Resilience Through Social Networks
Climate change is accelerating and intensifying the sort of natural events that people have dealt with since humans first appeared on earth. And where people in the past may have coped with their local catastrophe unknown to anyone not in the immediate area or happening to pass through, today a community in the throes of a natural disaster has instant access to help in a range of forms from friends and colleagues around the world. From my vantage point in the adventure travel arena I’ve seen this play out numerous times in countries from every hemisphere. One nice example comes from Ecuador.
Ecuador's diversity, both human and ecological is a source of strength and weakness for people living here. During the oil boom (2006 - 2014 when GDP rose four percent each year), the public sector and international aid partners funded projects aimed at strengthening rural livelihoods through sustainable tourism. People living in and around the country's protected areas (nearly forty percent of the land in Ecuador is designated as a national park or protected area) were encouraged to learn about sustainable tourism as a means of generating income in harmony with the environment. Entrepreneurs emerged from the most unlikely villages as progressive local people honed their skills as nature guides, hoteliers, and tour operators basing their businesses on the dense natural opportunities.
Periodically, however disaster would strike: a volcano, an earthquake, a mudslide, or all three - destroying homes, businesses, and perhaps most significantly, challenging the resolve of fledgling and established businesses alike. In these situations the entrepreneurs in Ecuador taught me about the value of social networks, and how crucial these relationships are to survival as the predictable patterns of life on Earth are dramatically changing. Relationships built over time between business partners now took on a new dimension. When disaster struck, such as when Cotopaxi erupted in August, 2015, business owners reached out to their friends and colleagues across the globe, mobilizing direct help and support. They used their networks to share up to date and hyper local information not reported by national and international news, and to target specific trade partners with trust and interest in visiting in the months after the volcano’s eruption, bringing business to an area where it was desperately needed.
It was remarkable to observe the quick shifts that were made, as relationships for years focused on business transformed into business-as-disaster-relief. As communities continue to learn how to adapt and thrive through climate change these kinds of trade – turned – aid relationships will become more frequent and common.