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4 - Forging Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships

Global South Governments, the Private Sector, Philanthropists, and Civil Society

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 February 2024

Clare Woodcraft
University of Cambridge
Kamal Munir
University of Cambridge
Nitya Mohan Khemka
University of Cambridge


This chapter explores philanthropic partnership best practices in the post-COVID-19 world and provides insights and practical tools to identify and effectively advocate for partnerships. Historically, the philanthropic sector in the Global South has been largely siloed, with only a few foundations working together and even fewer engaged in multi-sectoral collaborations. In the case of public-private partnerships, one often hears sentiments like ‘governments are bureaucratic and they will slow us down’ or ‘businesses don’t really care about social impact projects’. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed that such silos created many of the systemic issues philanthropic foundations now face. The COVID-19 crisis will have a profound impact on philanthropy through forging more active collaboration and ensuring more equitable responses. As multiple sector experts have pointed out, the scale and the urgency of the pandemic have prompted philanthropists to engage in more active collaboration, not only with businesses and government but also with each other. This chapter shares the key elements of a successful partnership from coordinated planning to clear identification of the problem that needs to be solved. It shares ideas around the collaborative definition of success, how to measure social-impact performance, and how to align interests, values, and goals. The chapter argues that there is a critical need for clear roles and responsibilities such that each stakeholder’s strengths can be leveraged, and it emphasises the importance of transparency and continuous communication.

Reimagining Philanthropy in the Global South
From Analysis to Action in a Post-COVID World
, pp. 85 - 101
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2024
Creative Commons
Creative Common License - CCCreative Common License - BYCreative Common License - NC
This content is Open Access and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence CC-BY-NC 4.0

The issues we face are so big and the targets are so challenging that we cannot do it alone. When you look at any issue, such as food or water scarcity, it is very clear that no individual institution, government, or company can provide the solution.

Paul Polman, Former CEO, Unilever


Yes, we are still talking about partnerships. For years, global development and the philanthropic community have been working to find the best ways to partner effectively for social development. The global community unanimously agreed to dedicate Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 17 to the issue of partnerships, and yet we still struggle to understand what it means, why partnerships are important, and how to do them right. Many stakeholders find partnerships daunting; organisations are still largely ego-driven, and many don’t put enough value on creating a shared vision in order to address the myriad issues facing the world. This is especially the case in the growth markets and the Global South. The question is, why?

The reasons are many – lack of trust, insufficient role models, not knowing how to partner or being unable to see the benefits. Whether in the North or the South, impactful partnerships are essential elements of effective philanthropy and crucial for creating systems change. Only through systems change can we challenge many of the old structures and models that got us here in the first place – be they climate change, inequalities, or injustice. Whether we are a business or a foundation, we must transition towards integration and alignment with others in order to be bold and create new systems.

The year 2021 glaringly underscored the reality that government entities lack resources and agility to support the wide variety of services and efforts critical for social development. On the other hand, increasingly, the private sector is becoming engaged in philanthropic and sustainability efforts while civil society still struggles to find lasting solutions. Everyone works hard in their own bubble creating a situation where – despite all efforts – innovative solutions, achievable climate commitments, and funding for the 2030 sustainability agenda are still lacking.

To achieve this, we must change our mindsets, and recognise our interconnectedness to each other and to nature, and that only collectively can we make this shift. If our philanthropic efforts are aimed at truly sustainable and scalable impact or change, we must explore how to join forces and leverage global multi-stakeholder partnerships for impact. While there can be numerous factors that present challenges to partnering, and collaborations are often difficult to navigate, only by forging partnerships can positive, lasting, systemic change and progress be achieved.

This chapter explores partnerships in the growth markets through lessons learned from Riyadh-based King Khalid Foundation’s (KKF’s) philanthropic partnerships journey. It provides insights and practical tools to identify key elements that will help us effectively work in partnership with others. The chapter delves into how to initiate, develop, and sustain high-impact partnerships over time between governments, the private sector, and philanthropists, as well as the steps needed for a successful partnership.


In 2011, when KKF reached out to other stakeholders in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and started talking about its willingness and interest to partner, it encountered raised eyebrows and confused looks. ‘Why would a royal foundation need to do that, don’t you have enough resources to do it yourself?’ ‘What exactly are your motives for asking us to partner?’ These distrustful questions are most likely the outcome of parties’ lack of knowledge on what partnerships really mean, how important they are, or how to partner effectively. Many are also still reluctant to see or accept that our collective knowledge and experience is necessary to find new solutions.

Despite tremendous amounts of money spent on development in many growth markets, these countries still need to solve many of their core systemic issues, and solutions mostly focus on fixing the short-term or ongoing problems. Why? Because we lack alignment, perspectives, cohesion, and we suffer from short-term views and no shared vision. Leaders in philanthropy are taking on complex and challenging problems in ever-changing and volatile social, political, environmental, and technological conditions. To achieve real impact and deliver innovative solutions, all stakeholders must explore better-aligned, constructively engaged, and jointly impactful efforts. Working in coordination, sometimes even with non-intuitive partners, is the essential element of resiliency, systems change, and impact.

Historically, the philanthropic sector in growth markets in general has been largely siloed, with only a few foundations or non-profits working together and even fewer engaged in multi-sectoral collaborations. All too often, philanthropists are reluctant to embark on joint efforts because of the perception that their contributions and recognition could be diluted or diminished. In some cases, philanthropists are convinced that they know best the issues in their geographic area or field and that engaging partners is simply not worth the effort. This is especially the case if funding is not an issue, so many philanthropists and business leaders just can’t see the benefit. In case of partnerships with governments or the private sector, sentiments like ‘governments are bureaucratic and will slow us down’ or ‘businesses don’t really care about social impact, they are only doing it for their branding’ are very common. Moreover, many in the corporate world still don’t see the benefit, as they consider their social or even environmental engagement just as a necessary box-ticking exercise to protect their brand. There is a great deal of distrust and reluctance to even try.

Since the early 2010s, there have been very few examples or role models of effective multi-stakeholder philanthropic partnerships in the South, especially in the growth markets. Businesses are still driven by profit and not by shared purpose. While profit and purpose shouldn’t necessarily be at odds, trying to retrofit a profit model into a purpose model does not work. If we all agree that there is a need to change, we would then be able to create new systems and models together and address the root causes of problems in addition to finding new, bold solutions together. We must first move towards collective consciousness and then to collective action. The only question businesses, governments, or philanthropists need to ask themselves is: ‘is this in service to the people and planet?’ If not, then don’t do it. Purpose and profit can exist but elevating profit as the sole purpose is currently not working and the systems behind profit and fast growth have become the centre of the problem. This is one of the reasons why partnerships are so difficult with the business community.

Another major issue has been that for many in the growth markets, the idea of ‘partnerships’ may sound attractive but the details of ‘how’, ‘why’, and ‘with whom’ makes action very daunting. Instead of ‘what will I lose in the process’, the question should be ‘what will we do better together and how beneficial will collective action be for my organisation?’ In a world where quick action, short-term thinking, more offerings, and more profit are a priority, finding consensus becomes difficult; as a result, partnerships remain very complicated, requiring enormous effort and often slowing things down. Even well-intentioned efforts and resources have been misaligned, or worse, wasted, leading to unmet challenges.

Emerging Trends

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed that silos created many of the systemic issues we now face; however, it is possible that systems issues created those silos in the first place. Regardless of which one came first, in order to survive and thrive we must find lasting solutions rather than quick fixes. ‘The COVID-19 crisis will have a profound impact on philanthropy through forging more active collaboration and ensuring more equitable responses. Scale and urgency of the pandemic has prompted philanthropists to engage in more active collaboration, not only with businesses and government but also with each other,’ remarks Bill Gates in a video interview conducted by Badr Jafar, the founding patron of the Cambridge Centre for Strategic Philanthropy.

Thankfully, many growth markets’ philanthropic organisations are finally indicating a desire to significantly recalibrate traditional industry practices. Mindsets are starting to change, philanthropy is slowly adapting, and our world is changing even faster. Global South practitioners are expressing an appetite for multi-stakeholder partnerships and South–South collaboration, with a view to scaling impact, building strong peer networks, knowledge-sharing, and collaborative initiatives. The United Nations (UN) SDGs have become more accepted and integrated, making it easier to share a common language, identify issues, and create frameworks.

The adoption of the SDGs and their widespread promotion since 2016, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, have had a significant impact on the concept of partnerships in the Global South. The SDGs provide common language and definitions while explicitly acknowledging the interconnectedness of the prosperity of business, society, and the environment. They also provide clear roadmaps and targets. The SDGs further represent a fundamental shift in the approach, naming all societal sectors as key development actors, and requiring an unprecedented level of cooperation and collaboration among civil society, business, government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and foundations for their achievement.

Let’s Start with Definitions

There are numerous names and definitions for multi-stakeholder partnerships or philanthropic partnerships. But whether we are talking about multi-stakeholder partnerships or public-private partnership for development, cross-sector collaboration, or collective action, they are all vehicles through which interested players work together to create new solutions and systems to achieve greater impact than they could achieve alone.

Multi-stakeholder partnerships involve organisations from different societal sectors working together, sharing risks and combining their unique resources and competencies in ways that can generate and maximise value towards shared partnership and individual partner objectives, often through more innovative, more sustainable, more efficient and / or more systemic approaches.Footnote 1

Much like a business discussion about developing a new product or entering a different market, partnerships require a strategic process and joint approach. This applies to all stakeholders, no matter whether you are a CEO, non-profit manager, philanthropist, or public servant. The key question is: How can partnerships be done well?

Partnerships are usually voluntary efforts operating under their own principles, which must be developed and agreed to by all sides. They are highly context-specific, building on the interests, capacities, resources, and leadership of all parties involved. However, they only succeed by having a common, shared vision and a willingness to take risks by adopting creativity and flexibility towards achieving that vision. They represent a different way of doing development, requiring new skills and mindsets. Older, ego-driven practices and systems must be left at the door.

The process of creating a partnership also starts with a well-defined and agreed-upon problem being solved. Deciding on the key problem or issue may seem straightforward, but is actually one of the main reasons problems arise from the start. Spending time to identify the problem together in detail must be one of the first steps in any partnership. Then comes a shared vision. After that, start addressing the more practical questions such as: Who are the stakeholders and what role do they play? What do they do well and/or what do they need to succeed? Where are the capability gaps and agreements on primary obstacles? Finally, what is the specific partnership’s contribution and what are the metrics to assess project success and impact? These initial assessments are critical for any successful partnership.

Numerous studies have been conducted on the topic of partnerships and most of them identify the following key elements of success:

  • shared vision

  • alignment on the issue the partnership aims to solve

  • proper coordinated planning and processes (including exit strategy)

  • collaborative definition of success and social-impact performance metrics

  • alignment on interests, values, and goals

  • clear roles and responsibilities

  • leveraging each stakeholder’s strengths

  • a sense of trust between partners

  • transparency and continuous communication

  • successful role models.

Using this list will, at a minimum, ensure that your organization is off to a good start.

King Khalid Foundation’s Partnership Journey

Supported by the family of the late King Khalid bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, KKF was established in 2001 as an independent, private foundation dedicated to supporting the creation of a more equitable Saudi society. As a renowned and impactful organisation, the Foundation has been working on building a social-sector ecosystem to create equal opportunities for a thriving Saudi Arabia. The Foundation applies grant-making, capacity-building, partnerships, and advocacy to address inequality, provide economic opportunities, and promote prosperity.

What helped KKF stand out from the outset is its approach to creating a basic social-sector ecosystem and working collaboratively to solve Saudi Arabia’s most complex challenges. It partnered mostly with international entities, from academia, philanthropy, the corporate sector, and governments to make this happen. Local multi-stakeholder partnerships are also becoming a reality in recent years. Those involved never wavered in their intention to achieve success through collaborative impact, and learned a great deal throughout this journey.

Philanthropy in Saudi Arabia

The KSA, the birthplace of Islam, has long been one of the world’s most generous countries, with charitable giving serving an integral part of the nation’s Muslim heritage. Zakah, one of the five pillars of Islam, obliges the giving of charity while saddaqah, a voluntary form of charity, is also a key Islamic concept. ‘Philanthropy in the Arab region is embedded in its culture,’ maintains Dr Atallah Kuttab, founder and chairman of SAANED, a philanthropy advisory in the Arab region. ‘It has a long history, tied to religious giving. Ours is a giving society.’Footnote 2

By 2019, despite a culture of giving and the sector becoming a part of the Saudi Vision 2030, the ratio of non-profit sector organisations per capita in Saudi Arabia remained considered low, with one organisation for every 10,000 inhabitants.Footnote 3 Professionalisation of the sector, while growing, still had a long way to go, with existing non-profit organisations (NPOs) having limited capacity. Additional knowledge and expertise were needed to create truly scalable and sustainable programmes.

Most NPOs in Saudi Arabia were only created since around the late 2010s,Footnote 4 and therefore lack significant training and expertise. In this climate, capacity-building became crucially important. Though, many believed that even if the capacity within the sector was there, corporations and other partners still may not be ready to partner for their philanthropic giving due to the sectoral lack of experience and impact.

Various sectors collaborating with civil society is still a rarity in Saudi Arabia and co-creating programmes requires significant time and effort. From the outset, persuading corporate partners to work with the social-development sector and invest in scaling programmes requires significant effort and time. Equally, many corporations still consider philanthropic investment an offshoot of their broader marketing and communications activities, which primarily serve to build brand and reputation.

Non-profits had historically helped fill some of the gaps in society left by other sector actors; however, in Saudi Arabia the government traditionally provided most of the services and has only recently started to open opportunities for social development organisations to take their place in this regard. Indeed, there is still a continuing search for ideal balance and compromise between the marketplace, the centralised state, the social sector, and community realms.Footnote 5

In a survey of non-profit leaders in Saudi Arabia, almost all interviewees pointed out the need for governmental support for growth of the non-profit sector and greater professionalisation.Footnote 6 Legitimacy of leadership in the non-profit sector also comes from state recognition. The government not only made laws and set expectations on NPOs using legal instruments, but it also supported the sector implicitly in the hope of achieving its own goals.

Partnering with the Government

Since 2008, KKF has been instrumental in lobbying for the inclusion of the social-development sector within the national strategy for building the non-profit ecosystem. The Foundation’s impactful efforts since 2016 facilitated the adoption of the national strategy entitled Vision 2030, and since then the Saudi government has been sending a strong signal that it considers the social-development sector an important partner in the country’s overall development. Prior to the adoption of this visionary strategy, the non-profit sector was never part of any national initiatives, nor was it considered a significant contributor. Adoption of this document and its major focus on social-sector contribution to the government’s future plans represented a significant shift.

Based on our experience, trust, quality, and reputation are key factors when working with the government. KKF is a Saudi foundation working on improving the lives of ordinary Saudis and it has a significant, impeccable record of successful programmes and impact. As a result, it comes to the government with substantial knowledge and experience that politicians can use to their benefit. As an example, the Foundation had great success working with the government on poverty reduction. Prior to KKF’s work on this issue, the ‘poverty line’ was something that not only the government but also wider society would not talk about. For years, KKF has been pushing for policies to reduce the number of people living under the poverty line. KKF shared our findings with the government every step of the way, we were transparent about our aims, and we invited them to witness the situation, especially in rural areas. These initiatives and data collected made it possible for the leadership to be more open about the fact that there is poverty in the country that needs to be addressed. Together, we were able to start concentrating on these problems without placing any blame or pointing fingers.

The key to KKF’s approach with the government is not that dissimilar to working with the private sector: identifying a problem in as much detail as possible (broad scope and vague indicators do not work), understanding governments’ goals and plans for the specific issue, ensuring that the Foundation’s goals are fully aligned, and showing clearly how working together has a more significant impact. Making government officials’ lives easier is also a plus!

KKF usually reaches out to the government when there is a specific policy that needs improvement or when we can recommend a policy for a specific issue. Working on policies is the essence of the government’s work; therefore, if we can find ways to support them in this process it can be mutually beneficial. KKF also comes to the government with very specific options. This allows for a focused discussion and gives government entities the ability to choose how and what to work on. When partnering with the government, it is important to allow for more time and a slower pace. That said, KKF’s partnership between NPOs and the government are still limited with plenty of room to grow because partnerships are very new for the government and therefore, even with the best of intentions, it is not something that comes easily nor can it be done quickly.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

KKF has partnered with a number of philanthropic, corporate, and government entities. They each brought with them a different set of challenges and opportunities. The Foundation’s partnerships included collective grant-making, programme co-development and implementation, and co-funding. However, its main aim was always to engage with partners for the long term, on multiple levels, and make sure that all sides have ownership of the project and contribute in a variety of ways.

As we discussed at the beginning of this chapter, there are a number of challenges organisations can face on their partnership journey. Early in our experience, KKF fell into partnerships organically with anyone who wanted to partner with it but as members gained experience, we learned to be more intentional and deliberate.

From KKF’s experience, one of the obstacles to impactful partnerships lay in the fact that many companies’ philanthropic departments were managed by the communication department, which had marketing-oriented goals focusing on client retention or accessing new markets and developing new products. Instead of incorporating social responsibility considerations in their overall sustainability strategy and aligning it with their core business, sustainability was often seen as a random, ‘bolted-on’ effort and expense rather than a ‘built-in’ addition that will open markets, strengthen communities, and expand the business.

Initially, KKF had more success partnering with international entities, be they foundations, academic institutions, or companies, rather than local ones, because international partners had more experience with collaboration and collective impact. The Foundation decided to pursue these partnerships to use them as models for local efforts and learn from them. Many of these partnerships have been highly successful and helped KKF learn from all the challenges and opportunities. KKF also used every opportunity to publicly speak about them at conferences and on social media so others could learn from our experience.

Through this process KKF learned that organisations must screen partners, as this was crucial for KKF’s reputation and ethical code. KKF had once worked with a company that sold food and beverages, so it cooperated with them on a programme that targeted poor families to improve their financial budgeting skills. The main goal was to help these families manage their personal finances better, and during the workshops and events, the company would have the right to do product placements. But because many of the products provided by the company had high sugar content, KKF decided not to go ahead with this collaboration. KKF leadership realised that while such a programme may have positive impact on beneficiaries’ financial skills, it would negatively impact their health and well-being. It is important to think about both direct impact and indirect impact, along with other potential consequences.

Another example of KKF’s failed attempt to form working partnerships was its experience with a technology company. KKF staff were working with this entity to help its grant recipients improve their technology literacy and teach them to use computers and smartphones. We reached an agreement where only the technology company’s products would be used. However, the company was not willing to provide enough smartphones to make a real impact, so we suggested bringing a second technology company on board. They refused and requested KKF buy additional smartphones to meet the goal.

Financial and marketing considerations were still the most crucial factors dictating the success of a partnership, but quick wins rarely delivered sustainable long-lasting social impact. Companies that had a greater awareness of sustainability were more inclined to consider long-term development programmes and understand KKF’s rationale. On this basis, successfully forming meaningful partnerships with companies required the Foundation to be very clear about its underlying philosophy of creating social impact at scale. Philanthropy was about creating real long-term change and simply throwing money at challenges was not the solution.

KKF’s partnership journey included many questions and challenges:

  1. 1. Convincing corporations about the value of forming philanthropic partnerships: How could KKF build a business case that outlines to potential private-sector partners the value of engaging with the Foundation to increase social impact? This business case needed to outline the benefits while also building an understanding that philanthropy is not a marketing ‘quick win’ but rather a long-term ambition. Moreover, it was a goal that would necessarily require financial but also non-financial input to create truly effective and sustainable partnerships, and ideally needed to be aligned with corporations’ core business rather than based on random, marketing-driven interests.

  2. 2. Leveraging strengths specific to engaged parties: KKF chooses partners whose knowledge, capacity, and experience are complementary and targeted to achieving the desired outcomes, and who are willing to learn and make adjustments along the way. It leverages existing strengths, builds new skills, provides educational opportunities, and builds pathways to success for beneficiaries by accessing current data and resource experts to build on the overall stakeholder body of knowledge.

  3. 3. Building much stronger brand recognition while adhering to the tenets of conservative Islamic culture: While Islamic culture praises humility and keeping a low profile around philanthropic giving, non-profit entities need to have sound reputations to build partnerships and a solid track record in effective giving. To build this, they inevitably must talk about their approach and their achievements to ensure they have a robust brand strategy that supports their reputation. This helps aggregate social and financial capital while also promoting strong aligned internal cohesion around an organisation’s core values. KKF must design its branding strategies to enhance its brand as a platform for nurturing corporate partnerships.

  4. 4. Securing government endorsement: KKF needed to ensure that its core stakeholders, and notably government entities, understood its ambitions around creating partnerships with private, for-profit entities and that these partnerships would support rather than compete with the national plans of the state. The government would also need to facilitate such partnerships by ensuring a conducive regulatory framework that allowed them to develop. This was still an area of development in KSA as the country, along with other countries in the region, sometimes regarded philanthropy with suspicion and struggled to regulate it.Footnote 7 KKF needed to be very transparent about the objectives behind this plan, be able to showcase how the broader state can benefit, and demonstrate how it will align with specific government objectives and the UN’s SDGs.

What KKF Learned:

  • The primary lesson learned is that effective partnerships don’t just happen – they need to be planned, designed, monitored, adjusted, and facilitated. They take time because building trust and a relationship between parties is very important.

  • Careful planning needs to go into the initial first steps. We found that in order to initiate a partnership we need to be clear on what the goal will be and why a collaborative effort will lead to outcomes that might otherwise be unattainable. Then jointly we must tackle a variety of important questions: Should the partnership include other funders? Which non-profits, educational institutions, NPOs, or government agencies need to be involved? What qualities do participants need? What are the potential deal breakers? What ‘red flag’ threats would rule out a potential partner, or signal that a partner would need to be monitored?Footnote 8

  • Effective collaborations start with a discussion about values and mission statements, and agreement on operating principles that will govern and guide the work. In those early talks, it is key to spend time identifying the problem being addressed in detail. It is helpful to cover topics such as: ground rules for discussions, planning, and decision-making; metrics for the ongoing assessment of progress; and planning for the inevitable unintended consequences and ‘unknown unknowns’.

  • Potential partners also must explore various types of collaborative structures in order to ensure effective leadership, and in some cases they need to provide for different types of leadership at specific levels of the partnership or network. The structural planning exercises we have found most helpful include: documenting each partner’s conditions, needs, assets, and strengths; developing a process that ensures active engagement; and identifying resource needs to support planning, implementation, evaluation, and other elements. If partners do not pay attention to these specifics up front, relationships are likely to become unnecessarily strained.

Sustaining Partnerships over Time

  • As important as it is to initiate partnerships and set them up well from the beginning with an effective framework for collaboration, design alone is not enough. Several additional elements are also important: ensuring that all participants have a legitimate voice; creating a comprehensive plan of action that all parties embrace broadly and deeply; committing to reviewing evolving leadership needs and adjusting; reviewing and reworking partner roles as needed; and identifying appropriate metrics to measure progress, improve, and capture evidence of concrete success.

  • Partners must be resilient in the face of inherent tensions and inevitable conflict. Establishing clear rules of engagement does not eliminate the conflict inherent in a relationship, but doing so will mitigate the most damaging effects and help build trust. Your partner will frustrate you. In turn, you will frustrate your partner. Your partner may let you down or you may let your partner down. Accept the challenges of partnership because together you are stronger, smarter, and have a much better chance of achieving your goals. The old Ugandan proverb says, ‘Where two rivers meet, the water is never calm.’ But doesn’t philanthropy stir things up to enhance and improve life for everybody?Footnote 9

If we look at KKF’s journey, the success of our partnerships is due to several fundamental aspects:

  • Trust built between leadership and staff of both organisations with a genuine commitment to a shared agenda and focus on delivering the best possible outcomes for programme beneficiaries.

  • The complementary expertise and experience that each party brings to the table – KKF with intimate familiarity of the local Saudi development context and history of social impact work, and its partners with deep ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) content knowledge, a focus on strategy, and global experience with industry leaders, standards, and frameworks.

  • Active, transparent, and honest communication throughout project lifecycles with clearly defined roles and responsibilities, all of which enable the accountability and collaboration required for successful joint delivery and innovation.

  • Commitment to explaining what was accomplished so others may take up the challenge in their own communities. We are open to honest assessments of what works and what doesn’t, and to making improvements along the way.

  • Adaptability in the face of unexpected circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic presented new and significant challenges to KKF and its partner programmes, which were historically planned around in-person engagement with programme beneficiaries. Due to the strength of the partnership, programmes were not only adapted to be successfully delivered virtually, but strategic decisions were also taken to capitalise on the circumstances by reallocating time, resources, and efforts.

If we summarise what successful partnership requires from participants, it would come down to the following areas:Footnote 10

  1. 1. Recognising and relishing diversity as an asset rather than a problem.

  2. 2. Properly valuing the many different contributions each partner brings.

  3. 3. Developing new skills in partnership-building, collaboration-brokering, and collective leadership.

  4. 4. Identifying and describing potential barriers to partnership success and how to overcome them.

  5. 5. Understanding the systems and contexts in which partnerships operate.

  6. 6. Applying the highest standards, rigour, and accountability to all partnering endeavours.

  7. 7. Investing in the partnering process in order to optimise engagement and create the conditions for efficiency, innovation, and sustainability.

  8. 8. Commitment to the attainment of visible, measurable results. KKF works with its partners to develop a continuous improvement cycle, in which all partners use both data and empirical observation to refine strategies and assess progress.


No doubt, partnerships are hard – expect delays, rough spots, and misunderstandings, and prepare for them by always keeping in mind that collaboration offers numerous benefits. Governments gain access to much-needed additional capital and social innovation, and businesses are able to align profit with purpose, improve their practices, and attract new talent without having to build their own philanthropic institutions. NPOs and grant-makers have an opportunity to gain access to more funding, align with national development policies, and scale up proven initiatives faster.

Most importantly, partnerships build trust and help create shared prosperity. When partnerships are done well, they lead to more equitable and inclusive solutions where leaders can see and calculate the impact of their decisions for society over the long run. In turbulent and conflicted times, these elements provide a starting point for leaders of all kinds to find commonality in purpose and direction. It takes an effort but it’s a win-win in the end.


1 ‘An Introduction to Multi-stakeholder Partnerships’. Briefing document for the GPEDC High Level Meeting, November 2016; The Partnering Initiative (

7 One regional practitioner noted that regional governments sometimes treat ‘the civic sector as guilty until proved innocent’ according to Alliance’s Philanthropy in the Arab Region report.

8 Mitchell, L. and Karoff, P. 2015. Accepting the Challenges of Partnerships. Stanford Social Innovation Review, Fall.

10 Ros Tennyson, Partnership Brokers Association.

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