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Course E103: Resilience, Humanitarian Action and Human Development

5 November-16 December 2014 (E10314) | Register for this course (opens in new window)
Instructor: Gretchen Alther

Course brochure PDF (PDF)

What is "resilience" and why is it such a popular term? Is it a repackaging of old approaches or is it a kind of new systems thinking? Frequently described as the intersection among climate change adaptation, poverty alleviation, and disaster risk reduction, resilience as a framework aims to buttress vulnerable communities in the face of actual or possible shocks without weakening the prospects of long-term development. Resilience is relevant to humanitarian action and human development to the extent that it is used to describe real-life dynamics that impact people's and communities' sensitivity to and recovery from natural and man-made crises.

This course examines the debate around resilience and where it intersects with the humanitarian aid and development sectors. It questions the use of resilience as an organizing principle for considering trade-offs and making decisions. The course considers local adaptive capacity and protection strategies, and questions the role and impact of aid organizations in supporting local agency. The course encourages participants to note connections and gaps between current understandings of resilience and rights-based approaches.

This e-learning course is intended for staff members of local, national, and international humanitarian and development organizations who are interested in exploring and discussing various concepts of resilience and their impact on humanitarian action and local communities. Course examples will largely focus on disaster and conflict, but may be of interest to those concerned with broader definitions of vulnerability and risk. The course is intended to generate discussion. Participants will have the opportunity to read and discuss analyses and case studies related to resilience, and to develop a framework for resilience applicable to their own contexts. Participants completing the course will have gained broad understanding of resilience as a framework within humanitarian action, from a rights-based perspective.

This certificate course involves approximately 30 hours of reading, discussion, webinars, a written assignment and quizzes, and is offered over a six-week period. The course is based on a participatory, active learning approach, with an emphasis on critical reflection and peer-to-peer learning. Participants will complete the required readings, prepare interim and final assignments, and participate in group discussions. Case studies will be used to enable interactive learning and activities. Students who successfully complete the course will receive a Certificate of Participation. It is also possible to audit the course.

Course outline

Week 1: Understanding Resilience: Overview of approaches often comprised by the term "resilience"
Week 2: Frameworks for Resilience: Comparison of operational definitions of resilience
Week 3: Case Studies: Resilience in the real world: what does it look like, and what do that data tell us?
Week 4: Resilience and Rights: Exploration of human rights and their intersection with resilience in the context of humanitarian crises
Week 5: Practical Applications: What about resilience is useful to your work?
Week 6: Resilient Futures: Examination of the practical and theoretical applications of "resilience" in the future, and identification of remaining questions

About the instructor

Gretchen Alther is a development specialist focused on the recovery of marginalised communities after humanitarian crises. She has designed and managed programs to support disaster relief, conflict zone aid, health, and community resilience projects in Myanmar, Pakistan, Nepal, Guatemala, Gaza, Colombia, Haiti, Afghanistan, and the United States. Most recently, Ms. Alther has been a Fellow at the East West Center in Honolulu, where she explored the role of experiential education in developing effective leadership. She currently facilitates sustainability leadership programs around the world. From 2006-2012, Gretchen was Senior Associate for Rights in Humanitarian Crises at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC). Before joining the UUSC she worked for the Centre for Development and Population Activities, including as Acting Country Director in Nepal, and served as an advisor for the American Friends Service Committee's Peace and Economic Security Program. She holds a B.A. in Latin American Studies and Natural Resource Management from Texas A&M University, an MA in Sustainable International Development from the Heller School of Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University and a postgraduate certificate from the East-West Center. She is also an instructor for HREA's Effective Leadership for Humanitarian Action and Social ChangeGender and Humanitarian Action and Human Rights in Humanitarian Action and Disaster Relief (Foundation Course) e-learning courses.

Who should apply

The course is intended for staff members of local, national, and international humanitarian and development organizations who are interested in exploring and discussing various concepts of resilience and their impact on humanitarian action and local communities. Participants should have a good written command of English --the working language of the course-- and have high competence and comfort with computer and Internet use. HREA aims to ensure equal gender and geographical distribution across the selected participants. The maximum number of course participants is 25.


Tuition fee for participants: US$ 575; tuition for auditors: US$ 215. There are no scholarships or discounted tuition rates available for this course.

Payments can be made online with major credit cards (Discover, MasterCard, Visa), PayPal, bank transfer and money transfer (Western Union, MoneyGram). Bulk rates are available.


Register for this course (opens in new window). Registrations are accepted on a first-come-first-served basis. There is no registration deadline, but please be aware that courses generally fill up quickly!

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