Pathways to Resilience

Project leader

Prof. Linda Theron


The Pathways to Resilience study ( is a five country study, initiated by Prof Michael Ungar (Dalhousie University, Canada). From 2009-2014, the overall aim of this study was to understand the formal services and informal resources that encouraged youth resilience in high-risk contexts in Canada, China, Colombia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Project researchers paid close attention to how these various resources that support youth resilience processes are impacted by culture. We defined resilience as a process of positive adjustment to chronically adverse life circumstances (e.g., poverty, being orphaned, or having experienced sexual/other violence, etc.). Importantly, we based our study on the Social Ecology of Resilience theory, which explains that adjusting well to hardship is not a youth-driven process. Instead, it is a process in which at-risk youth and their social ecology (e.g., their families, schools, churches, local services, etc.) collaborate, in culturally meaningful ways, to achieve positive outcomes. In other words, for youth to adjust well in life, social ecologies (including schools) have an important role to play.

In South Africa, Pathways research took place in the Thabo Mofutsanyana District of the Free State province. The research team collaborated with an Advisory Panel that consisted of local adults who interacted regularly with local youth and who had a deep understanding of the risks that local youths faced and how/why some youth did well in life, despite these risks. This Advisory Panel overviewed the entire research process and supported researchers to interact with 1209 local youths. To better understand the risks and resilience processes of these 1209 South African youths who participated, we gathered quantitative data using the Pathways to Resilience Youth Measure (PRYM). To understand both their risk and resilience more deeply, we also invited 243 youth to generate qualitative data using focus group interviews and visual participatory methods.