Stay up to date with all the latest from Shared Value Project by signing up to our eNewsletter

Disaster preparedness: Shifting to a resilience focus

August 9, 2021

By Noah Grundy

It’s common knowledge – natural disasters are increasing in number and severity. But when the problem affects everyone, what makes individual actors step up? How can government, business, and community work together to build disaster resilience?

This year’s Shared Value Summit Asia Pacific – broadcast live from Melbourne on 17 June – featured a thematic track on disaster resilience, co-sponsored by NAB and IAG. Opening the session, Connie Sokaris, Executive of Corporate Finance at NAB, admitted: “For many of us working in this area, there still appears to be more questions than answers: How do we co-design with communities in the driver’s seat? How do we incentivise people and businesses to invest in their resilience? How do we work together… to play a role in reducing the risk and severity of disasters in the future?”

To set the scene around the cost to modern society, Deloitte found natural disasters cost Australia $9 billion in 2015, predicting this would triple by 2050. In 2020, a single storm across Queensland and New South Wales incurred insurance losses of $985 million.

With urbanisation set to reach 70 per cent by 2050, Lauren Sorkin, Executive Director at the Resilient Cities Network, said the solution starts in our cities. “In order to survive, our cities must be strong… urban resilience is the pathway to [a better] future,” Lauren said.

This requires a common understanding of the problem, she added. “Resilience is practical. Once we define the outcome we want to achieve and understand the needs of communities, corporations can [enact] solutions, orienting them with a shared value approach towards those needs.”

Andrea Davis, Senior Director of Global Emergency Management and Business Continuity at Walmart, said urban resilience and business operations are synergistic. “With the scope and size of Walmart, any crisis in any one of our locations around the globe has an impact, because of the supply chain impact. If we cannot get resources, no one has resources.”

When Sarah Downie, Shared Value Project CEO, highlighted concerns that government, not business, should take the lead, Andrea said government can’t keep up. “There just aren’t the dollars there, and unfortunately, we have seen that crises become political. We just saw this [in the United States] with COVID.”

To orient the panel segment, Jennifer Cobley, Executive Manager of Disaster Resilience at IAG, made the business case for disaster resilience. “Targeted investment in mitigation will significantly reduce the cost of disaster recovery. We need to identify what’s needed to shift from a recovery focus to what’s needed for disaster resilience.”

Andrew Buay, Vice President of Group Corporate Sustainability at Singtel & Optus, agreed. “When we experienced, for example, the recent bushfires and floods in New South Wales, we could see that the impact to our infrastructure, and hence our customers, was a lot lower than prior disasters, when we hadn’t [adapted] some parts of our infrastructure.”

Maree Grenfell, Manager of City Resilience and Sustainable Futures at the City of Melbourne, introduced a public sector perspective. Defects in urban systems have widespread impacts, she said. “It’s really important when we talk about shared value to talk about shared responsibility… We have uncovered that very little work has been done in this space.”

But, perhaps past failures can guide the solution. We cannot sustain a recovery approach forever, said Jimmy Scott, General Manager of Resilience at Queensland Reconstruction Authority. “Nationally the catastrophic bushfires really tested the limits of our response and recovery capabilities. [But] we have learnt a lot through the recovery process that can be applied to a resilience perspective. We must be agile and scalable. We must have locally led [resilience]. But that requires regional coordination [which] must be supported the private sector. The challenges to be overcome far exceed the reach of government alone.”

To close the discussion, Ramana James, Executive General Manager for Safer Communities at IAG, pressed audience members to acknowledge the business opportunity. While the “increasing chronic stressors and acute disruptions are complex, and in some cases wicked, there is significant momentum,” he said. “The shared value model has to play an important role in the solution… I’d encourage you to think about how you can apply the learnings from today [and] to realise that resilience creates opportunities for business”.

The Shared Value APAC Summit was held on 17 June 2021 in partnership with major sponsor AIA Australia and supporting sponsors IAG, NAB and PwC Australia.

Missed this year’s event? Don’t fret! We’ve launched a first-ever on-demand ticket, to give you access to the Summit’s full program of keynotes, panel discussions and lightbulb presentations for the next three months. Find out more by visiting