How Multistakeholder Partnerships Can Accelerate the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Chapter 4

Success Factors for Transformative Partnerships

Partnership success factors related to operations and relationship management are well understood, yet partnerships still face challenges in implementing them and understanding them through a transformation lens. This chapter identifies 14 success factors and takes a deep dive into the top four that may have a greater bearing on reaching transformation objectives, based on a unique analysis of 41 partnerships from the Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals (P4G) community.

Video: Storyblocks/Digitalbarn

In this chapter, we focus on partnership success factors that can help partnerships improve their effectiveness, both in terms of their operational efficiency and their ability to reach their transformation objectives.

Our research indicates that there are 14 commonly reported success factors (Table 1) that we have drawn from recent academic and expert reports covering multistakeholder partnership best practices, complexity and transformation theory, and systems change evaluation (see Appendix B). Adoption of these success factors may not guarantee transformation but can be viewed as an indicator of how well a partnership may operate. Although many of these success factors may seem self-evident and well-documented, partnerships surveyed for this report have stated that they still face challenges in actually implementing them and are eager to get advice from experts and partnerships that are farther along their partnership journey.

With this in mind, we focus this chapter on the top four success factors (highlighted in Table 1) out of the set of 14 that were identified based on a survey and analysis of 41 partnerships drawn from the partnership accelerator P4G, hosted by WRI, in which partnerships that were evaluated by the research team as having high transformation potential excelled, compared to those with low transformation potential.

In this chapter, we share the stories and advice from our surveyed partnerships and present a series of tangible and implementable recommendations. Recommendations are further highlighted through best-in-class partnership case studies, which showcase some of the partnerships with high transformation potential. And while the focus of this chapter is on the top 4 success factors, we recognize the importance also of highlighting the remaining 10 success factors. Appendix B provides descriptions of these, along with implementable recommendations and partnership examples. We also provide an overview of our survey approach and evaluation methodology for assessing a partnership’s transformation potential below and full details in Appendices C and D.

Partnering is inherently complex, especially when working with multiple partners, across multiple geographies and in dynamic systems. Although there is no one right way to partner, our research indicates that the guidance in this chapter can help partnerships to maximize their effectiveness at meeting their transformation objectives and adopting the transformation characteristics identified in Chapter 2 into their vision. And with clarity around stakeholder contributions as noted in Chapter 3, partnerships are better equipped to pursue these success factors. Partners may agree that these success factors are important, but just as important is agreement on how to approach each success factor and the role and responsibility of each partner.

Table 1 | Summary of Multistakeholder Partnership Success Factors


Joint transformation vision and systems understanding

1. Clear articulation of the system of interest

2. Jointly agreed-upon transformation vision and near-term goals

3. Bold and creative approach and activities

4. Confirmation that partnering is the right approach and that partners selected are the best possible option

Participatory performance tracking with systems thinking

5. Strong monitoring, evaluation, learning and reporting (MELR) mechanisms with systems thinking

6. Culture of trust, inclusivity, and information sharing

Strong leadership and operational capacity

7. Strong management and coordination structure

8. Robust governance mechanisms

9. Stakeholder commitment to agreed-upon resources

10. Funding security

Supporting network of actors

11. Capacity to engage stakeholders external to the partnership

12. Supportive environment enabled by government

13.Strong champions at multiple levels

14. Ability to navigate the local context in which the partnership operates

Note: Success factors listed in bold represent the four success factors we highlight in more detail in this chapter. Appendix B provides full definitions of the complete set of 14 success factors.

Sources: Ayala-Orozco et al. 2018; BCSD 2017; Beisheim and Simon 2016; Bos et al. 2016; Brouwer et al. 2016; Chakrabari et al. 2018; Collison et al. 2014; Dahiya and Okitasari 2018; Enright et al. 2018; GGGI 2018a, 2018b; Hazelwood 2015; Jenkins et al. 2017; KPMG International 2016; Kramer and Pfizer 2016; Kuruvilla et al. 2018; Latham 2014; Moreddu 2016; Neely et al. 2017; Nelson et al. 2015; Oorthuizen et al. 2018; Pattberg and Widerberg 2016; Peterson et al. n.d.; Pinz et al. 2018; Preskill et al. 2015; Stern 2017; Stibbe and Prescott 2017; Stibbe et al. 2019; Treichel et al. 2017.

Evaluating Transformation Potential

This chapter presents findings on success factors based on research conducted on a unique cohort of 41 multistakeholder partnerships from around the world. Participating partnerships include P4G’s first two cohorts of funded partnerships, as well as a short list of partnerships that had applied for the P4G SOTA awards, which recognize mature, best-in-class partnerships. All partnerships have been pre-identified by the P4G team as having transformation objectives related to five SDG areas—food and agriculture, water, energy, cities, and circular economy—and in line with the requirements of P4G partnerships. These partnerships also include at least one stakeholder to represent government, business, and a CSO.

The participating partnerships were surveyed using the survey instrument provided in Appendix C to understand the extent to which they exhibited the 14 aforementioned success factors identified through a literature review. Partnerships scored themselves on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = “not at all”; 2 = “to a small extent”, 3 = “to a moderate extent”,4 = “to a great extent”, and 5 = to “a very great extent”).

Because our interest was to understand the relative importance of success factors through the lens of transformation, our research team also evaluated these partnerships to assess transformation potential, defined as their success to date in achieving their intermediate and transformation objectives and/or the likelihood that the partnership would achieve its transformation objective. Our evaluation approach is based on Maassen et al. (2019), and it is important to note that in terms of transformation potential, partnerships were scored against their own transformation or systems change goals and the strength of their strategic plans (e.g., if they highlighted a connection between the partnership’s action(s) and their transformation vision). At this stage, we are not able to definitively state whether each partnership’s transformation objective is ultimately the right one needed to achieve the SDGs.

Partnerships were scored on a scale of 0–5 against seven evaluation criteria, using the scoring matrix outlined in Appendix D. The seven criteria included partnership level of innovation, strength of the strategic plan, strength of and progress against intermediate goals and transformation objectives, scalability, financial sustainability, and resilience to internal and external challenges. These criteria were developed through a review of academic literature (see Appendix B) and award programs for transformational partnerships and initiatives (see Appendix D) and are well-linked to the 14 success factors as demonstrated in the conceptual model in Figure 8.

Partnerships were scored based on a thorough review of each partnership’s application to P4G, any provided reporting materials on their progress and challenges, as well as any other available and relevant documentation, such as publicly available videos, publications, and media references. Partnerships were then grouped as having either a high, medium, or low transformation potential, based on their average score across the seven criteria. Appendix D provides further information on the evaluation approach, including more details on the evaluation team, how we addressed identified biases, and additional details on scoring.

Figure 8 | Conceptual Model of Relationship among Success Factors, Transformation-Potential Evaluation Criteria, and Transformation Characteristics

Note: Arrows are indicative of the main connections among success factors, evaluation criteria, and transformation characteristics, although it should be noted that success factors are not mutually exclusive and are interconnected.

Source: WRI Authors.

On average, P4G partnerships within our sample felt like they were embodying all 14 success factors at least to a moderate extent (>3). This signals that P4G partnerships agree with the literature on the importance of adopting these success factors for partnerships. When we divided partnerships into their high, medium, and low potential groupings, we also saw that for 12 out of 14 success factors, high transformation-potential partnerships, on average, scored themselves higher than medium-potential partnerships and low-potential partnerships.1 Medium- and low-potential partnerships scored themselves relatively the same across all success factors. We chose to highlight the four success factors where the scoring discrepancy was highest between high- and low-potential partnerships. Figure 9 shows the variability in how partnerships scored themselves on the top four success factors, compared to the remaining success factors relative to their transformation-potential scores.

Figure 9 | Success Factor Score by Transformation-Potential Score Comparison

Source: WRI Authors

We believe there is great potential for application of our scoring methodology in the future, as partnership practitioners look to understand their progress toward transformation. Additionally, these scoring criteria and success factors could easily be adopted into a partnership’s own performance tracking system to gauge their transformation potential and ability to implement these factors. This is discussed more in depth in the text that follows.

Topline Results

Overall, the 14 success factors can be used as indicators of a partnership’s effectiveness and can be used to help assess a partnership’s transformation potential. Partnerships can use the evaluation methodology identified in Appendix D and the success factors to help put themselves on the right track.

However, it is important to note that these success factors need not all be implemented at once. Choosing which to implement first likely depends on the specific context of each partnership. The analysis for this report found that partnerships with high transformation potential are particularly intentional in four of these success factors: developing a clear articulation of the system of interest, which helps determine a jointly agreed-upon transformation vision and intermediate goals. These partnerships also are able to strategically leverage external stakeholders, as compared to other partnerships, and have strong monitoring, evaluation, learning, and reporting mechanisms that incorporate systems thinking in areas that allow them to not only track whether they are achieving their targets within the system context but also to be adaptive and resilient in the face of dynamic system changes.

Together, these top four success factors are reflective of the previously identified transformation characteristics: systemic, long-term and sustained, and disruptive of the status quo. For a partnership to understand its contribution or potential contribution to systems change or a transformation, it must first understand the complexities of the system of interest and its place in that system, as well as external stakeholders that are key influence targets or potential partnership champions. Partnerships must also be able to track how their activities lead to outputs, how those outputs lead to outcomes, and how those outcomes lead to impacts. All of this requires a strong MELR system that integrates systems thinking.

Given these findings, partnerships may find it useful to begin with these success factors and follow the guidance that follows, based on leading literature and the P4G community.

Review of Top Four Success Factors

Clear Articulation of the System of Interest


One of the main characteristics of transformation is its systemic nature: Change must percolate through the elements and interconnections of a system to move it toward a more sustainable paradigm, as discussed in Chapter 2. Clear articulation of a system of interest means that a partnership has a clear conceptual understanding of where it is placed in the system to ensure that its activities are unique and additive (Dalberg 2020; Enclude 2019; Stibbe and Prescott 2020). A partnership that has successfully embraced this trait will be able to define the system of interest’s boundaries; its overall function or purpose; the key elements, actors, and interconnections of relevance; the underlying problem of interest that is keeping the system from moving toward a more sustainable development pathway; the system conditions that are holding the problem in place; and historic and current initiatives that have tried to address the problem.

It is important to remember that systems are dynamic, and so partnerships should aim to understand their contribution to transformation of those systems. This requires establishing a baseline understanding of the system and then tracking changes over time. For more details on understanding how to track changes over time and a partnership’s influence or contribution, see Success Factor 4. Additionally, it is important that a systems understanding be developed in a participatory manner with relevant stakeholders.

A systems understanding is critical because it guides partnerships in adopting many of the other success factors, such as

  • designing innovative, bold, and creative solutions that are additive and reflective of the three transformation characteristics (systemic, long-term and sustained, and disruptive of the status quo);
  • identifying the right stakeholders to engage both as partners as external stakeholders;
  • aligning partners on a transformation vision;
  • adapting and responding to the external changes such as changes in political administrations or natural disasters; and
  • evaluating whether or not the partnership is actually contributing to a system’s transformation.

Recommendations and Partnership Insights:

Although it may seem daunting to fully understand the complexities of any given partnership’s system, especially when multiple stakeholders and geographies are involved, those who can wrap their heads around it say they experience greater success and efficiency as it adds clarity to what each stakeholder aims to achieve. While most partnerships scored themselves at 3 or above on this success factor (82 percent), partnerships with high transformation potential more often rated themselves as doing this to a great or very great extent (93 percent), compared to those with lower transformation potential (60 percent). To understand the system in which a partnership operates, partnerships can take the following actions:

  • Define system boundaries. To make the exercise of articulating the system of interest more manageable, partnerships need to start small and focus on a specific subsystem or geography (Latham 2014; Hargreaves 2010; Stibbe and Prescott 2020). For example, rather than trying to tackle the entire global food system, a partnership may narrow its focus by looking at the food system for a particular country or a particular segment of the food supply chain. Partnerships should be careful to consider the trade-offs in setting boundaries. Setting boundaries too broadly can make establishing a partnership’s vision and activities too unwieldy; while setting boundaries too narrowly can mean that the partnership is missing important information on system interactions (e.g., between countries or between two different systems) that may impede a partnership’s progress. It may be beneficial to initially choose the smallest possible system that can be sustainably transformed and meet the partnership’s objectives and then scale as necessary (Stibbe and Prescott 2020). This reduces the amount of research that is needed. The process of defining system boundaries should be participatory and inclusive—that is, partnerships should think about defining the system’s boundaries in coordination with key stakeholders, which include those who have an interest in or are affected by the issue, as well as those who have influence over the issue (Hargreaves 2010). Using a participatory and inclusive process can help ensure that the systems boundaries are scaled appropriately.
  • Break it down. Although developing an understanding of the system requires up-front research, it needn’t be overwhelming. Research can be spread out over time and across partners and other external stakeholders to reduce the research burden. In fact, given the dynamic nature of systems, developing a systems understanding should be viewed as a continuous exercise that aligns with a partnership’s resources. Reflecting on how system conditions are shifting over time is important for allowing partnerships to adjust course as needed, as well as understanding key windows of opportunity (or closing doors that should be avoided) (Preskill and Gopal 2014). Partnerships should also think about spreading the workload by leveraging each stakeholder’s unique knowledge and network. Stakeholders likely already know about some parts of the system and may have a research team that can help facilitate developing a common partnership-systems understanding. Partnerships that have excelled at this have emphasized the importance of creating a strong culture of trust for promoting knowledge and data sharing, with one partnership stating, “Our [stakeholders] help educate each other on the issue. When someone has questions, our collaborative and open-source culture compels them to reach out to others who have struggled with similar issues in the past and seek answers collaboratively. If there are collective questions or issues we do not have the answers to, we create a working group to collectively address the issue and learn together.”2
  • Use systems mapping tools. Several systems mapping tools and methods are available to help build a systems understanding, and most of these tools and methods promote participatory exercises to develop conceptual diagrams or models of the feedback loops between system elements and interrelations including actors, resources, concepts, and data. Using a participatory approach to systems mapping can help ensure that the equity of policy, process, and impacts of the partnership’s activities is kept front and center. Some systems mapping methods (e.g., actor maps and social network maps) focus on exploring actor roles and relationships. Causal loop diagrams are conceptual diagrams of relationships and feedback loops. Issue mapping is a method used to lay out the political, social, or economic issues that underlie a system. Multiple online tools have also been developed, several of which combine mapping methods. Insight Maker, for example, is a free tool that combines causal loop diagrams with systems dynamics and agent-based modeling. Kumu is a tool that can map actors, social networks, and community assets and can create causal loop diagrams. Systems mapping outputs can vary in their complexity, ranging from a simple conceptual diagram to complex webs. As an example, the Rocky Mountain Institute recently worked with WRI, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the ClimateWorks Foundation to develop a joint map to better understand variables that influence the ability to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles in India. The map helped facilitate conversations on how best to develop solutions to address these barriers.

Figure 10 | Electrification of Mobility Assets in India Systems Map Using Insight Maker

Source: https://insightmaker.com/insight/200888/India-Electric-Mobility.

Each method or tool has its own focus, strengths, weaknesses, and degree of technicality, so key considerations for partnerships include answering the following questions: What are the partnership’s learning priorities and what methods and tools are best suited? How might the partnership combine different methods and tools? Does the method or tool require an expert to facilitate? How participatory does the partnership want its mapping approach to be? It is important to note that many of these tools are also adaptable to a partnership’s resources. In some cases, partnerships have developed their own unique mapping approaches. The best-in-class example of the IIX Women’s Livelihood Bond Series describes such a partnership:

Best-in-Class Example

The IIX Women’s Livelihood Bond SeriesTM (WLB Series) partnership aims to transform the global financial system by mobilizing capital for women’s empowerment through innovative financial instruments (Figure 11). The $150 million WLB Series securities are the world’s first impact investing and gender lens investing securities listed on a stock exchange. They pool together high-impact, women-focused enterprises to create a multi-country, multistakeholder portfolio that is sold to private-sector investors and listed on a stock exchange. The instruments will unlock large-scale private capital to support 3 million underserved women in transitioning from subsistence to sustainable livelihoods. The WLB Series defines women’s empowerment as improving the ability of women to access the constituents of development, including resources and opportunities to participate in the labor force. The partnership recognized that a core issue underlying women’s empowerment is gender-based exclusion from finance and that this exclusion denies the world the economic and social benefits that gender parity could bring across all 17 of the SDGs. Currently, IIX is scaling the proven WLB Series and working to advance COVID-resilient and gender-empowered green economic growth in Indonesia and Africa. Prior to that, IIX successfully closed an $8.5 and $12 million issuance, demonstrating the scalability, replicability, and overall power of investing in women’s empowerment.

Figure 11 | Placing IIX Women’s Livelihood Bond SeriesTM on the Continuum

Source: WRI Authors.

The WLB Series brings together 12+ leading impact investing firms, law firms and banks, government, and civil society stakeholders. The partnership is led by IIX, a pioneer in impact investing.

IIX initially established system boundaries by focusing on underserved women in the Asia-Pacific region. While constructing the issuances of the WLB Series, IIX assesses each country individually and all the countries holistically to ensure the creation of a well-diversified portfolio that adequately balances risk, return, and impact. Establishing system boundaries has helped IIX to keep its activities manageable in light of the extreme complexities of the global finance system, while also ensuring that the WLB Series is creating additionality in each market. One of the innovative features of the WLB Series is that each new issuance of the bond has built on the success of the previous issuances by expanding to include more countries and new sectors. For example, the WLB1 initially focused on three Southeast Asian countries. The WLB2 then expanded to include more countries like Sri Lanka and Indonesia, as well as new sectors such as clean energy and sustainable agriculture. The WLB3 will continue to expand to support COVID-resilient, inclusive green growth in Indonesia, Kenya, and South Africa.

IIX’s understanding of the financial system and how to change it draws from its practitioner experience across the value chain of sustainable investing and over a decade of expertise bridging the gap between the supply and demand side of capital. The WLB Series has been very strategic about breaking down the workload to reduce up-front research time by engaging a range of resources and partners. For example, IIX used its network in each target country to connect with and gather intelligence from knowledge experts on government regulations of securities, law and foreign investments into the country, legal and regulatory frameworks associated with lending to local enterprises, and investor interests. By engaging strategic experts within each country, the partnership could more quickly act to build a pipeline of investor interest. IIX also conducted a thorough review of publicly available market intelligence from reliable data sources, both internationally and locally within each region. Finally, the IIX team was also able to build from past experiences with structuring the WLB Series and unlocking capital in target regions through its Impact Partners Platform, the world’s largest crowdfunding platform for impact investing. IIX used data insights from the Impact Partners Platform to review country preferences of more than 1,200 accredited investors. Additionally, IIX drew on experiences investing in countries from the WLB1 and WLB2 portfolio, including Cambodia, Sri Lanka, India, and Vietnam. Having invested in these countries previously, the team was aware of the capital markets’ regulatory barriers, the availability of pipeline entities, and the interest of investors in these countries.

IIX has found that in terms of mapping the system, a key gap is mapping the beneficiaries and understanding their point of view on the problems they face and the effects they get from impact investing. To address this, IIX developed IIX Values, a tool that uses mobile technology to collect impact data from women beneficiaries in a scalable, cost-efficient manner to verify effects on the ground and to ensure that investors get access to transparent, timely impact reports. This ensures that women, as the end beneficiaries, are given a voice and a value and are taken into account across the investment process.

Jointly Agreed-Upon Transformation Vision and Near-Term Goals


Because transformation-seeking partnerships are working on complex issues in complex systems, partnerships can benefit greatly from jointly agreeing on a transformation vision and near-term goals to keep partnership stakeholders aligned and on track.

A clear transformation vision should serve as a strategic guide for the partnership and should build from the understanding of the system as explained in the previous success factor. The vision should specify the challenge at hand and the ultimate partnership transformation objective or vision.

Near-term goals encompass the objectives that the partnership aims to accomplish in the next one to five years; whereas intermediate actions A partnership’s immediate next steps or the activities needed to achieve its near-term goals and, ultimately, its transformation vision outline next steps that the partnership plans to take. Both near-term goals and intermediate actions should link back to the partnership’s transformation vision—that is, they should address the conditions that the partnership will aim to shift to address the challenge at hand. Aligning on a clear vision statement enables partnerships to later establish the scope of partnership activities, set phased goals and targets, and establish achievable timelines through, for example, a theory of change or business plan (Stern 2017; KPMG International 2016). Additionally, establishing a strong vision statement helps guide day-to-day behavior and helps each stakeholder see how its specific interests are being met by the partnership and understand the value that it adds to partnership activities (Enclude 2019; Bos et al. 2016). Establishing a strong vision statement also enables partnerships to balance different stakeholder priorities when setting intermediate goals, which keeps partners focused on and committed to a collective goal (Oorthuizen et al. 2018; Kuruvilla et al. 2018; Stern 2015; Enright et al. 2018).

Recommendations and Partnership Insights:

Most partnerships (85 percent) believe that their stakeholders have been successful in aligning on a transformation vision and goals to a great or very great extent. However, 71 percent of high transformation-potential partnerships scored themselves as embodying this to a very great extent, compared to only 27 percent of partnerships with low transformation potential.

Naturally, partnerships find the process of defining a transformation vision easier when they strategically work with stakeholders that have similar values and missions to that of the partnership. With this foundation in common, they have greater ease co-developing plans, such as theories of change, work plans, business plans and/or reporting frameworks, that keep them true to their original missions. For most partnerships, however, vision and goal-setting are rarely straightforward processes. Partnerships can pursue the following strategies:

  • Articulate the partnership vision and the steps to get there. Although a partnership’s vision may encompass the less tangible elements of its objectives, such as reducing food waste or loss or improving access to water sources by shifting system conditions, mental models, and setting near-term goals grounds the partnership to deliver measurable outputs. To start, stakeholders should agree on exactly what transformation success looks like. Perhaps this means launching a new product or service that achieves market saturation, like a renewable energy technology. A successful partnership may also be one that becomes unnecessary once it achieves its end goal, like changing a key policy or activating a new market. Once an end goal is established, setting near-term goals is essential to fulfill the end goal and defining intermediate actions, key milestones, or next steps helps keep partnerships on track. These objectives should be measurable and enable stakeholders to establish a timeline linking partnership activities with the partnership’s broader theory of change and systems change goals (Stern 2015). This should be a dynamic and iterative process involving all stakeholders (Collison et al. 2014; Oorthuizen et al. 2018; Stibbe and Prescott 2020).
  • Maintain a master vision, goals, and activities document. Partnerships find it helpful to keep one vision or strategy document. This can be used both to keep current stakeholders aligned and to engage new partners or investors. One partnership emphasized that having this document was a particularly useful way to keep its activities on track in its early stages when exact next steps were unclear. Overall, these plans should be living documents that are updated periodically to reflect changes in understanding of the system of interest and amended as partnerships inevitably course-correct to lessons learned over time. Several partnerships, for instance, host a yearly team strategy workshop to do things like “take stock of progress against [its] vision and reassess goals and priorities,”3 with one partnership specifically noting that it has built an annual review process into its governance structure. A vision document may take many forms, such as a theory of change or strategic plan or business plan or something simpler that can later feed into a more complex strategy document.
  • Prioritize a participatory approach with open conversations. If done well, partnerships can harmonize the desires of multiple stakeholders in a way that maximizes their strengths. One partnership with high transformation potential notes that “the solutions we commonly developed are bound by existing resource constraints, but with a clear goal, it is clear how each partner’s expertise adds up to the common goal.”4 More frequently, however, it is challenging to reconcile different viewpoints and agree on which goals and targets to prioritize, even if everyone agrees on the broader issue (Ayala-Orozco et al. 2018). High potential partnerships are particularly skilled at incorporating feedback from internal and external stakeholders into their partnership strategies, using different, and at times conflicting, perspectives to sharpen their long-term plans. These partnerships also prioritize open discussions through workshops, in-person meetings, or calls that invite every stakeholder’s perspective. It is worth taking the time to do this early on. When all partners feel like they are being heard and can collectively iterate on the partnership’s purpose, there is greater chance that the team will understand each member’s priorities and find alignment on a shared approach. This is especially useful as a strategy to help navigate the power dynamics at play within a partnership and an opportunity to identify and minimize any potential negative impacts of a partnership’s approach. Intentional participatory discussions up front help ensure that partnership stakeholders—particularly those representing the local community, unrepresented groups, or smaller organizations—have an equal voice in setting the ambitions of the partnership (Dalberg 2020). Additionally, prioritizing open conversations can also help potential partners assess the benefits and risks of joining the partnership before fully committing their time and resources (Oorthuizen et al. 2018; Collison et al. 2014).

Best-in-Class Example

Africa GreenCo (Figure 12), a partnership aiming to increase private-sector investment in renewable energy projects in Africa, has developed a joint transformation vision and worked with internal and external stakeholders to establish partnership near-term goals. Africa GreenCo operates on a portfolio basis, purchasing power from multiple independent power projects and then selling that power to multiple purchasers through power supply agreements and also trading on the regional electricity markets. By acting as a creditworthy intermediary, the partnership reduces investment risk and promotes a more dynamic power market.

Figure 12 | Placing Africa GreenCo on the Continuum

Source: WRI Authors.

From the start of the partnership, Africa GreenCo has maintained a master vision and goals document that keeps stakeholders focused on the partnership’s end goal while breaking it down into more manageable near-term goals and actions. This document has also been a helpful tool to articulate the partnership’s mission to new stakeholders and potential investors. Africa GreenCo has prioritized building a strong base of energy-sector support, and the evolution of this document reflects the value of the partnership’s rigorous feedback process.

The partnership’s first step was a feasibility study to understand the validity of the partnership concept. The study involved research on the technical energy capacity in countries of interest, exploration of alternate approaches to unlocking power investment in sub-Saharan Africa, consideration of legal and financial structuring options, and modeling of cost and profit margins. The study also weighed costs and benefits of different partnership structures by looking at other organizations, including African Risk Capacity, a natural disaster insurance organization that relies on funding from member states, and the Africa Finance Corporation, an infrastructure-focused multilateral financial institution. Throughout this process, the partnership connected with and consulted key energy-sector actors, including project developers, lenders, government stakeholders, and contacts at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Understanding gained from this study informed fundamental decisions around the partnership’s approach and structure. For instance, the founders originally thought the partnership would be treaty-based but determined that this setup would make it challenging to bring in new investors and achieve commercial viability in the long run.

The feasibility study was a significant time investment and took around nine months to complete. Throughout this process, the Africa GreenCo core team networked relentlessly, leveraging existing contacts and building new relationships with key actors across the African power ecosystem, including government stakeholders, national utilities, energy regulators, and investors. This enabled the partnership to facilitate open conversations among a range of stakeholders, using the feasibility study as a basis for these discussions. The partnership held a three-day workshop, bringing together diverse sector actors to provide feedback on the Africa GreenCo concept. Additionally, this workshop enabled the partnership to build early support across the system.

Africa GreenCo built on lessons learned from the feasibility study to develop a business plan that articulated the partnership vision and steps to achieve it. Specifically, the business plan outlined a step-by-step approach, clarified legal elements, broke down the partnership budget, and detailed technical components. In June 2017, the partnership held an investor roundtable with developers, lenders, development finance institutions, and government representatives from Africa GreenCo’s pilot country. Feedback from this session became the basis for the current investment memorandum, which was issued to a small group of investors to detail the investment opportunity.

Bringing diverse network actors together has been an essential component of this process. Accounting for different perspectives has enabled Africa GreenCo to strengthen its plan, and the master document has been a valuable conversation starter as the partnership has expanded its network. Keeping this document updated has also kept the current partnership team aligned on Africa GreenCo’s vision and goals, even as unexpected challenges have emerged.

Strong MELR Mechanisms with Systems Thinking


Success factors 1 and 2 allow a partnership to understand the system of interest so it can set its overall transformation vision and near-term goals and ensure that its objectives are unique and additive to addressing a problem of interest. Strong MELR mechanisms (often referred to as performance-tracking systems) allows a partnership to understand whether it is achieving its near-term goals, how it is contributing to transformation or achieving its transformation vision, and how effectively it is operating.

Most entities, whether a corporation, government agency, or CSO, use performance tracking to understand if they are accomplishing their goals, as well as report on and learn from their successes and failures. But coming together in partnership requires establishing a unique performance-tracking system and a high level of coordination among partners. Focusing on large systems transformation also requires moving beyond more traditional short-term-oriented performance tracking to integrating systems thinking into the design of MELR elements. We define these elements as follows:

  • Monitoring: the process of systematically and regularly collecting information and data to track a partnership’s progress on its activities.
  • Evaluation: the process of analyzing information and data to answer whether a partnership is meeting its objectives. Evaluation is about “sense-making, reality-checking, assumption testing, and answering questions” (FSG and Collective Impact Forum 2020).
  • Learning: the ability to take evaluation results and integrate them into a partnership’s approach at regular intervals to improve its effectiveness at meeting its objectives, to plan ahead, and to take risks.
  • Reporting: efforts to summarize evaluation findings and lessons learned with different audiences. Reporting can come in many forms, including annual reports, quarterly updates, PowerPoint presentations, and webinars.
  • Systems thinking: the ability to see how a partnership is influencing system conditions, how system conditions interact and influence each other, and ultimately, how the partnership is influencing system conditions and contributing to addressing the problem of interest (adapted from Preskill and Cook 2020).

Below, we refer to the combination of these elements as an MELR system. Having a strong MELR system that integrates systems thinking means that the partnership integrates its baseline understanding of the system into its MELR approach, tracks changes to the system over time and even expands it as the partnership scales, and works to understand the partnership’s influence or contribution to changes in the system.

Having a strong MELR approach with systems thinking is vital not only for tracking transformation impacts and improving a partnership’s adaptability and resilience to dynamic system conditions, but also for achieving several other success factors. The ability to state a partnership’s progress and what it has learned with confidence is especially important for building partnership credibility and trust and attracting partnership champions and investors.

Recommendations and Partnership Insights:

Interestingly, while 75 percent of partnerships in our survey pool report having an MELR system in place, less than half could demonstrate having clear systems thinking. That is, they do not believe that they can adequately track their contribution to transformation or their impact, and/or this was not adequately demonstrated in their partnership targets, metrics, or reporting during the research team’s evaluation of their transformation potential. For example, many partnerships use metrics that tend toward predetermined performance indicators like “number of beneficiaries” or “amount of investment” that are often short-term-oriented and do not reveal much about the partnership’s role in driving long-term systemic change. Not surprisingly, partnerships with high transformation potential believe that they have embodied this success factor to a great or very great extent—64 percent, compared to only 47 percent of partnerships with low transformation potential.

Partnerships listed several challenges related to MELR. First, many believe that they do not have the time to set up a sufficiently robust performance-tracking system because they have to prioritize mobilization and implementation activities. Second, partnerships are struggling to understand ambiguous concepts around transformation and systems change and believe that they lack the technical MELR expertise to set up appropriate mechanisms (Hargreaves 2010; Larson 2018). And no wonder. The literature on complexity and systems theory is extensive, confusing, and spread across multiple fields. Additionally, there is not a generally accepted approach for partnerships to track their impacts, and there are very few examples of evaluation to learn from (Latham 2014; Maassen et al. 2019). Third, partnerships often receive funding from more than one funder and are beholden to funder reporting requirements. If these requirements do not promote transformation-savvy practices, then it can be time- and resource-intensive to add another layer of MELR. Finally, it can be difficult to merge divergent points of view on what a joint MELR approach should look like among stakeholders.

Despite these challenges, one thing we hope that partnerships will take away from this section is that having a strong MELR system in place that incorporates systems thinking is doable and necessary, whether or not it is a well-resourced partnership. Several partnerships who had not set up MELR mechanisms up front expressed regret at not prioritizing this. One partnership has even stated, “Partnerships that are successful have MELR at their absolute core. Partnerships get a bad name in part because people aren’t doing a good job in this area.”5

Partnerships in our sample pool provided several recommendations. Interestingly, these points aligned very well with guidance from leading systems-change evaluation experts. It is important to note that there is no standardized MELR framework or one-size-fits-all approach that will work for all partnerships. Instead, evaluation experts have focused on providing principles or guidelines for partnerships and other networks and initiatives to track their transformation impact. Given the challenges listed above associated with setting up a robust MELR approach with systems thinking, as well as the importance of having strong MELR to understand partnership impacts, we present more detailed guidance on how to do this in the following special section. These guidelines can be adopted when creating an MELR system or to help make an existing MELR system integrate better systems thinking.

Special Section: Six Guidelines for Great MELR

In this special section, we synthesize and elaborate on six MELR guidelines that are relevant for transformation-seeking multistakeholder partnerships. We also present three case studies of partnerships that have successfully incorporated these six guidelines in their MELR practices.

Guideline 1:

Designate roles for MELR to ensure accountability

Having staff with designated MELR responsibilities helps ensure ownership of tasks and that information is passed on in a systematic way. A partnership may choose to house MELR tasks internally or with a third party (or a hybrid approach) and can match the strength of the MELR system to its partnership resources. Either way, this requires that some funding be set aside for MELR. For many of the partnerships in our survey pool, MELR is handled by one full-time or part-time staff member with expertise in data collection and evaluation. Some partnerships employ a third-party auditor to help ensure credibility of findings and build trust with stakeholders. A key role for this staff member should be to establish a knowledge management system that can be accessed regularly to support learning (Latham 2014).

Guideline 2:

Develop a strategic plan that aligns with the partnership’s shared vision, targets, and systems understanding

We define a strategic plan as a conceptual mapping of how a partnership’s specific activities, near-term goals, and transformation vision will shift system conditions and result in transformative outcomes. This can be the same as or different from the vision statement as specified in success factor 2, but a strategic plan should move beyond just identifying the activities and goals to outlining underlying assumptions about the system that make a partnership’s vision realistic and grounded in realities of the complex system in which it operates.

Theories of change (TOC) are becoming more commonplace as strategic plans for social change initiatives but may still be a new concept for some partnerships. TOCs move beyond simple results frameworks to provide hypothesized causal connections among interventions (inputs), outputs, outcomes, and impacts. There is a risk that a theory of change may still be too linear with cause-and-effect thinking (Preskill and Gopal 2014), but experts advise that TOCs should be thought of as navigational tools instead of strict planning tools. Components of a strong TOC include the following elements (based on van Tulder and Keen 2018):

  • An articulation of the system (see page 54 on how to articulate a systems understanding) and the conditions that are holding the problem in place
  • A shared vision for the partnership, including its activities, near-term goals, and transformation vision
  • An identification of the possible pathways among a partnership’s activities, near and intermediate goals, and transformation vision
  • Detailed assumptions the partnership is making about the system to identify pathways
  • A risk assessment of potential changes or challenges that the partnership could face and methods for addressing those changes and challenges

Importantly, because systems are dynamic, TOCs need to be revisited on a regular basis, alongside the vision statement, through a partnership’s MELR system.

Guideline 3:

Develop a set of evaluation questions to define the partnership’s data collection and evaluation approach

When setting up an MELR system, partners should ask one another, “What do we want to learn about?” A good starting point is to think about partnership dynamics or operating efficiency (How well is our partnership functioning?) as well as impacts (Are we achieving our near-term and intermediate objectives? Are we contributing to shifting any system conditions?) (Larson 2018). Evaluations should serve to answer questions that will increase a partnership’s ability to take risks, learn from its success and failures, and ultimately achieve impacts.

Partnerships can begin by agreeing on a set of questions that they would like to answer over time and then identifying measures like indicators of success for each question and data collection methods by which they will answer them. The questions could be answered at regular intervals to see how far the partnership has progressed on each factor over time.

Guideline 4

Use a mixed-methods design for evaluation

A mixed-methods approach to transformation evaluation means using a combination of quantitative and qualitative evidence. This is helpful because understanding a partnership’s transformative impact requires understanding both the quality of change, especially related to relationships, as well as the quantity of changes in depth and scale (Caboj 2019).

Guideline 5

Focus on contribution, rather than attribution

Understanding a partnership’s specific contribution to transformation or shifting a system condition can be extremely difficult as there may be many other influences on the system. For the Courtauld Commitment 2025, for example, understanding its attribution would entail understanding how packaging and food waste in the United Kingdom would have been reduced without the influence of the partnership. This type of exercise can be complex and expensive. Partners should ask themselves how this information would benefit the partnership and if understanding its contribution to addressing a problem would provide enough information to achieve its objectives.

Some partnerships may have resources for this; most don’t. Either way, it is valuable to think about evaluation through the lens of contribution: How did a partnership contribute to a particular outcome? Several tools are available to help partnerships, including contribution analysis and, more simply, stakeholder interviews (Caboj 2019). For example, if a partnership wanted to understand whether it influenced a specific government agency, it could interview staff from that agency through structured interviews.


Guideline 6

Design MELR to be adaptive, flexible, and iterative

By nature, systems are dynamic and difficult to predict, which makes it a good idea to conduct periodic refreshes of an MELR system (Preskill and Gopal 2014). This can mean rethinking partnership targets; activities; the vision statement; data collection activities; and evaluation, learning, and reporting design. For example, a shift in political regime may mean that a government agency that supported a partnership may no longer do so, and as a result, the partnership will need to reorient and find a new government champion or implement different activities to reach its objectives. Subsequently, the partnership’s MELR system may need to change by, for example, collecting new data or using different data collection methods or creating a new reporting deliverable better suited to a new partner.

Table SS-1 | MELR Guidelines in Practice


NextWave Plastics


Courtauld Commitment 2025

MELR Ownership





NextWave Plastics (NWP) is a collaborative consortium of 10 multinational technology and consumer brands that are integrating recovered ocean-bound plastic (OBP) (plastic recovered from within 50 kilometers of a coastline that would not otherwise be collected in a managed waste stream) into their products and packaging with the goal of rapidly decreasing the volume of plastic litter entering the ocean by developing the first global network of OBP supply chains (Figure SS-1). The partnership is convened by a CSO, Lonely Whale, and was originally founded by Dell Technologies.

TRANSFORM is a five-year program between Unilever, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), and Ernst & Young (EY) that supports innovative social enterprises in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia through grant funding and bespoke business support (Figure SS-1). TRANSFORM aims to enable these enterprises to develop scalable market-based solutions to improve the health, environment, livelihoods, and well-being of the lowest-income households.

The Courtauld Commitment 2025 is a 10-year voluntary agreement that brings together organizations across the United Kingdom’s food system to cut the carbon, water, and waste associated with food and drink by at least a fifth by 2025 (Figure SS-1). The partnership is funded by the UK government and businesses. It is coordinated and implemented by Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP). This is the fourth voluntary agreement in the Courtauld Commitment series, which has progressed from tackling food and beverage packaging, to food waste, to secondary and tertiary packaging and supply chain waste. 

Guideline 1: Designated MELR roles

MELR activities are largely handled by a single staff member from the convening partner, Lonely Whale. This staff member also serves as the director and convener of the partnership. MELR activities are overseen by a senior Lonely Whale staff member.

The MELR lead has established a centralized knowledge-management system where self-reported ocean-bound plastic diversion numbers from each company are recorded and aggregated for reporting the consortium’s progress toward its collective goal. Accountability to the core impact goal is enforced through public reporting in an annual report.

TRANSFORM employs an external MELR expert, Altai Consulting, but considers it to be a core part of the program. Altai set up the program’s theory of change and the overall MELR structure and evaluates and reports on the program’s progress at regular intervals. Altai also houses the MELR system, although core partners can access it through regular check-ins and a joint SharePoint site. Altai shares findings and recommendations for improvements through monthly reporting, quarterly program meetings, micro-assessments on topics of interest for the program, and in annual reporting. Altai also works directly with the social enterprises, providing them with technical support and training in identifying beneficiaries and setting up and tracking against key performance indicators and impacts.

Courtauld has a hybrid MELR system. Partnership executive management led development of targets, metrics, and the systems change goal. Courtauld leverages the member companies to collect and report annually on data for required metrics, and WRAP provides them with data collection and reporting protocols. WRAP has two dedicated part-time analysts focused on data cleaning, validation, aggregation, evaluation, and reporting. To build credibility, WRAP used the services of an external auditor or peer reviewer to verify progress against the partnership’s targets.

Guideline 2: Strategic Plan

Development of the strategic plan began by conducting research on the issue of OBP. This included a review of the leading scientific industry and CSO reports and networking with leading OBP-related initiatives like the UN Environment's Clean Seas Initiative and scientific experts such as the University of Georgia’s New Materials Institute. Working with the founding member companies, NWP agreed to an initiative charter. The charter established the shared vision of building the first global network of OBP supply chains, defined the core principles for how members engage with each other, specified how member companies would meet their individual targets, how collective action would work to build an OBP supply chain, and how the partnership’s ambitions aligned with the SDGs. The charter informed NWP’s clear target of diverting 25,000 metric tons of plastic by the end of 2025.

When establishing the program, Unilever and DFID conducted an assessment of what type of social enterprises they should be supporting and what their overall systems change objective and underlying goal should be. Together with Altai Consulting, TRANSFORM mapped a theory of change that demonstrated how strategically supporting social enterprises could reach a designated program target of enabling 100 million people to access products and services that improve their health, livelihoods, environment, or well-being by 2025, and how that target would lead to the ultimate systems change objective of reducing poverty by scaling market-based solutions.

Since Courtauld began in 2005, the partnership has taken an iterative and adaptive management approach to developing its understanding of the UK food and beverage supply chain and its strategic plan. With each commitment in the series, the partnership established clear and simple targets grounded in research, but with a vision toward the next commitment. For example, Courtauld 1 had two package-reduction targets, but the partnership also started researching the food waste issue and developing targets for Courtauld 2. This allowed the partnership to build credibility, to improve its systems understanding over time (rather than investing too many resources up front), and to create champions within member companies and the external supporting environment. Likewise, based on the partnership’s success, Courtauld has strengthened its systems change vision over time to focus on changing the underlying principles and mind-sets of the UK food and beverage system toward zero food waste and minimum packaging that also helps minimize food waste in the supply chain and the home.

Guideline 3: Evaluation Questions

NWP’s evaluation questions are directly related to key performance indicators defined by the member companies. Given the diversity of member approaches to OBP diversion, NWP focused on the following evaluation questions: (1) What progress was made toward the 25,000 ton OBP reduction target? (2) How many countries is OBP being collected from? (3) How many new products integrate OBP material? (4) What challenges, lessons learned, and solutions did members experience?

Although each social enterprise is different, TRANSFORM’s evaluation questions focus on how well each enterprise is doing at meeting its own objectives, and the collective effect on agreed-on program metrics across all 45+ enterprise projects supported to date. This includes measuring uptake by others and publicly available lessons learned, which is seen as a key contributor to systems change. Additionally, Altai Consulting provides strategic support to review how well the program and engagement with enterprises is functioning to recommend areas of improvement.

Courtauld’s evaluation questions focus on partnership progress toward quantitative goals. The partnership also asks questions regarding its efficiency and dynamics, as well as systems change impacts (how it is changing underlying principles of operations among the signatory businesses). Regular discussions occur between WRAP and signatory businesses to look at progress and how the commitment can assist businesses in making more rapid and cost-effective changes.

Guideline 4: Mixed- Methods Design

NWP leverages member companies to collect quantitative data on the amount of OBP recovered through their supply chains. To assess challenges, lessons learned, and solutions, NWP interviewed member companies through in-person and virtual meetings held regularly throughout the year. NWP also had an external review conducted by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Qualitative data collection was key for understanding how partners viewed the effectiveness of the partnership and opportunities for adaptive improvement of the initiative.

Each social enterprise tracks its own set of key performance indicators, predefined in collaboration with Altai Consulting, and Altai aggregates this information to assess progress against TRANSFORM’s targets and systems change objectives. TRANSFORM uses a mix of qualitative insights and quantitative indicators to track progress against systems change. Examples of quantitative indicators include the number of direct and indirect beneficiaries, the number of publicly available learning opportunities, and the number of business models that transition toward scale. Examples of qualitative insights include uptake of TRANSFORM models by others; whether the businesses have transitioned between blueprint, validate, prepare or scale; and insights on how the enterprises are partnering with each other and Unilever and EY’s local teams to drive scale and deepen impact.

Progress toward food waste and packaging reduction are done through quantitative metrics. The partnership tracks its contribution to systems change by tracking its influence on food waste, greenhouse gases, and water reduction. WRAP’s public-private partnership on plastic (UK Plastic Pact) also tracks change on plastic reduction and recycling targets. Going forward, WRAP will be tracking the progress of Plastic Pact’s food waste reduction voluntary agreements in other countries. WRAP tracks quantitative and qualitative information on its presence in new geographies; the uptake of WRAP, Plastic Pact, and Courtauld protocols; and use of the voluntary agreement approach.

Guideline 5: Focus on Contribution

NWP has a strong focus on additionality across OBP supply chain development. Member companies prioritize new supply that expands existing OBP collection efforts or establishes collection in areas where it currently does not exist. This also includes engaging supply-chain partners in OBP recycling that would not otherwise work with this material and collaborating with CSOs and other partners to increase their effectiveness reducing OBP as well. NWP is breaking down barriers—in the market and within its companies—to prove its success working with unconventional materials and creating a world where OBPs carry a commercial value.

TRANSFORM aims to identify the number of people affected by the program and does this by capturing data on each project’s impact. In addition to project impact, TRANSFORM is keen to understand the impact of TRANSFORM beyond the term of the project with the enterprises, acknowledging that TRANSFORM hopes to be a catalyst for future scale. TRANSORM does this by estimating the ratio of TRANSFORM’s funding and support for the social enterprises against other contributors. Beyond project attribution reviews, TRANSFORM also assesses how many people the enterprise reports affect and the funding the enterprise reports receiving and then allocates beneficiaries proportionally. TRANSFORM also uses qualitative insights and reflections to demonstrate its contribution and influence, such as tracking how lessons learned are taken up and shared by others (e.g., through blogs, webinars, or websites), and tracking how models tested through TRANSFORM are taken up by others.

Courtauld has attempted to measure both attribution and contribution toward its systems-change goal. The partnership developed a household survey from the outset to start measuring food waste as there were no existing estimates. Courtauld hired an expert to estimate its specific impact on reducing food waste, which was useful, especially for funders, but this was expensive. Courtauld has learned that what is most important is being able to show that its approach is influential and that the evidence shows that the system is changing.

Guideline 6: Be Adaptive, Flexible, and Iterative

NWP’s learning and reporting strategy is key to improving the partnership’s ability to be adaptive and flexible. The strategy includes regular in-person member meetings (2–3 times per year) and monthly check-ins with Lonely Whale,) external review (e.g., by university graduate students), and an annual report. Member companies use exchanges to connect on challenges and learn from each other to speed progress. Lonely Whale organizes development of an annual plan, which, in addition to reporting on progress, is highly focused on adaptive management. The plan acknowledges key challenges and lessons learned each year to inform and refresh a strategy that revisits how to realize its charter commitments and explores how members can expand deeper into the OBP product supply chain.

The core partners convene regularly through monthly meetings to review the performance of the program and discuss findings on organizational alignment, enterprise projects, and Altai Consulting’s activity. Each quarter, the management team (comprising Unilever, DFID, and EY representatives) reflects on MELR and what can be done to ensure that the program meets its objectives in the most effective way. Each year, a thorough review of the program, the TOC, and the reporting framework is undertaken; and key lessons learned and recommendations are identified. Altai also conducts micro-assessments or rapid research assignments on topics of interest for the program and integrates findings into its recommendations for the program. TRANSFORM also has developed strong communication and learning lines from the social enterprises to the core partners and the social entrepreneurship community within TRANSFORM. Each project has a designated project lead within Unilever and delivers reports on lessons learned at key project milestones. Project leads are convened in a monthly learning group to share their experiences and challenges. TRANSFORM also facilitates events for enterprises so that they can directly share what they have learned. Each enterprise is encouraged to post this information publicly, and TRANSFORM also creates learning assets, blogs, and articles that it publishes through its website to encourage uptake by others. All lessons learned are regularly captured by Altai Consulting and the program team.

As the Courtauld series of commitments has advanced, the partnership’s MELR system has had to grow to accommodate new targets around packaging, water, greenhouse gases, and food waste. Additionally, as research gaps have been identified, they have been filled with targeted research. This has allowed the partnership to evolve and change priorities over time, based on sound evidence. For example, there was little evidence on the scale of food waste in different subsectors of the supply chain. Research was conducted with these subsectors and led by business signatories. This showed the scale of the opportunities for change and identified solutions to the waste problem. The signatories on the agreement could then select the approach that suited their business most effectively. Partners reflect on lessons learned from their activities at least annually.

Source: Partnership quotes provided as part of A Time for Transformation Report survey, conducted December 2019. For information on the survey instrument and methodology used, see Appendix C.

Figure SS-1 | Placing Nextwave Plastics, Transform, and Courtauld Commitment 2025 on the Continuum

Source: WRI Authors.

Capacity to Engage Stakeholders External to the Partnership


To be most effective, transformative partnerships must actively engage with the network of actors relevant to their system of interest external to core partners, signatories, and other internal partnership stakeholders. Figure 13 and Box 25 provide a broad overview of a typical partnership’s external universe, based on the authors’ understanding. Cultivating support from these external actors enables partnerships to engage new champions, access external resources and expertise, and better navigate the local context. This cultivation also adds a neutral perspective to the partnership strategy. Engagement with this external network can take many forms, depending on partnership activities. Partnerships may find it most valuable to build on an existing network, such as an industry association or national platform, that can broker new and useful relationships and facilitate knowledge sharing between peers (Treichel et al. 2017). For all partnerships, connecting with relevant local actors is essential, especially vulnerable and underserved communities that would be affected positively or negatively by the project. Engaging with these local networks, formal or not, can help inform partnership implementation to ensure that it is equitable and tailored to the local context (Dalberg 2020).

Figure 13 | Multistakeholder Partnerships’ External Actor Map

Source: WRI Authors.

Box 25 | External Stakeholders Overview

Multistakeholder partnerships are frequently working across multiple countries or one of several components of a supply chain, meaning it is vitally important to understand who is included in the system of interest and who should be identified as a partnership champion, relevant decision-maker, beneficiary, or affected group. There are several types of external stakeholders that partnerships can seek to identify and leverage to accelerate the progress of their partnership:

  • Accelerators: Partnership accelerators serve to provide funding, technical knowledge exchange, or connections to useful networks to accelerate the progress and success of multistakeholder partnerships. Accelerators can operate as knowledge-exchange platforms, industry associations, national platforms, or nongovernmental organizations. P4G is an example of an accelerator.
  • Communities: Foundational to a partnership is understanding the intended community beneficiaries of the partnership as well as those community members who may be negatively affected. It is especially important to have representation according to gender, ethnic group, race, age, income, and other groups or vulnerable communities that are relevant for each implementation area. These groups are often underrepresented in economic decisions, but their participation or buy-in to a partnership’s activities may ultimately determine its success. Engaging beneficiary groups in monitoring, reporting, and learning activities will be especially important for data collection and truly understanding a partnership’s contribution to transformation.
  • Other Governments, CSOs, and Businesses: Governments, CSOs, and businesses can be explicit partners, but it is also important to understand their potential softer role as partnership champions. Mapping local actors can help partnerships identify regional or sector gaps and position efforts as complementary, rather than duplicative (Dalberg 2020). Dynamics among these groups will vary depending on context. For example, gaining private-sector support as a first step may be essential in some instances, whereas first aligning with government may be a better approach in others. Understanding when and how to engage these external stakeholders is critical to partnership implementation. Building a formal or informal network of support with these local actors can also help advance partnerships by helping them navigate a complex regulatory environment, work better with local communities, or broker relationships with potential funders or new partners.
  • Investors: Achieving long-term funding sustainability is a key issue that many partnerships are facing, making investors a critical external actor to engage. Investors include, for example, funders, foundations, and private investors.

Special Section: Forecast the Future: SDG Partnerships for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Our modern era of technology is witnessing the fusion of the physical, biological, and digital worlds through technologies like the Internet of Things, 3D printing, machine learning, blockchain, and precision agriculture. Often referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) The fusion of physical, biological, and digital spheres through technologies such as the Internet of Things, advanced energy storage, 3D printing, precision agriculture, and autonomous vehicles (Schwab 2016) , technology is a critical enabler for external stakeholders looking to accelerate SDG action. Technologies of the 4IR are increasingly being used by partnerships in all sorts of ways to accelerate their progress, such as reaching more communities, working smarter and faster, unlocking new solutions to known problems, and more. Given the relevance of advanced technologies in the 21st century, here we present a special section on 4IR technologies.

Technology as the Enabler: How Partnerships Are Using Technology in Practice

Partnerships with transformative SDG ambitions look to 4IR technologies as a boost: Seventy percent of the 169 indicators underlying the SDGs can be fast tracked by 4IR technologies (Herweijer et al. 2020). Technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence, and blockchain are being used by partnerships in all sorts of ways: to reach more communities, work smarter and faster, unlock new solutions to known problems, and more. Big challenges, previously daunting and unwieldy, are now more accessible.

In the absence of quality ocean data, effective ocean management, for example, has always been tricky since only 5 percent of the ocean has been fully explored. Through the Friends for Ocean Action partnership, however, business, international organizations, and CSOs are working together to build out a comprehensive, open-source digital platform that can inform decisions on ocean resources (Friends of Ocean Action 2020). This partnership uses data to support decision-making, fast tracking solutions for a healthy ocean. Through its Liberating Ocean Data project stream, the platform will be built based on new technologies, data processing, sensors, and satellites. Unique to this partnership are the technology companies and ocean conservationists, who historically don’t have many shared commonalities, that are now collaborating to unlock solutions. Together, they are building shared values, agreeing on the objectives, and applying a method that respects both the agile, pioneering tech world and the rigors of academic and explorative work of ocean CSOs and academia.

In the energy sector, several fascinating partnerships are emerging in support of expanded energy access in Africa, many of which are using 4IR technologies in innovative ways. Africa GreenCo, mentioned elsewhere in this report, is currently looking to create sophisticated algorithms to automate lending to African solar energy companies, a concept new to the space. Energise Africa, a partnership that works as a crowdfunding platform to deploy off-grid solar systems in Africa, is also looking to incorporate blockchain technologies for transaction tracking and accounting. We discuss Energise Africa further in the special sections that close out this chapter.

There are also partnerships that work to accelerate the confluence of 4IR technologies used by others to attain the SDGs, such as the newly formed initiative, 2030Vision. Founded by the WEF, Arm Holdings, and the United Nations Development Programme, 2030Vision is convening leaders across all sectors to share cutting-edge research on the role of technology in accelerating the SDGs, as well as the market opportunities unlocked by 4IR technologies. The initiative will also encourage the formation of new partnerships with specific industry ecosystems to lead on critical issues. Already, 2030Vision has identified 300 technological applications to accelerate the SDGs and is currently working with leading technology experts and governments across the world to build leadership principles that support the use of these technologies for the global public good.

Considerations of Advanced Technologies

Serving the global public good is a critical aspect underlining 4IR technologies. Although the SDGs provide a powerful aspiration for a sustainable world, transitions are often accompanied with trade-offs. And while advanced technologies hold great promise for transformative SDG outcomes, any associated socioeconomic and governance challenges cannot be overlooked. 4IR technologies may be challenging, for instance, for governments to regulate in a fair and equitable manner. As such, the true costs and benefits of these technologies and how they affect frontline communities may not be known until after the fact.

For example, the outputs of artificial intelligence can have bias, exacerbating issues of social justice and societal exclusion (Johnson 2019, Crawford et al. 2019, West et al. 2019). This possible bias urges us to consider questions of ethics, values, and inclusion in both the development of new technologies and their deployment for societal good. Access to advanced technologies is not always equitable: Thirty-three percent of the world’s population does not have access to a mobile phone, 41 percent does not use the Internet, and 51 percent is not active on social media, which has an important data-gathering function (We Are Social 2020). This considerable global technology gap prevents a significant proportion of the world’s population from partaking and, likely, even benefiting from new technologies. Partnerships like Friends for Ocean Action, Africa GreenCo, Energise Africa, and 2030Vision, however, that use these technologies can extend the accessibility of these solutions. With their longer-term timeline that comes with a focus on transformation, these partnerships and others with transformative ambitions can drive toward the sustainable solutions needed to tackle the SDGs. Each stakeholder’s contributions is integral: Companies’ high level of innovation and technology, coupled with governments’ regulatory oversight and support, coupled with CSOs’ equity and social justice focus, may help ensure that new technologies are adopted with consideration of their externalities and frontline communities.

Recommendations and Partnership Insights

Partnerships rely on support from a wide range of actors, from trade associations and academia to CSOs and the private sector. These organizations add value by connecting partnerships to technical resources, external expertise, partnership champions, and new funders. As may be expected, partnerships with high transformation potential believe that they have embodied this success factor to a great extent, compared to low transformation potential partnerships (64 percent compared to 47 percent). To effectively build a support network, partnerships can take the following actions:

  • Map relevant initiatives and actors. High potential partnerships know their strengths and weaknesses and when they need to reach outside of their immediate partnership network for additional subject matter expertise, technical assistance, or implementation support. They also understand how their partnership fits into the broader system. Partnerships find that establishing a local support network is particularly useful. One partnership emphasizes this, saying it “benefits from local partners in the region who are part of the civil society or who are based in government,” another identifies community partners as key to “keeping the partnership aligned with other local efforts.” Partnerships can start by mapping relevant initiatives in the region or sector they are working in. This exercise can help partnerships engage the right groups, identify regional or sectoral gaps, and position efforts as complementary rather than duplicative (Dalberg 2020). This can be part of a systems mapping effort identified in he success factor, "clear articulation of the system of interest," and partnerships could use methods like actor mapping or social network mapping.
  • Leverage existing partner networks. High-profile or well-networked stakeholders have a lot to offer. They build partnership credibility, increase partnership name recognition, and open doors to resources and contacts that would not otherwise be accessible. One partnership, for instance, notes that one key stakeholder enables it to “access technical and political support systems essential to partnership operations.”6 Another partnership relies on a stakeholder’s strong connections to sector specialists. Partnerships view the reputational and network benefits that these stakeholders bring as invaluable but warn that these relationships must sometimes be carefully navigated. For example, well-connected partners tend to be large and support multiple initiatives contemporaneously, in some cases making it difficult for partnerships to fully capitalize on network resources. One partnership explains that while two well-connected organizations are core partners, “with competing priorities and [regulatory] hurdles, accessing and utilizing networks has been a challenge.”7 To better access these resources, partnerships find that communicating partnership progress regularly and finding a champion within the organization are particularly helpful strategies.
  • Prioritize networking. External support often comes down to individuals, rather than organizations. Partnerships with high transformation potential cultivate this by “actively participating and networking with local, regional, and national organizations,”8 demonstrating proof of concept, and prioritizing “continuous engagement with new supporters” at every opportunity. These partnerships also seek out and join more formal networks, such as P4G, that can support partnership development and facilitate useful partnership contacts. Partnerships emphasize that building these support networks takes time, trust, and persistence but agree that efforts are worth it in the long run. As one partnership explains, “[F]inding solutions to complex problems requires co-operation, not competition.”9

Best-in-Class Example

Energise Africa, a partnership between impact investing platforms Ethex and Lendahand, uses crowdfunding to provide affordable finance to solar businesses operating in sub-Saharan Africa (Figure 14). These businesses then sell small solar systems to households on a pay-as-you-go basis. Individual investments are structured as fixed-term bonds and conditionally guaranteed for first-time investors on the platform. Since its inception, projects funded through Energise Africa investments have enabled 452,000 people across Africa to replace kerosene with solar electricity. Energise Africa has done an exemplary job establishing its external support network from the top down and bottom up, leveraging stakeholder networks and building support from grassroots CSOs. This network has been critical for raising awareness of the partnership, building partnership credibility, and attracting new investors.

Figure 14 | Placing Energise Africa on the Continuum

Source: WRI Authors.

Energise Africa investments are innovative in their approach. Without a track record, the partnership initially found it more difficult to build its investor base at the rate initially anticipated. To map relevant initiatives and actors, Energise Africa conducted research to better understand why investors were hesitant and to identify possible solutions. Ethex research revealed that UK investors are interested in impact investing, but do not know all of their investment options and perceive impact investment as inaccessible and high risk. Investors also thought that sustainable development investments lacked transparency and were skeptical of their actual impacts. Energise Africa addressed these barriers by experimenting with several approaches to attract new investors, including different advertisement strategies, various investment matching approaches, the first-time investor guarantee, and vouchers for first-time investors. Each of these approaches had different levels of success in attracting new investors, and the exact findings are detailed in Energy 4 Impact’s recently released “Energise Africa—Investment and Impact Report” (Energy 4 Impact 2020).The research shows that the promise of match funding led to an increase in investment and that the first-time investor guarantee focused on increasing the participation of smaller investors and also boosted investment, especially around the £100 level, the level of the guarantee.

In the four months after the launch of the first-time investor guarantee in July 2019, there was a 65 percent increase in first-time investors compared to the previous four months before, with an 80 percent increase in investments of $125.

In 2019, the partnership employed an external consultant to conduct additional research on investor demographics and behavior and analyzed what kind of communication channels were most effective in acquiring new investors. The results showed that traditional communication channels like advertising (TV, London Underground, radio), public relations, and events were much more effective than digital channels in persuading people to invest. In addition, Energise Africa supporters (UK Aid, Virgin Unite, P4G, and Good Energies Foundation), media articles, and Trustpilot reviews were critical in building trust with potential investors and giving them the confidence to go ahead and invest. Furthermore, digital and social media channels, although not important in acquiring new investors, were very important in building out the Energise Africa community and encouraging repeat investment.

In response to this data and insight, Energise Africa focused on building an external support network that enables the partnership to reach new groups of investors. One way the partnership had done this is by leveraging its partner networks. To start, Ethex provided access to a community of over 15,000 individual impact investors. This enabled partnership to market Energise Africa to a large group of potential investors as soon as it launched. Stakeholders UK Aid and Virgin Unite also brought large and diverse network resources. UK Aid’s support and engagement allowed Energise Africa to promote the platform at a number of UK government events, such as a 2018 ministerial trade mission to Africa, through a UK Aid research report released at the 2019 UN General Assembly meeting, at the 2020 UK Africa Investment Summit, and through several UK aid-related news stories. This has been very important in building the partnership’s credibility, building brand awareness, and enabling Energise Africa to acquire a broad demographic of new investors. A February 2020 press release, for example, explains the partnership’s strategy, framing Energise Africa as integral to the UK Year of Climate Action in advance of COP 26. Virgin Unite, which is focused more on the entrepreneurial aspects of Energise Africa investments, also regularly promotes the partnership through social media and blog posts, enabling the partnership to reach investors who may not otherwise consider investing in sustainable development.

Energise Africa has prioritized networking, working with grassroots CSOs on events to connect with potential investors and promote the partnership. The partnership has collaborated with several organizations, including Friends of the Earth, Ashden, Power for All, Global Citizen, and the UK Sustainable Investment Forum’s Good Money Week (an annual event). Creating opportunities for this first investor touchpoint is invaluable and a critical component of building a sustainable investment pipeline. Once people have invested initially, the partnership’s repeat investment rate is above 90 percent.

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