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Societal Dynamics and Fragility: Engaging Societies in Responding to Fragile Situations

July 17, 2013


Key Findings
  • Building Social Cohesion is Crucial for Reducing Fragility.
  • Social Cohesion is Often Weakened by Perceptions of Injustice Between Groups.
  • The Quality of Interactions Among Different Institutions Appears Strongly Related to Overall Social Cohesion.

Today's world is changing at breakneck speed, shaking the very foundations of many societies. Increased mobility through massive urbanization and migration allows people unprecedented access to different cultures and ideas; advanced technologies speed the pace of human interaction; the globalization of communication offers new forms of social relationships that may directly contradict traditional norms for behavior. These changes create tremendous stresses on relationships in societies - affecting the way youth interact with their elders, the way women and men relate to each other, how urban migrants and refugees relate to their new environments, and so on.

The impacts of these changes are felt acutely in 'fragile' situations, where groups and institutions struggle to adapt to the stresses of rapid social change. In the worst cases, where fragility has given way to open violence - people are more than twice as likely to be malnourished, more than three times as likely to be unable to send their children to school, twice as likely to see their children die before age five, and more than twice as likely to lack clean water. In addition to these domestic challenges, the costs of fragility often spill over to neighboring regions in the form of trafficking in illegal goods and persons, corruption, and violence. 'Societal Dynamics and Fragility' frames a fresh approach to these challenges, by focusing on improving relationships across groups and institutions in society.

Drawing on case studies from Yemen, Liberia, Haiti, Central African Republic and Aceh, the report frames fragility as a problem not only of state capacity, but also of relationships in society. Through this lens, the report advocates for adapting development interventions to build social cohesion and bridge divides across groups, in addition to enhancing the state's capacity to engage with different groups in society. The report's findings are already being operationalized in the field, by supporting re-engagement strategies in the Middle East, post-conflict and youth integration operations in Africa, and urban development in Latin America.