Social Resilience in a Disrupted World

Calendar 25 Mar 2021
Time 8.00 pm – 8.40 pm, GMT+8 
Location Zoom


Beyond physical infrastructure and good decision-making, having a strong social compact is critical for cities to manage disruptions such as COVID-19 and climate change. With safe distancing now the norm, how can interventions such as Singapore’s Emerging Stronger Conversations and other international examples help cities maintain social ties and build resilience amongst its people?



Emerging Stronger Conversations Report (PDF: 3.2MB)

Slides by Prof Daniel Aldrich (PDF: 1.4MB)

Slides by Dawn Yip (PDF: 4.5MB)

Webinar Video


Webinar Takeaways

Social ties drive resilience and recovery

Prof Aldrich noted that like shocks and stresses that have occurred across time and space, one of the most critical drivers for resilience and recovery from the ongoing pandemic is connection—what social scientists call social infrastructure and social capital. Prof Aldrich emphasised that social ties make a difference before a shock arrives and noted that broader and more diverse connections help individuals listen to authorities’ direction to move out of danger. He shared how individuals who listened to authorities and left the city before Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, Texas in 2017 were those who had a broader set of connections and were thus able to receive different types of information from the people they spoke to. He also shared that during a crisis, social ties can also provide the collective action and mutual aid for people to work together to get through it, which was the case of Japan’s triple disaster in 2011, when survivors chose to return to rebuild their communities.

Ms Yip agreed, adding that collective efforts witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic such as individuals donating grants, giving out hand sanitizers and sewing masks when they were at a shortage in Singapore, spoke well of the social resilience and connections that exist. Prof Aldrich added that after a shock is over these, same ties bring people back to invest in rebuilding their community during the recovery phase.

Moving beyond consumers to partners

Ms Yip shared that in context of the pandemic and the complex challenges of today, the Singapore Together movement strives to grow mutual trust, care and social ties to build a more resilient city with Singaporeans. It was an opportunity for Singapore to listen to the ground and partner citizens in taking action to emerge stronger. The government leveraged on three Ds—Diverse, Digital and Deep—to facilitate inclusive and intimate conversations. The conversations led to 19 Alliances for Action (Afa) to promote collaboration and action across different topics such as sustainability and healthcare. One such Afa was formed by the National Council of Social Service, SG Enable, and community partners to collaborate on enhanced support for caregivers of persons with disabilities, through the development of peer support and informal support networks. Ground feedback culminated in a Caregiver Action Map with more than 60 ideas to improve self-care and mutual support amongst caregivers.

Starting small to build social resilience

Prof Aldrich pointed out that while social scientists are thinking about ways to capture social infrastructure and resilience, Social resilience can be as simple as understanding daily routines, peoples’ comfort level in the community, or even the names of our neighbours. Ms Yip noted that ultimately, social cohesion can be derived from the various aspects of connectedness, social relations and common good, all of which are present in our everyday lives.

Prof Aldrich also shared that social ties can be deliberately built over time through both bottom-up and top-down methods like engagement in community currency, time banking, where individuals are rewarded when they volunteer to help those in need or simply getting to know their neighbours, or participating in community planning exercises. In building capacity to cultivate social ties amongst people, Ms Yip opined that we can start small and experiment with new approaches to bring people together. She added that we are all “social beings” and “the building of social capital comes natural to us”.

Enhancing social infrastructure through physical infrastructure

Prof Aldrich noted that city planners are often invest more in physical infrastructure, a point that Ms Yip admitted is challenging because of the “invisibility of social infrastructure”. She encouraged them to start recognising social infrastructure and develop the “the will and resources to build it.” A small increase in a city’s expenditure on social infrastructure and to habitually engage the very society for which the infrastructure is being built for, is a step in the right direction.

Prof Aldrich also highlighted how physical infrastructure can enhance social infrastructure. For example, urban design can widen one’s social network – open spaces, parks and green spaces can provide spaces for people to hold block parties and social events. The City of Boston is investing in climate resilience planning with residents, businesses and regional partners to identify coastal resilience solutions. Waterfront parks and plazas are designed to provide effective flood protection but also programmed for social activities such as farmer’s markets and community gardens, that can increase community cohesion. He highlighted that public space should always be inclusive and accessible, especially towards the vulnerable who are often most affected by shocks and stresses. As Mr Koh summarised, in planning for the new normal going forward, city leaders should balance the need for social and physical infrastructure and facilitate social cohesion in physical or new virtual social spaces.


About the Speakers


Professor Daniel Aldrich

Prof Daniel P. Aldrich
Professor of Political Science, Public Policy and Urban Affairs and Director of the Security and Resilience Studies Program, Northeastern University

Prof Aldrich is full professor of Political Science, Public Policy and Urban Affairs and Director of the Security and Resilience Studies Program at Northeastern University. He researches post-disaster recovery, countering violent extremism, the siting of controversial facilities and the interaction between civil society and the state.
An award-winning author of five books and more than 60 peer-reviewed articles, he contributes to a variety of news outlets including The New York Times, The Atlantic, NPR, and MSNBC and speaks regularly to NGOs and governments around the world on the importance of social ties in crises.

Dawn Yip

Dawn Yip
Coordinating Director, Partnerships Project Office, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth

Dawn is Coordinating Director, Partnerships Project Office, at the Ministry of Culture, Community and and Youth. The office spearheads the Singapore Together movement in partnership with public agencies and the people of Singapore. Dawn was previously an independent consultant in foresight, public engagement and organisation development. She was also visiting faculty with the Singapore Management University Master of Tri-Sector Collaboration. Dawn was previously part of the Singapore Government’s Administrative Service, holding positions in the Ministry of National Development, Ministry of Health, Prime Minister's Office, Civil Service College and Ministry of Trade & Industry. Dawn is a Harvard University alumnus and a Singapore President's Scholar.

Michael Koh

Michael Koh
Executive Fellow, Centre for Liveable Cities

Mr Michael Koh has 25 years of experience in the public service including 7 years as CEO of the National Heritage Board and 4 years concurrently as CEO of the National Art Gallery. He was also the former Director of Urban Planning & Design at the Urban Redevelopment Authority where he spearheaded the planning and urban design of the new mixed use Downtown at Marina Bay, revitalisation of Orchard Road as a shopping street and creation of an arts and entertainment district at Bras Basah Bugis.



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