What we've learned

From the two years of experience of the PfRR in South Sudan, we have learned that determining priorities “in-house” within international and local communities is a key first step for these two communities to then engage in meaningful dialogue around their collaboration. Our learning related to facilitating this process of coordination and multi-stakeholder collaboration can be summed up in the following three slogans:

“Community First, But Not Alone.” People are resilient. Communities are already committed to the journey of self-reliance, but they need technical and material assistance, which may come from the outside.

“Go with the Grain.” The first issue of concern is social cohesion among the people, institutions, and systems that comprise each community, as well as the relationship between them. These issues should be approached with a conflict sensitivity lens and an understanding of the inner logic of how each operates to work with and reinforce them to strengthen household and community resilience. Aside from significant progress in determining processes and structures that can advance geographically based partnerships, other important learning focuses on social cohesion and its relationship with resilience.

“It Takes Two Hands to Clap.” The international and local community actors are both communities, each with their own internal structures, processes, and logics. Coordination can be strengthened separately, and then a space created for meaningful interaction across these communities. Investing in a sufficient level of coherence and connectivity at the PA level is necessary for the Partnership Approach to be effective, and for accelerated convergence to deliver the intended results of the PfRR. While still in its early days, the building block framework currently under development among PfRR partners offers exciting   potential to build this vertical and horizontal coherence among local actors in the PAs, among the international community, and between the two.  


Some key findings follow:

       We note that people and communities tend to compete and cooperate over the same assets, depending on conditions. However, some assets exhibit more conflict, while others more cooperation. Specifically, land, livestock, and forests experience higher levels of conflict while markets and agricultural developments experience higher levels of cooperation.

     Conflict tends to center more on inter-communal relations (between communities) than intra-communal relations (within community). The internal cohesion within ethnic communities is rather strong in South Sudan. However, dysfunctional links to the state increase conflict, as some politicians tend to divide communities by appealing to their interests, particularly competition over resources.

       Conflict tends to be higher in communities that experience environmental shocks, whereas cooperation is higher in communities that practice environmental conservation.

       Resilience is experienced differently by men and women, female- and male-headed households, and across age groups. It also differs by location, with some evidencing a disproportionate reliance on adaptive capacities (like educational level); assets (particularly livestock, seeds, and tools); social safety nets (including access to finance); and access to basic services (like schools). It is certainly not a “one size fits all” approach but requires the right inputs at the right time given a range of context specific factors—not least of which is the type of shocks and stresses.

       Still, what is clear across South Sudan is that the traditional institutions do go with the grain and follow the flow of community. While they have been weakened through successive shocks of war, they still have the trust of the people and can contribute significantly to resilience. For traditional institutions to participate fully in the Partnership, they need transport, communications, and administrative capacity. In addition, their relationship with local governments needs to be mutually reinforcing; these institutions are also playing an indispensable role that cannot be ignored or sidelined even as civil society organizations (CSOs) emerge to complement the roles of these more formal institutions.

The PfRR represents a challenge to build greater coherence across actors, sectors, and levels. To achieve these goals requires various forms of cooperation, most importantly at international and local levels, but also between these two communities. The partnership must recognize this need by adopting an approach that is compatible with the inner logic of each of those communities and the interface between them.


The high-level conclusions of this case study follow:

  • In fragile states, with recurrent crises and civil insecurity, resilience capacities still exist that can, while weakened, be identified, assessed, and strengthened.
  •  Social cohesion is critical to understand and integrate into fragile states as a foundation to build community-led resilience programming. 
  • When it comes to the international and local communities, there is a need for “two hands clapping” to ensure that locally identified needs, priorities, and resources are respected and incorporated into inclusive resilience programming. 
  •  Backbone support to the Partnership—in terms of technical leadership—must be seen as an honest broker to play its facilitative role. 
  •  While “community first” has to be the starting point, the Partnership is not “community alone” but a collaboration of partners between the international and local     communities. 
  • The agent of resilience programming is a “person within community”.
  • A strong, flexible, easy-to-explain, and periodically reviewed methodological approach for PfRR is necessary.
  •  By managing community expectations from the outset, particularly with regard to resources that might become available through the Partnership, much confusion can be    avoided. 
  •  In a fragile state focusing on resilience is a means to achieve greater impacts of programming by building resilience capacities and agency.