How one man, a city and an industry might find the seeds of success in adversity
Personal stories are always powerful, helping us to draw parallels and provide context to wider reasoning and purpose to our own lives. A couple of months ago we kicked off our 'Rising to the Resilience Challenge' session with one - a touching journey of ill fate, despair, perspective and resilience.
Duncan Wallace, CEO of Spinal Cure, an organisation ambitious to end the life sentence associated with spinal cord injury, recounted how over twenty years ago he was hit by an unlicensed, drunk driver in rural New Guinea and left unattended at the scene. Against all odds he survived the night, was eventually rescued, and has been living as a C 4/5 quadriplegic ever since.
As expected he has faced extreme personal challenges at every level; not only physical but also emotional and financial. As I sat there listening to the strength in his conviction I wondered what would have been my response if it was me lying on that very dirt road 30 years ago. Would I have the ability to transcend pass the weight of the seeming 'injustice', overcome the multiple challenges and then use the wisdom gleaned to pave a smoother road for those who have to undertake a similar journey?
Duncan is a man whose ability to adapt and positively redefine himself based on a set of circumstances out of his control, seems to align him to the exact definition of resilience. The whole room was captivated and inspired, personally I was touched by Duncan's story. I also take something bigger from it for the decisions we make as a business, an industry, and society. Resilience may seem like a buzz word, but stories like this really bring it to life and that there are common factors – adaptability, introspection, a balance between realism and optimism, an ability to handle adversity in the moment but also have the stamina to bounce back it make the most of what you have. “Resilience is about making a mosaic from all the broken pieces of your life” and that's what he left us with.
No one person is an island. Collaborative communities benefit us all.
Duncan was a hard act to follow – but the themes he touched on resonated on every level. A key factor to Duncan's recovery and ultimate success was the supportive relationships he had around him, our second speaker elaborated on this and spoke of the importance of collaborative communities.
Jon Collinge, Senior Sustainability Manager at Lend Lease said that true resilience can only be achieved when we all work together as a community. Our global response to climate change is a good example. If only some countries embraced the benefits of renewable energies and act to reduce carbon emissions, while the world’s biggest polluters do nothing, the net result remains in deficit of any real action.
Collaborative efforts on the other hand benefits from the multiplier effect. Our current response to natural disasters reveals a number of opportunities. The cost of natural catastrophes has skyrocketed with catastrophic disaster has cost society $US1.3 trillion in the last decade. We could potentially reduce the cost of disaster relief and recovery by 50 per cent, if investments in pre-disaster were made. Still, governments and insurers have struggled to find a way to collaborate and predict, prevent and manage potential harmful effects and lower costs, before disaster occurs.
Stepping up together to support all Australians
So what does this mean for us as an industry? For me, businesses such as Swiss Re have a crucial role to play in bringing our industry, and others, together to build resilience from the inside out. For an industry so steeped in tradition we know our environment is evolving, so how do we transform to best deliver what our customers need now and into the future? Technology has no doubt changed the game its affects spread along the entire value chain from risk evaluation, product development through to distribution. It also brings with it a heightened level of transparency, shifting the balance of power in favour of the customer. This is a significant paradigm shift, so how do we maintain a competitive edge?
Alison Martin, Head of Life and Health, Swiss Re shared a number of possible innovations such as utilising "wearables" to ensure that the elderly are taking their medication or that their blood sugar levels are maintained at safe levels. If we get it right - using data to derive the right insights and deliver products through the right technology channels – we will succeed in becoming a truly customer centric industry.
Our fundamental social purpose remains - as an industry - to look after people, places and property. These are people like Duncan, cities like Christchurch and property from cars to global infrastructure.
As the pace of change increases, no single one of us holds the key to all truth and knowledge. The Swiss Re culture is one of collaboration; to share knowledge and adapt to evolve with our clients and customers. Our attempts at exploring the multi-tiered challenge of resilience saw us engage in dialogue industry and subject matter experts but we're keen to continue the conversation further and wider.
A viable solution to addressing resilience, I suspect, lies in the nexus between individuals, our industry and the wider society – so what role will you play as part of the solution?
Category: Funding longer lives: Long-term care, Social contract, Climate/natural disasters: Climate change, Resilience
Location: Sydney CBD, New South Wales, Australia