Think you know what a CRO is? Don’t be so sure. There’s a new breed of CRO in town – the chief resilience officer

Each participating city in the Rockefeller Foundation-funded 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) project is appointing a chief resilience officer, whose salary will be paid by the foundation for the first two years of the project.

It is hoped that 100RC will help cities become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century.

To this end, the project is bringing together community leaders to share challenges and solutions from city to city and offer expertise to guide and advise each city’s chief resilience officer.

Swiss Re is a founding member of the 100RC project. As the reinsurer’s senior client manager vice-president global partnerships Alex Kaplan explains, the chief resilience officers will help to identify risk and implement effective strategies to improve resilience.

“Swiss Re had discussed the fact that corporations have chief risk officers, so why don’t governments have the same?” Kaplan says.

“Somebody who can work across all layers of government, break down the silos and identify in a holistic fashion the risks, exposures and how to tackle them and prioritise our solutions.”

Nearly 400 cities across six continents applied to be among the first cities selected to receive technical support and resources to improve their urban resilience over three years.

The cities from our region that are among the first 32 urban areas to be involved are Bangkok, Christchurch, Da Nang, Mandalay, Melbourne, Semarang and Surat. The next selection is expected to be announced towards the end of the year.

Weakening the fabric

The 100RC project takes a view of resilience that it not only applies to shocks such as earthquakes, fires and floods, but also to the stresses that weaken the fabric of a city on a day-to-day or cyclical basis. Examples of these stresses include high unemployment, an overtaxed or inefficient public transportation system, endemic violence, and chronic food and water shortages.

Kaplan believes local and national governments have generally not applied suitable economic strategies to cope with the unavoidable crises that have affected the world’s cities.

“Traditionally, cities and sustainability or emergency managers think about physical and social resilience of the population, but what they are not thinking about is economic resilience,” he says.

“What is the cost of inaction? What are we going to be forgoing in the future as a result of not putting in place proper mechanisms?”

Swiss Re decided to take a more proactive role in partnering with governments to determine ways they can transfer and reduce their contingent liabilities from the taxpayer and into the private market, Kaplan says.

“We analysed what governments have done historically to pay for disasters such as raising taxes, raising budgets, shifting money away from other important priorities to rebuild or they go to the capital markets and issue debt,” he explains.

“We believe those are relatively inefficient ways of paying for events that are bound to happen.”