Enterprise Compliance Today

Definition of Resilience - #VanuatuStillSmiles

Posted by Greg Carroll on Sat, Apr 11, 2015 @ 11:42 AM

When stripped naked, Resilience is about strength of character and speed of recovery.  Vanuatu has shown both in spades with the succinct #VanuatuStillSmiles.


This week I was fortunate to be among the first tourists to return to Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam.  On Sat Mar 14, 2015, category 5 Cyclone Pam, equivalent to Hurricane Katina, smashed into the tiny South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu (see ABC news article).  For over 8 hours, arguably the happiest and kindest people on earth, suffered the wrath of Pam.

On my arrival everyone, from water taxi driver to shopkeeper to waitress to beautician wanted to tell of their experience as part of their personal recovery. They spoke of the surreal silence the next morning, as they wandered in shock, acknowledging fellow survivors with just a nod or smile while looking for friends or relatives and how during the course of the day the enormity of the aftermath slowly dawned.

In Port Vila, the nation’s capital, it resembled a war zone, but it was the lucky one.  Outer islands and villages were decimated by the 300km winds and tidal surges.  Most local residents of Port Vila come from these outer islands and villages and with no methods of communication or transport had no way of knowing the fate of their children, parents or other loved ones. To this scene the low fly-over of Royal Australian Air Force C-17 and C130s generated spontaneous cheering and clapping transforming a defeated victim mentality to one of hope and action. 

It may be too early to cite as a Case Study, but certainly there are lessons business can learn from the successful Disaster Management (as opposed to Disaster Planning) following Pam.  In just  4 weeks after the disaster, where in New Orleans they were still “debating” recovery responsibilities,  Vanuatu has moved on to the economic recovery phase by welcoming back tourists.

1. Planning

The ability to put boots on ground, food & water in mouths, and hope in hearts within 24 hours was not luck but the result of planning and practice by the Australian Defence Force over many years.  Australia’s quick response was not a patronising big brother but a genuine heart felt reaction to close neighbour’s misfortune. 

2. Implementation Responsibilities

As with Strategic Planning, the much neglected aspect of Disaster Planning is the How To Implement component.  The quick response by France, Australia and New Zealand was part of a pre-planned coordinated response, with individual responsibilities mapped out, not requiring any discussions or meetings.

3. Morale

I don’t believe the change in peoples approach to their situation was an accidental by-product of the C17/130 low fly overs.  The ADF military commanders would be more than aware of the effect on morale of their arrival, from previous missions in Timor, Aceh, and the Solomon Islands.   Whether a natural disaster or business disaster, peoples understanding that recovery is underway is the surest way to garner the support of those needed for it to succeed.

4. Infrastructure

Weather restoring power, water and roads or Plant, IT and Distribution, the restoration of Infrastructure is the first goal and usually the focus on of any Disaster Recovery Program. A shop assistant told me how she had not yet been able to get back to see daughter as the road was cut.  Following the immediate necessities of restoring power, water and communications, the Vanuatu government quickly realised the real disaster was still to come. 

5. Economic Recovery

The cessation of tourism, the people’s main source of income and the funding for rebuilding saw a looming financial disaster.  One waitress spoke of when stood down from work (no customers) she was given 5kg of rice which she duly split with her sister’s and neighbours families.  Rebuilding infrastructure will take time but economic recovery has to be given equal importance.  Look after your people and they will look after you.

6. Communication

One should never underestimate the resourcefulness of mankind, even those of a layback island community like Vanuatu.  They have instigated a social media awareness campaign with the hash tag #VanuatuStillSmiles.  This simple statement is not just a reminder of the nature of the people of Vanuatu but a real statement of the resilience of an entire nation.

7. Restoration of Services

Vanuatu’s charm is not just its natural beauty of swimming with turtles over coral reefs , or abseiling down Cascade waterfalls, or even the rope swings into Blue Lagoon (unbelievably blue), but the friendly and happy nature of its people.  The greatest obstacle to recovery, whether in business or a nation’s economy, is the speed you can restore services to your customers.  Priority has to given to the restoration of infrastructure that allows resuming of operations is key.  This Vanuatu has done this and is once again open for business.

If you are after (or would like) the motivation for what you can actually achieved in 4 weeks, forget the Tony Robbins tapes and NLP workshops, do yourself a favour (sorry Molly) and get over to Vanuatu, and I guarantee you will come back rewarded.

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Tags: Resilience