that solve big problems and then find ways to remove policy obstacles and let these open partnerships do their work. Put in systems thinking language, I reinforce the positive feedback loops of collaborative, creative do-ers and slow the negative feedback loop of those who create "policy drag."

 

Please describe one key principle for building resilient communities.

Listen. Too many efforts to build resilient communities start from an idea born in the comfort of a developed country which we then try to evangelize in a resource-scarce developing nation. Start from where people are. Listen to their problems. Mobilize tools and resources to build their solution in which they are full co-designers, while educating them about practices that would make their ideas better. We build resilient communities when the communities own their solutions and therefore already know how to maintain them. As a classically-trained cellist, I have to turn to the metaphor of being a chamber musician. You have to create a safe space where an innovative approach can arise from the friction between several people's ideas into a unique and creative synthesis. In the process, you'll each be pushed beyond your comfort zone into places where you will do things you did not realize were inside you.

Photo via John Crowley


Jennifer Leaning on the building blocks of human security

Experienced researchers who have also carried out significant fieldwork sometimes produce particularly lucid presentations. Jennifer Leaning (PopTech 2012) has researched human security for years and has field experience in Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Kosovo, the Middle East, the former Soviet Union, Somalia, the Chad-Darfur border and the African Great Lakes.

Leaning studies Human security, which she says requires a minimum of three things: a sustainable sense of home; attachment to a community; and a positive sense of the future. These are the building blocks for rehabilitating people and families after they experience some of the world's worst nightmares. "I'm looking at the ways in which you can promote health and well-being through time in the setting of war and disaster," she explained to the Camden audience. 

Jennifer Leaning

Leaning has spent considerable time researching the devastating impacts of forced migration in particular — people driven from their homes and communities by war or other disruptions. "Forced migration is a fundamental — fundamental — assault on human security," Leaning said about the 40 million people worldwide who have had to leave their communities because of one calamity or another. "And it creates enormous misery. And it is a major factor in state and regional instability throughout the world," she noted. "My question is, 'How do we get the rest of the world to recognize that a particular form of assault on human society is forced migration?" 

The study of human security has also revealed some frequent characteristics of resilient individuals. Leaning's research suggests that particularly resilient people tend to exhibit a sense of self-worth; identify with a life story or trajectory; have a sense of humor; often had a prior experience bouncing back from trauma; exhibit the capacity to trust others as well as a willingness to forgive; and seem to share a conviction that life has meaning.

Knowing those tenets means that resilience can be cultivated. "Resilience is something that can be taught. It can be lost," Leaning said. "It can be recaptured. It can be re-nurtured."

But resilience is also different from survival skills and coping strategies. "I just want to submit here that not all survivors are resilient," she explained. "There are survivors who are beaten down and haunted. And many of the resilient people may not be in the survivor pool, because part of their notion of meaning is to save and protect, and they may have died." 

Its troubling to consider how many people around the world lack the basic building blocks of human security. 

PopTech is thrilled to announce 'The City Resilient' summit

City Resilient

On June 24 PopTech and the Rockefeller Foundation will convene at the Brooklyn Academy of Music a network of citizens, scientists, designers, innovators and leaders for a unique summit on urban resilience.

Hundreds of invited participants will consider questions at the core of urban adaptability in the face of increasing disruptions: How do we improve communities’ self-reliance? How can we invigorate social networks that cut across socioeconomic lines, improve infrastructure and leverage big data? How do culture and the arts and humanities fit in? What about the actions of government, the social sector and community members?

This gathering is designed to foster interactions with stakeholders engaged at the forefront of urban resilience. Share your work with this influential community, and take home powerful new insights from potential partners, allies and friends. We invite you to request an invitation.

(Photo by kevin dooley.)

Ann Masten shows how children bounce back

While they are typically innocent bystanders, children are still susceptible to the disruption and trauma in the world. War, addiction, domestic violence and natural disasters are just a few examples of the tragedies visited on children's lives. 

In some ways, children respond to disruption just like adults. Some children bounce back, adapt and return to a path of normal development. Others continue to suffer in various ways physically or psychologically, sometimes for the rest of their lives. 

But some of the factors that contribute to resilience among children are unique. That's what Ann Masten (PopTech 2012) studies. "Humans have been fascinated with overcoming adversity for a very long time," she said in her Camden talk about her work. "We want to hear stories about people who overcome difficulties."

Ann Masten

Her research suggests a series of factors affect a child's resilience: capable parenting; other close relationships; intelligence; self-control; motivation to succeed; self confidence; hope; good schools; supportive communities; and effective cultural practices. 

Masten said that the degree of trauma a child experiences still has considerable impact on the chance of recovery. "Dose matters," she explained.

But those factors can help children show remarkable resilience in the wake of even severe disruptions. "The greatest danger in my view is not adversity itself," Masten said. "But the damage that can happen to these adaptive systems." 

She added that the most important factor in a child's resilience is the least surprising of all. "The most powerful protective system for a human child is a loving, caring family."

Moran Cerf: from hacking into banks to hacking into brains

Moran Cerf's career as a neuroscientist began at a computer keyboard. Years ago he was hacker. That unusual career arc actually makes sense once you understand what makes Cerf (PopTech 2012) tick.  

When we turn on a computer, the limits of what we can do and see are dictated by device manufacturers, programmers and website developers. Most of us don't think much about the digital bubble we are in online.

But those digital confines frustrated Cerf — and piqued his curiosity. He wanted to explore what was happening on the other side of those seemingly arbitrary boundaries. He sought to pull back the curtain and see how it all works; see what is behind that online reality. (This adventurous spirit also led to Cerf's stint as a bank robber.)

Moran has now brought his brand of curiosity to his exploration of the human brain. "How often does it happen to us in life when things we are supposedly in control of are actually happening by themselves?" he asked the Camden audience. 

Moran Cerf

People are not computers, however. You can't just open up people's skulls and try to figure out what is going on behind their thoughts and emotions. Or can you?

Cerf teamed up with a Los Angeles neurosurgeon who works with patients suffering severe brain problems. The neurosurgeon opens up the patients' skulls and inserts electrodes into their brains to help identify problem areas that require treatment or surgery.  "He keeps those wires in their brain for a few days while they are sitting there, awake, looking at TV and talking to their families," Cerf explained. 

This was Cerf's chance. After all, the patients already had their skulls opened up. He asked those patients if he, too, could monitor their brain activity using electrodes. "The patients are happy to participate and let me see how the brain functions from inside," he said. "So now I can look at the brain while they think and see how thoughts look."

Cerf is able to identify brain cells that respond to specific images. One brain cell, for example, might become active when a patient sees a digital image of Marilyn Monroe, while another lights up at an image of Homer Simpson. "What is interesting about these cells is that they don't just get active when you see something," he added. "They get active when you think about something."

This discovery has led to some remarkable experiments. Patients have been able to teach themselves to activate one cell and deactivate another to make one image appear and another disappear simply by concentrating on one or the other. The patients are actually manipulating images in the outside world using only their minds.

This raises some stunning possibilities. "If we can connect cells to a computer and move images, we can actually replace that with a robotic arm and help people who have lost the ability to move their hands," Cerf explains. 

All of us may one day benefit from the kind of curiosity that once led Cerf to wonder more about what made computers tick. And banks.