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Avoid partners dependency in initiative design


Avoid partners dependency in initiative design

Avoid partners dependency in initiative design

Posted on August 22, 2019 by Karina de Souza

Authoring Organizations: Pacific Institute
Consulting Organizations: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)
Universal: No
Applicable Phases: Scale & Exit
Last Updated May 22, 2024


Partner dependency causes the outcome of a partnership to rest on a single institution, threatening the long-term sustainability of the initiative. Programmes should be designed from a systemic perspective that includes multiple strategic partners. At a practical design level, the longevity and sustainability of the partnership must be explicitly considered at the beginning of the design phase. Establishing new partnerships can take considerable time. If original partners need to exit, the other partners must be able to continue the project. A flexible partnership design ensures this sustainability.


An initiative that plans to sustain itself beyond any individual members is more likely to achieve impacts over the long term. Otherwise, the developments made through the partnership may be lost if one dominant partner exits (for example, due to resource or capacity constraints or a predetermined level of involvement). 


Before initiating a partnership, conduct a thorough scoping exercise to ensure that the partnership design negates partner dependency. Here are further points of consideration to reduce partner dependencies from the beginning of project design.

  • Water stewardship initiatives need strong links with regional and/or national institutional platforms such as catchment management agencies or relevant government ministries to ensure public sector institutional relevance. This can help with the longer-term sustainability of a local partnership.    
  • Projects should, by design, generate numerical information to illustrate the financial costs and benefits of the initiative. This information can help justify the partnership to prospective partners, reducing dependency on a single partner or donor.
  • Continual monitoring of progress is essential. If monitoring is ingrained into the partnership, these skills and abilities will continue beyond the original partner or donor input, ensuring the sustainability of the partnership once a partner leaves.
  • To market the partnership to interested organizations, provide learning opportunities outside of the partnership to share information about institutional design, technical topics, funding sources, and development opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises. This can help broaden partnership opportunities beyond a single partner or donor source.    
  • Programme design should include “scale  and exit” plans that are accessible to all partners involved, ensuring that should one partner leave, the others are able to continue the initiative.


The South African Strategic Water Partners Network (SWPN) is a coordination platform between the South African private sector, government, and civil society organisations. Comprising 30 core partners and 22 additional participant organisations, the Network was created to address the country’s 17% water supply deficit by 2030. The Network is co-chaired by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) and is acknowledged as an instrument of the National Water Resource Strategy for South Africa. Because DWS, a permanent entity, co-chairs the partnership, dependency on an original funding partner has not taken place. Therefore the partnership will be more sustainable in the long term.

GIZ entered into a partnership with South African Breweries (now owned by ABinBev), WWF and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) between 2014-2018. The partnership wanted to improve the water balance around the George and Oudtshoorn areas in  the Southern Cape hops-growing region.  The partnership has strong backing from the private sector through ABInbev, who see an economic return from investing in the removal of thirsty alien invasive plants to secure sufficient water for hops production locally. The partnership commissioned a Geographic Information System mapping study to map all the alien invasive plants locally in preparation for their removal. This technological investment provided a clear roadmap for action and the resulting benefits. The roadmap provided a good business case for return on investment for new partners and helped to easily attract support for the partnership. The partnership is now hosted by the hops growers association and its is the hops growers who coordinate the continued removal of alien invasive plant species.

Projects that have validated this Lesson

None found.

This lesson learned reflects the beliefs and experiences of the author, not necessarily the Pacific Institute, CEO Water Mandate, or UN Global Compact.