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Image of a gardener working on the grounds of Solomon Islands National Parliament taking in the view of the capital. Copyright: Commonwealth Secretariat. Credit: Tom Perry.

Building the resilience of small states to withstand shocks

March 2013 – June 2014
The Commonwealth is strengthening a framework that supports small states to withstand economic shocks and natural disasters.

Small states face a unique set of development challenges posed by their small size.  They are highly dependent on international trade and tourism for their economy and have high transport and communication costs. They are also highly vulnerable to the impact of external shocks including climate change, and global events such as the 2008 economic recession, which impacted their economy and society at a level unseen in larger economies. 

This heightened exposure to factors outside their control affects small states’ sustainable development.  Their development strategy must therefore focus on increasing their ability to counter and withstand economic shocks, natural disasters and extreme weather events. For example:

  • ensuring public resources are managed well
  • supporting trade
  • diversifying their economies to reduce dependency on imports and tourism.     
Commonwealth response: 

For over three decades, the Commonwealth has championed the cause of its small states members by raising international awareness of their vulnerability and their sustainable development needs. The Commonwealth Secretariat provides technical assistance focusing on building small states’ economic, social, institutional and environmental resilience to events outside their control.

In 2004, the Commonwealth worked with Professor Lino Briguglio from the University of Malta to develop a resilience framework. The framework included an index to measure countries’ ability to absorb external shocks to help them agree on priority areas for intervention. Now, ten years on, this work is being further strengthened and updated.

“For example, the global economic crisis highlighted the need to incorporate financial regulatory regimes and environmental management in the resilience index in order to safeguard development gains in small states”, said the Director of Economic Affairs at the Secretariat, Cyrus Rustomjee.

The Commonwealth has brought together a group of experts in economic, social, governance and environment fields from the three Small Island Developing States regions – Caribbean, Pacific and Africa, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Seas (AIMS) - to rethink the resilience framework.

A series of studies on building economic, social, institutional and environmental resilience has been commissioned to further this work.

These were presented at the Commonwealth’s Third Global Biennial Conference on Small States in St Lucia from 26 to 27 March 2014, which was held under the theme ‘Building Resilience in Small States’.


The new resilience framework can be embedded into small states’ national planning for development and will help governments determine priority areas for intervention. It could also help identify areas where the international community can support the efforts of small states to improve their resilience to shocks and help them to grow sustainably. 


Experts in the fields of economics, sociology, governance and environment from across the Caribbean, Pacific, and AIMS regions.