Daniel Sullivan is Breaking Silos

The Chief Resilience Officer of Cape Town on fostering buy-in, navigating the Covid 19 pandemic and going from a team of eight to a function of 20.

Building resilience became real for Daniel Sullivan in January 2018. He had previously helped bring public participation and community engagement in the development of Cape Town’s resilience strategy and was now contributing to the city’s water strategy. But planning for the possibility of reaching Day Zero—the day when Cape Town would entirely run out of water—was the first real crisis he had to face.

The crisis happened early in the city’s resilience journey. Six months before, Daniel had asked if the city’s water supply system could withstand water scarcity. When no one had an answer to his question, it was a tipping point for Daniel and the city’s resilience journey.

As Daniel puts it, he asked the question in the right place to the right people—a team that was discovering vulnerabilities to changing rainfall patterns and who knew how to apply a resilience framing to the challenge.

“I shared that with the team and was able to get them around me with a rallying call for the city to address not just day zero but to develop a long-term strategy to provide access to water and build water resilience,” he explains.

At first sight, Daniel’s resilience trajectory seems like an organic path for him to grow—as part of the policy team, he had contributed to the water, Covid-19 and energy crisis responses and was bringing resilience principles into different policies. Despite this, Daniel needed a push from his colleagues to apply for the Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) position.

“At that point in time, I was building the policy team in the city—it was exciting and evolving, I was happy. And I wasn’t quite sure what the resilience function was going to look like.” Reflecting on it now, “it certainly has been the right decision. The chief resilience officer position has broadened my horizons. I am part of other conversations happening in the city and globally—with relevant recommendations. When the city has faced challenges, we have turned around and said, well, we’ve got a solution we have been working on. Being part of that response has been great.”

The role of the Chief Resilience Officer was initially created in Cape Town to develop the resilience strategy and oversee its implementation and monitoring—as it happened in many other member cities. With time, the CRO role expanded to tackle the city’s evolving challenges.

In February 2023, Daniel was appointed as Director of Resilience of Cape Town. Within just five months, he reached a significant milestone by integrating the city’s risk management, business continuity and resilience functions. This organizational change allowed the team to expand from eight to 20 members, reflecting the increasing importance of embedding an integrated approach to resilience within the local government.

To Daniel, the position is a consolidation of efforts. Developing the resilience strategy and creating the CRO position were essential at the start of the city’s resilience journey. Nowadays, “to attain systemic resilience in Cape Town, we need everybody in the city to be able to take a Resilience Officer-type role,” says Daniel. As the function evolves, the “most important, most helpful thing out of the resilience strategy has been the resilience index.” The index brings a clear understanding of the gaps and priorities of the city and enables the resilience office to work within the interlinkages of risk.

“The conversation we’re having within the city now is, do we still need the resilience strategy to drive resilience, or do we need a resilience office that embeds resilience into all policies and plans across the city? And, you know, we’re leaning more towards the latter.”


When reflecting on the proudest moments of his resilience journey, Daniel mentions his mixed feelings about working on the city’s Covid-19 response. “On the one hand, being there in the city, responsible for helping to coordinate the Covid-19 response, was a privilege—my kids were proud and glad that Dad was involved, which meant that everything was going to be OK. But for me, at the time, it was just exhausting and extremely stressful to navigate.”

Daniel has found profound meaning in his role, especially when he helps respond to the city’s challenges with tools he helped create. This is exactly what happened when the energy crisis hit in the middle of 2022. “We brought in our business continuity team, which was given greater purpose during the Covid-19 response— this inspired the framing of the city’s energy strategy into a long- term energy resilience strategy.”

Not all the work that the resilience team develops is implemented by them, and Daniel knows it. “We support the process and inspire the resilience component into it, but they need to be owned at the various functional areas to ensure that there is implementation.”

His latest victory is the integration of the business continuity, risk and resilience functions—bringing them together has been a natural fit. “We’re still working on the framing of it, but so far, it has worked so well together—it has been incredible, and hopefully, it will continue.”


“Dad makes sure that the city works properly,” is how Daniel’s children describe their father’s role. “They have an overinflated idea,” he says with a smile. Looking back on the city’s resilience journey, Daniel concludes: “Everything changes all the time. So, we are getting used to rolling with the punches”.

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