August 28, 2020

In an aptly named recent NY Times article, Is Resilience Overrated?, Jami Attenberg wrote: “I want people to be proud of themselves for being resilient. It is an act of triumph to surpass challenges and traumas. I just don’t want it to have to be the only way of life.”  This quote, and the underlying argument, struck me as extremely aligned with what Criterion Institute has recently been reflecting on. In the time of COVID, many have grabbed hold of the word “resilience” to express how people, systems, and places, have either successfully performed, or failed to perform, in their response to the global pandemic. What is often missing from these analyses, however, is a look beneath the individual circumstance to examine the power structures in place that are facilitating, or challenging, those specific responses. In a recent SheO podcast discussing this topic, Criterion’s founder and President, Joy Anderson, went so far to say that the more she reflected on it, the more she understood that resilience was essentially wrapped in privilege. She discusses that as marginalized people, and the businesses they lead, continue to survive despite the challenges they face in “typical times” – let alone in the face of COVID – there seems to be a sense that “we don’t have to worry about them.” Rather than a reward for adaptability, there is essentially a “resilience tax.” But it may not all be bad. We can admire, and more importantly – learn from, those that have demonstrated resilient responses in the face of adversity. We can then take a step further to question the traditional ways of doing things that caused the challenges in the first place and put measures in place to address them.  In a recent brief that Criterion prepared for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, we outline specific recommendations to center the experiences of women-led businesses in order to develop policies in COVID recovery efforts that improve upon traditional economic and investment approaches. Of the most important, we suggest avoiding bias throughout the process of dispersing funds to enterprises and checking assumptions about traditional finance and funding processes, as well as supporting “right-sizing” investments into women-led enterprises and enterprises with a female borrower. This shift in thinking requires a consideration of power dynamics in investment processes, an appreciation for alternative investment models outside of traditional finance, and an understanding of the value of a stability-based approach rather than purely admiring growth. Building on what has already been learned from the necessary adaptations women have adopted in their businesses in order to survive will support the development of a more equitable – and resilient - market system that will also prove better prepared to withstand future crises. The status quo doesn’t have to be the only way of life.  To read additional reframes on resilience, check out the recent work of our partners: TDI: Resilience, at what cost? Cornerstone Capital: Women Entrepreneurs: Foundational to Economic Recovery

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