THE CURRENCY OF CONNECTIONS: Why do Social Connections Matter for Household Resilience in South Sudan?

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In protracted crises in which formal governance structures are weak to nonexistent, people depend
heavily on local systems—both social and economic—to get by, often more than they depend on external
aid. Communities themselves are often the first responders in a crisis, reacting long before the arrival of
humanitarian actors. Research on resilience across a range of contexts demonstrates the importance of social
connections, particularly in times of crisis, in enabling populations to manage shocks and stresses.
Social connectedness manifests in many forms: Communities may rely on their immediate neighbors,
extended family or clan chieftains for food, access to economic opportunities, and psychosocial support, or
to negotiate safe passage when fleeing from a conflict or when later returning to their communities of origin.
It is thus critical that aid actors understand how social connections and external assistance interact to better
help conflict-affected populations cope and recover.
However, social connectedness is not always a source of household resilience. Social connectedness is
inherently linked to social hierarchies and power dynamics. “Connectedness” for some households may imply
marginalization or exclusion for others. By considering social connectedness throughout program cycles,
including in design, implementation, and evaluation phases, aid actors can more holistically understand bases
of household vulnerability as well as sources of resilience during crises. These nuanced insights can be used
to ensure that formal assistance reaches households in most need, including ones that may be excluded from
local support systems, to better achieve recovery and resilience outcomes. Equally, by understanding social
connectedness, aid actors may be able to strengthen, or at the very least not undermine local support systems.
This report is the last in a series from the Currency of Connections research initiative between Mercy Corps
and the Feinstein International Center at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, at Tufts
University with support from the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). The series is based on
mixed methods research conducted among resident, internally displaced, and refugee communities in South
Sudan and Uganda. This report employs a sequential exploratory mixed method design to:
1 Investigate the ways in which households rely on their social connections in the context of protracted
conflict and instability, highlighting the ways in which external interventions influence these local systems
of coping and support;
2 Explore the linkages between households’ social connectedness and resilience by constructing and testing
a contextualized quantitative measure of social connectedness.
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