Why This Funder is Backing a Database for Disaster

The Rockefeller Foundation is one of the most active funders working in the field of “resilience,” the capacity of communities to survive and adapt amid rapid change. It just renewed support for a continuing project to build an online exchange of ideas to solve emerging threats.

The foundation just extended funding for Portland-based Ecotrust to build a network of institutions working on resilience, and its Resilience Exchange, a database of solutions that will allow groups to swap tactics freely. Rockefeller's renewal grant for the project is $400,000. 

Given the rapidly changing planet and novel crises cropping up on all sides, climate change-caused and otherwise, communities need all the help they can get, and shouldn’t be working in a vacuum. The finished product of the Resilience Exchange will act as a storefront that partners can browse for the best tools out there—hence the App Store analogy. 

For example, one nonprofit looking to restore eroded floodplains could look up the past experience of another organization in a different location and replicate what worked for them. Likewise for groups establishing sustainable fisheries, or cities responding to heat waves and storms.

But Rockefeller hopes more original reuse of methods will happen once the ball gets rolling, breaking down programs into individual components that can be adapted piecemeal. An example it offers is adapting a system for tracking fishing activity to be used by healthcare workers tracking disease.

Rockefeller gave initial two-year funding back in 2012 for $400,000, and while Ecotrust is managing the project now, the idea is to make it an independent entity. Of the charter members, Rockefeller is the only primarily grantmaking institution, with nine other nonprofits including Oxfam, MercyCorp and Blue Solutions on board.   

The project is currently in a pilot stage with a prototype platform; a beta launch is planned for the end of 2014, with a public launch in 2015. 

Rockefeller is one of a handful of funders diving into the concept of resilience, or adaptation, particularly as it relates to climate change. It’s kind of a buzzword that covers a lot of typical environmental work, but the approach is about building communities and regions that can emerge strong from a wide range of shocks and stresses to their systems. 

In part, it’s a way of presenting environmentalism through a different lens, without trying to return to an earlier period. Rockefeller acknowledges rapid change, and wants to make communities better for it, often focusing on cities.

Learn more about the Resilience Exchange in a presentation from last month here, and read more about the major funders in this area in a roundup we wrote earlier this year: 

Related: Resilience is Hot Among Climate Funders. Here's Who Is Out Front Prepping for Doom