This content was originally published on The Resilience Shift website. The Resilience Shift, a 5-year programme supported by Lloyd’s Register Foundation and hosted by Arup, transitioned at the end of 2021 to become Resilience Rising. You can read more about The Resilience Shift’s journey and the transition to Resilience Rising here.

“It made me think, are we actually learning? I’m not sure whether people are actually taking the time to rethink and let go of what they have believed for 40-50 years, and create space for new thinking”

In Round 5 our conversations with participants turned to how the pandemic, like any crisis, shines a spotlight on the pre-existing condition of our critical systems (teams, organizations, cities or society at large). The light in Covid-19’s case is particularly strong, but its light shines neutrally. What it reveals, however, can be suprising strength or troubling weakness.

To start with the weakness, a few examples. One city Chief Resilience Officer explained, perhaps unsurprisingly, how deprivation or wealth inequality in cities is certainly not a new or unique issue. It has always been there but the crisis makes it so much more obvious, and: “If you don’t deal with the realities of those distributions of social and economic problems, it becomes a vulnerability for your city’s overall resilience.”

Another CRO expressed shock at how historic bureaucratic hostilities between different tiers of government are severely impeding their city’s ability to provide and fund much needed testing facilities. “It’s not a personal thing. It’s well-meaning people in a fractured system.” Such institutional reluctance to collaborate may be a source of irritation in normal times and seem not worth the trouble of repairing, but in a pandemic it can have truly dire consequences.

Another of the CROs shared how institutionalised norms regarding marriage and what constitutes a family, founded in the nation’s dominant religious culture, effectively marginalises whole sections of the population during lockdown, as their choice as to whom they may lock down with is curtailed by regulation. Will such biases be allowed to remain undisturbed as we come out of this?

By contrast, the Covid spotlight is illuminating some striking pre-existing strengths. One participant, a native of Denmark but working in the US, shared how the Danish government had, from the outset, urged all Danes to return home and be taken care of there. “That was an eye-opener: ‘This country takes care of its citizens!’ And our universal healthcare system makes you feel safe. I can see the huge difference. I feel safe here, I am not hurrying back to the US.”

At risk of stating the obvious, our conversations this week reminded us in a tangible way that an external threat like a virus or natural disaster never arrives to find a clean slate. The health and resilience of the human and human-made systems it meets will determine its destructive power. This sharp lesson seems so clear in the heat of the working-out of a crisis. The maturity of our leadership may be what decides whether we remember it and build back stronger in the aftermath.