What do different types of partnerships mean for impact?

In this blog we outline four different types of partnerships. Not all types of partnerships provide the basis to collaborate in a way that drives impact. Key lessons are summarised at the end of this blog.

“We work in partnership” or “we are a partnership” can mean many different things for international development organisations. Some partnerships are formalized and legal, others are based on loose informal networks. Some partnerships are based on regular contact that involve deep exchanges of information, analysis and sometimes also funding; other partnerships are ad hoc and aim to increase visibility or credibility. In this article, we break down different types of partnerships, and look at how these types of partnerships can drive more impact in international development – and what else is needed.

“We work in partnership” or “we are a partnership” can mean many different things for international development organisations.

Logo partnerships

Logo partnerships are the most visible and common type of partnership in international development. Take the example of annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) invitations to meetings and side-events, where half a page is taken up by dozens of organisational logos. The weeks before UNGA tend to be one big scramble of organisations reaching out to each other to check whether they can co-host and support each other’s events, and have their logos listed together as partners. Other examples include advocacy letters, where organisations publicly or privately raise awareness or asks in coalition or collaborate through social media webinars and chats.

Logo partnerships are premised on the assumption that more logos carry more weight. A few heavy weights, such as UN organizations or donors, bring credibility and draw attention. In their loosest form, logo partners may not know much about each other, have any regular contact, or may not even have heard of other partners in the coalition. In this case, it is near impossible for them to discuss or agree on common impact goals, to implement these, or to collaborate in practice in times of crisis.

Source: Example of a logo partnership, Open letter EU climate law

Technical partnerships

Logo partnerships sometimes build on technical partnerships, where organisations have, for example, collaborated to write a report to present data, analysis and recommendations together, or agreed to try to work better together in specific countries. Partners have usually engaged and met regularly to agree on a common focus and formed time-bound or permanent working groups. Members of such partnerships know each other and are aware of the focus and interests of other partners. There is a regular exchange of data and analysis, and negotiation processes that lead to common positions and outputs (such as a full report, or collaboration on innovations or in implementation). The number of such partnerships has exploded over the past decade, after countries and organisations agreed to better coordinate and harmonise their work.

Technical partnerships can be informal or formalised, but similar to logo partnerships may include partners who have not been involved in the full process but agree to add their organisational logo to an end product. Technical partnerships tend to lead to increased coherence and efficiency (for example by reducing duplication in analysis and outputs), but may struggle when a crisis hits, and broader or different coordination is needed. For example, if teams are collaborating well on rural development in two South Asian countries, organisations will scramble when trying to quickly pivot when they need health teams to collaborate globally when a pandemic such as Covid-19 strikes.

Funding partnerships

Funding partnerships tend to be more formalized. Partners have agreed to co-fund collaborative work, for example to achieve greater economies of scale or to pool their expertise. Alternatively, one partner may provide funding to another, in a donor-recipient relationship with the aim to deliver on a specific output. This can include technical partnerships, whereby one partner funds specific technical work, and another or other partners deliver this work.

Funding partnerships can, however, also take looser forms and be one-off, for example to provide support for an event such as at UNGA, and to ensure that an organization’s logo is included in the event. However, where funding is longer term or at greater scale, formalized processes such as due diligence, legal contracts setting common goals and payment triggers, as well as regular monitoring are more common. Formal funding partnerships tend to involve smaller numbers of partners.

Organizational partnerships

Organizational partnerships usually involve governance mechanisms that bind partners together. These may be legal partnerships (for example when funding is required for a seat in a partnership) or take looser forms (where technical or other agreements to work together suffice to gain a seat at the table). Public-private-partnerships such as Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, are an example of such partnerships.

Organizational partnerships may have a driving force (for example a Secretariat) or core group (for example larger donors) but tend to be aimed at aligning partners towards a common goal, provide a platform for innovation, and leverage members’ expertise. Often other partners, such as civil society organizations, gain a seat at the table without having to contribute funding.    

Informal networks

In addition to organisational partnerships, informal networks can also institutionalise partnerships. These networks can be public, such as those formed around the work of Global Citizen or private, such as peer networks among development organization leaders, donors or specialists. Due to their informal nature, partnerships in networks are primarily based on trust rather than formal agreements.

What does this mean for impact?

Partnerships in themselves do not lead to impact, they are a means to deliver on an end. In future articles, we will among other look deeper into how to best prioritise partnerships, how partners can agree on a focus, what they need to do to get from a building a relationship to delivery, and how they can measure their collective impact.

“Partnerships in themselves do not lead to impact, they are a means to deliver on an end. Not all types of partnerships provide the basis to collaborate in a way that drives impact.”

However, the above typology is helpful to understand that not all types of partnerships provide the basis to collaborate in a way that drives impact. It’s important to dig slightly deeper on organisations’ website under the section or page “our partners”, and understand what types of partnerships are included, and how much substance there is to these.

Agreeing to cross-post logos is a first step but requires many further steps to get to real implementation. Most importantly, impact takes place within a certain context, and requires the involvement of many stakeholders outside of formal organisational partnerships to ensure that implementation can become a reality – and is needed and suitable to drive impact in the first place. Informal networks within or outside of partnerships may also be important sources of direction and power.

Key points summarized:

  • There are different types of partnerships in international development. The most common ones are: logo partnerships, technical partnerships, funding partnerships, and organizational partnerships.
  • Logo partnerships are the most visible and common type of partnership in international development.
  • In technical partnerships, collaboration takes place around, for example, a report or working together in specific countries.
  • In funding partnerships, partners agree to co-fund work, or one partner provides funding to another to deliver an agreed output.
  • Organizational partnerships usually involve governance mechanisms that bind partners together.
  • Informal networks may also institutionalise partnerships and be a source of power within partnerships.
  • Partnerships in themselves do not lead to impact, they are a means to deliver on an end.
  • Not all types of partnerships provide the basis to collaborate in a way that drives impact.

You can find further reading and resources on partnerships here.   

Published by Katri Bertram

Katri works in international development, and is a mom of four children. She is driven in her work to ensure that all people can receive quality healthcare, gender equality becomes a reality, and organisations working in these areas leverage the power of partnerships for impact. 
Katri has worked at the World Bank, where she headed External Relations for the Global Financing Facility for Women, Children and Adolescents (GFF), and Save the Children, a non-governmental organisation that works in 120 countries, where she headed global advocacy, policy and campaigning.
 Katri lives in Berlin/Germany, and is Finnish by nationality. She is a graduate from the London School of Economics (Master in International Relations), the Hertie School (Master in Public Policy), and the University of York (Bachelor in Economics and Politics). 
Also follow Katri on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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