Research & Analysis

How Do You Know “Resilience” When You See It?

Resilience—or the “capacity that ensures adverse stressors and shocks do not have longlasting adverse development consequences” (Constas, Frankenberger, and Hoddinott 2014)—has become a new development paradigm in the past few years. While policies and funding in the past have focused primarily on post-disaster relief and recovery, there is a new focus on the importance of policies and funding to support ex-ante efforts to build the resilience of the poor, such that vulnerabilities to disasters could be mitigated. Despite the interest, as well as importance of focusing on resilience, the phenomenon is not well-defined and is difficult to measure.

The primary goal of this paper is to identify the characteristics of self-perceived resilience among a small sample of women in rural Burkina Faso. This analysis contributes to the ongoing efforts to better understand the factors that contribute to household resilience for practitioners interested in helping project participants build their resilience. This paper is written with financial services practitioners in mind, but is applicable to any organization interested in resilience.

Using a “resilience diary” methodology with 46 women to understand how households anticipated and responded to shocks over a seven-month period, a household’s selfperceived resilience status was established and then compared to a series of variables that women used to qualitatively describe resilient and nonresilient households. The diaries consisted of a series of 10 interviews with the same participants that focused on participants’ (1) demographic background, hopes, and dreams; (2) shock-coping strategies; (3) use of financial services; (4) food security; (5) income-generating activities; (6) social capital; (7) household decision-making dynamics; (8) health; (9) attitudes and perceptions; and (10) program participation and future outlook.

Members from two Freedom from Hunger partners—le Reseau des Caisses Populaires du Burkina Faso (RCPB), a credit union that provides formal financial services, and the Office de Développement des Eglises Evangéliques (ODE), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that facilitates savings groups—participated in the diaries. Forty-six women completed all 10 interviews. Twenty-five out of 46 were RCPB members; the remaining 21 were from ODE.

Self-perceived resilient and nonresilient households were compared using Pearson chisquare tests, T-tests, and Wilcoxon tests with the following series of variables that women used to describe resilient and nonresilient households: poverty status (based on the Grameen Foundation Progress out of Poverty Index [PPI]); food security status; types of livestock assets owned; whether the household received remittances; amount held in savings; types of financial services used; types of income-generating activities (IGAs) used by the household; social capital; health status; types of shocks experienced and coping mechanisms used; a series of attitudes and perceptions toward life; proxies for women’s empowerment such as mobility; and domestic violence. These comparisons are also supported by three case studies highlighting differences among resilient1 and nonresilient households.

Self-perceived resilience was associated or correlated with the following:

  • Household poverty status
  • Average food security status
  • Using livestock as an IGA
  • Having higher median savings amount over the 10 interviews
  • Belonging to a microfinance institution (MFI) and a savings group
  • Saving money for health
  • Client not reporting to have been sick during the 10 interviews
  • Not being afraid of one’s husband
  • Feeling supported, hopeful, capable of meeting one’s financial obligations
  • Being trustful of others
  • Not living one’s life “day to day”
  • Reporting they would try anything to improve their life

As it relates to shocks and shock-coping strategies, self-perceived resilience was associated or correlated to being less likely to borrow money from friends and family, reduce food consumption, make purchases on credit from vendors, and work harder as a result of a shock. Self-perceived resilience was associated with being more likely to use fewer coping mechanisms overall and respond to shocks only with positive coping mechanisms (defined as using savings, borrowing from financial institutions, borrowing from savings group, borrowing from friends and family, and starting a new economic activity).

Self-perceived resilience was not associated with these variables: average savings amount, receipt of remittances, belonging to either an MFI or a savings group alone, having a chronic illness, capable of leaving one’s home without spouse’s permission, feeling happy or satisfied with life, and number of shocks experienced or the type of shock (except for client being ill as previously indicated).

For organizations interested in resilience and financial services, both general and specific financial services designed to help people anticipate and cope with shocks play an important role in building household resilience. Providing financial services to help households diversify their income streams, with a focus on livestock as an independent IGA in this particular context, holds promise. In addition, given the strong correlation between objective measures of resilience and a person’s self-perceived resilient status, measuring self-perceived resilience, either alone or combined with objective variables, could be an effective and important measure of household resilient status.

These findings provide unique insights into the set of factors, if reinforced by financial institutions and development practitioners, that are likely to strengthen household resilience. These factors include household savings accumulation, access to different financial services (such as savings), credit for IGAs (particularly, those associated with a resilient household, such as livestock in the case of this population), and specific savings products for health and other emergencies. While more significant research is necessary to validate the findings from this small sample, these findings help provide direction for practitioners interested in building and measuring changes in household resilience.

Related Resources


This paper draws upon formative research, “resilience diaries,” qualitative follow-up, and economic games to illustrate how families anticipate and cope with shocks in Burkina Faso. Designing for these household behaviors and preferences could improve financial services offered for building resilience.

Based upon the findings of a field experiment conducted in rural Burkina Faso, this working paper suggests that health savings accounts and health loans have the potential to help the poor better manage health shocks and build resilience.

This case study from Burkina Faso highlights key findings from the CGAP resilience research that can help guide further thinking about how to best design financial products for anticipating and covering health shock expenses.