“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable”. Rebecca Solnit

How do we interrupt the anxiety and trauma of escalating and converging crises to sustain a capacity for hope that can help us drive a different future? There seem to be more and more people giving voice to this question. I’ve been calling this concept ‘strategic hope’. Here are some of my thoughts, open to critique and feedback, on what it might be.

Strategic hope is a multifaceted concept that intersects disciplines such as psychology, sociology, organisational development and more. It embodies the idea that hope, when harnessed intentionally and strategically, can play a critical role in building shared resilience in communities and organizations facing disruption.

Strategic hope transcends passive optimism or wishful thinking. It acknowledges the gravity of threats but retains active belief that through collaborative effort, we can navigate challenges and build a better future. This hope is strategic in the sense that it requires vision, intention, foresight, planning, and the deliberate allocation of resources—emotional, social, intellectual, and physical—to overcome obstacles. It is not based on positivity alone, but on channelling hope into pragmatic pathways forward. And it has a bias to action.

Unlike blind optimism or wishful thinking, strategic hope acknowledges the severity and complexity of challenges but still proposes that we identify and navigate pathways to envision and work towards a better future. I propose key components of strategic hope include

It is Goal-Oriented: Strategic hope involves a forward-looking orientation that is not just wishful thinking but is anchored in specific goals or visions of a better future. It’s about believing in the possibility of positive outcomes despite current adversities.

It includes Pathways Thinking: Strategic hope emphasises the need to identify and pursue viable paths to achieve desired goals towards transformation. It involves strategic planning and the ability to navigate obstacles, embodying a proactive approach to problem-solving.

It supports Agency and Action: Agency refers to the belief in one’s capacity to initiate and sustain actions towards goal achievement. In the context of strategic hope, it underscores the importance of both personal and collective empowerment, action and efficacy.

Factors Contributing to Strategic Hope

  • Vision: A clear and compelling vision of a desired future that serves as a beacon for collective action can foster hope by defining a sense of direction and purpose.
  • Social Support and Solidarity: Communities and organizations that exhibit strong social bonds, a sense of solidarity, and supportive networks are better positioned to cultivate hope.
  • Agency: The belief in the capacity of individuals and groups to effect change, is crucial for fostering engagement and sustained action.
  • Alliances and Collaboration: The ability to work across boundaries, and with unusual partners, leveraging diverse skills, knowledge, and resources.
  • Adaptive Capacity: The ability to adapt to changing circumstances and to learn from adversity is crucial. This includes flexibility in strategies and openness to new information and approaches to deal with changing circumstances.
  • Resource Availability: Access to resources, whether they be financial, material, or informational, enables communities to act upon their strategies for overcoming challenges.
  • Resilience Skills: Development of skills such as problem-solving, emotional regulation, and critical thinking that support resilience.

The Role of Hope in Resilience Building

Strategic hope plays a role in resilience building by focusing on the possibilities for transformation rather than simply resisting disruption or recovering to a status quo. An orientation towards strategic hope includes:

Reimagining Systems: Encouraging the redesign of socio-economic, environmental, and political systems based on principles of sustainability, equity, and inclusivity.

  • Cultivating Learning Cultures: Promoting cultures that value learning, adaptation, and the ability to pivot in response to feedback and changing scenarios.
  • Fostering Innovation: Stimulating creative solutions and innovations that address root causes of challenges rather than symptoms.
  • Empowering Communities: Mobilizing communities to participate actively in the transformation process, ensuring that change is bottom-up as well as top-down.
  • Enhancing Coping Strategies: Encouraging the development of coping strategies that are not merely reactive but are proactive and forward-looking. This can transform challenges into opportunities for growth and development.
  • Encouraging Collective Action: By uniting individuals and groups around shared goals and visions for the future, an orientation of strategic hope can mobilise collective action. This is particularly important in addressing global challenges that require cooperation across borders.
  • Sustaining Effort and Persistence: The motivational aspect of hope can sustain individuals’ and communities’ efforts over time, even when faced with setbacks or slow progress. It helps maintain resilience by preventing despair and promoting persistence.
  • Promoting Psychological Well-being: Hope has been linked to psychological well-being, reducing stress and anxiety. By fostering a positive outlook, it can contribute to the emotional resilience needed to navigate adversity.

Beyond Bouncing Back

In moving beyond the idea of ‘bouncing back’, this kind of hope focuses on using crises as opportunities for significant transformation. It provides an orientation amidst uncertainty, and the motivation when problems seem overwhelming. By acknowledges that simply returning to how things were may simply perpetuate vulnerabilities and injustices, it considers crises as openings for metamorphic innovation, not an impetus for a reversion to old normals. Strategic hope can help us navigate uncertain futures with intentionality, purpose and a distinct emphasis on action, realism, and the pursuit of goals, rather than merely cultivating positive emotions

Strategic hope is about harnessing collective energies and resources to not just survive challenges but to make use of the opportunity for transformation to bring about meaningful  change that can result in better flourishing. It marks a shift from resilience as recovery to resilience as renewal and rebirth. When carefully implemented, strategic hope can also avoid the pitfalls often associated with positive psychology, such as the risk of minimising serious issues through overly optimistic thinking or promoting inaction through passive hope..

There are several ways to ensure that strategic hope remains grounded and effective, avoiding the traps of becoming merely ‘talk and no action’. To achieve this we need to:

Ground Hope in Reality

Strategic hope begins with a realistic assessment of the current situation, acknowledging challenges and barriers. This critical step ensures that hope is not based on denial or wishful thinking but is rooted in the complexities of real-world issues. By recognizing the scale and severity of problems, strategic hope becomes a driver for action rather than complacency.

Take an Action-Oriented Approach

At its core, strategic hope is about coupling hope with action. It involves setting specific, achievable goals and developing concrete plans to reach these goals. This approach contrasts with the criticism that positive psychology might encourage a passive form of optimism. Strategic hope is proactive, focusing on mobilizing resources, creating action plans, and taking tangible steps towards desired outcomes.

Build Agency

One of the key factors contributing to strategic hope is agency—the belief in one’s ability to effect change. This involves empowering individuals and communities with the skills, knowledge, and resources needed to act. By fostering a sense of agency, strategic hope encourages active participation in problem-solving and resilience-building, rather than passive waiting for situations to improve.

Foster Collective Action

Strategic hope recognises the importance of collective efforts over individual endeavours. It encourages collaboration and partnership, leveraging the strengths and resources of diverse groups to tackle complex challenges. This collective approach ensures that strategic hope leads to broad-based action and systemic change, rather than isolated efforts that may have limited impact.

Cultivate Critical Reflection

Strategic hope encourages critical reflection on actions taken, outcomes achieved, and lessons learned. This reflective practice ensures that efforts are not just about relentless positivity but about learning from both successes and failures. Through critical reflection, strategic hope maintains a focus on growth and improvement, rather than mere positive thinking.

Incorporate Feedback and Adaptation

An essential aspect of strategic hope is its adaptability. It involves continuous monitoring, feedback, and adjustment of strategies based on outcomes and new information. This dynamic approach ensures that actions remain relevant and effective, even as situations evolve. By being responsive to feedback, strategic hope avoids the trap of rigidly adhering to plans that may no longer be viable.

A Call to Action

Strategic hope is a rallying cry – a framework for navigating uncertain futures with purpose and intention. It isn’t passive optimism or wishful thinking. It doesn’t fall into the traps of positive psychology. With its bias to action, it is a call to harness our collective energies and vision for transformation. True resilience doesn’t mean bouncing back to old vulnerabilities and injustices. It means recognising – and moving away from (resiling from) those ways of being and doing that do not serve us well. Strategic hope powers the momentum to seize opportunities for metamorphic change – birthing new, more sustainable and equitable systems.

This nuanced, forward-looking and practical approach  involves more than just manifesting positive emotions. It means grounding our hopes in reality, setting achievable goals, and taking tangible steps through strategic planning and collective action. It requires cultivating agency – empowering individuals and communities with the skills and resources to drive change. And it depends on ongoing critical reflection, incorporating feedback to adapt our strategies as situations evolve.

In the face of the converging, complex, interconnected challenges that often seem intractable and insurmountable, adopting this actionable, collaborative mindset is pivotal. It help us navigate uncertainty not by clinging to an unsustainable past, but by reimagining and reshaping our systems and ways of living. With clear visions, viable pathways, and a shared sense of empowerment, we can build the resilience thrive through transformation.

Leave a Comment