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Think strategically about the “critical mass” of partners you need for a successful partnership


Think strategically about the “critical mass” of partners you need for a successful partnership

Think strategically about the “critical mass” of partners you need for a successful partnership

Posted on September 30, 2019 by Karina de Souza

Authoring Organizations: Pacific Institute
Consulting Organizations: Anheuser-Busch InBev
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)
Universal: No
Applicable Phases: Assess
Last Updated May 22, 2024


Having multiple essential partners provides a stronger foundation for lasting action on shared water-related challenges to achieve your desired partnership outcomes. This “critical mass” of partners helps to represent different stakeholder requirements (depending on the water challenges identified) and share the burden of delivery and maintenance of any projects.


When a water sustainability partnership is established with too few partners, the partnership may fail to represent the needs and opinions of the stakeholders most affected by the specific water challenge to be addressed. As a result, the partners may design a project that does not adequately address the needs of all water stakeholders.

On the other hand, a partnership with too many non-essential partners may become distracted from the ultimate goal, leading to disillusionment and the weakening of working relationships between stakeholders.


  • Identify the essential partners that provide necessary skills and capacity and whose vision and goals are aligned with the partnership vision and goals.
  • Find the partners that are incentivized to join for the long run, particularly relevant public sector institutions – some partnerships may require a long-term commitment and these partners will be core to maintaining any partnership.
  • Be clear about the commitment to the partnership. In the initial phase, partners most likely pay more in costs than they receive in benefits.
  • Make sure that the roles and responsibilities of each partner are very clear, especially regarding funding allocation, timing of input, and the distribution of authority within the partnership. Clearly articulated roles will help prospective partners decide whether the partnership serves their needs.


The Lusaka Water Security Initiative (LuWSI) in Zambia has 25 partners, all with different levels of engagement. This structure resulted from a shift in focus from preventing groundwater pollution of urban water supplies to a more holistic goal of broader water security for the city, addressing a number of water challenges using a multi-stakeholder approach of complementary local and international organizations.

The partnership’s strength lies in its holistic approach. Multiple public institutions are involved to address water security in connection to related challenges like water supply and sanitation, groundwater pollution and urban flood risk management, rather than simply water pollution. This interconnected perspective on water-related issues will produce a more sustainable outcome.

However, LuWSI required a lot of resources to coordinate so many partners, even though some were ‘sleeping’ partners who were engaged in the beginning but whose input was not required longer-term. The large, inclusive nature of the partnership also caused an overlap to emerge between the partnership output and the delivery of the public sector water services mandate. To address this issue, the secretariat for the LuWSI partnership now currently sits with the National Water Supply and Sanitation Council in Lusaka (NWASCO). NWASCO supports LuWSI to      oversee coordination of the partnership while  the resulting projects are embedded within public sector institutions with the mandate for the various projects.

Projects that have validated this Lesson

To strengthen multi-stakeholder collaboration to safeguard Lusaka's water resources while enhancing the sustainable and timely access to water and sanitation for all." Cooperation is crucial if the complex issue of water security is to be addressed sustainably. Water security is … Learn More

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