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Strengthen a partnership by starting small


Strengthen a partnership by starting small

Strengthen a partnership by starting small

Posted on August 31, 2021 by Lillian Holmes

Authoring Organizations: CEO Water Mandate
Consulting Organizations: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)
Universal: No
Applicable Phases: Assess
Last Updated Jun 20, 2024


As natural resources challenges affect every facet of life, the most effective solutions are often large-scale and structural: national policies, watershed management programs, industry-wide commitments. However, a fledgling partnership must begin with a manageable goal to gain confidence, concrete results and to build relationships and trust. When initiating a new partnership, identify actions that can yield “quick wins” and achieve meaningful near-term goals. Build trust by centering the immediate needs of local communities and project partners, centering short-term goals with a strong business case. Successful partnerships can grow to undertake greater ambitions over time.


  • Initial success will improve a partnership’s longevity. Many successful long-term partnerships began with modest goals.
  • Local action has great effects on the community and on the local economy. It mobilizes communities to be the drivers of positive change.


  • Center “quick wins” for project partners and communities during the planning phase to attract interest from a broader range of potential partners.
  • In addition to developing relationships and trust, initial projects may also function as a pilot that proves the project concept and encourages broader uptake by other actors.
  • Engage local actors as drivers of their own development and not beneficiaries of philanthropic actions.
  • When creating plans to expand the scope of the partnership, use the Natural Resources Risk and Action Framework Tool 29, “Decision-making matrix for scale-up,” to determine which elements of the partnership can be scaled up to other geographic areas or partners.


El Agua nos Une is a partnership led by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) with partners in national and local governments, the private sector, and civil society. This partnership has a decade-long history of engagement on water in the region and strong relationships with a myriad of partners. As El Agua nos Une succeeds in addressing one sector or country, the partnership leverages this success to expand their programs to other sectors or countries; as one example, the partnership is building on the success of a project in the paper sector to engage chemicals companies.

The partnership was launched in Colombia in 2010 and expanded to Chile and Peru in 2012, and now operates in Colombia, Chile, Peru, Brazil, and Mexico. In 2021, the partnership launched plans for an ambitious new program that will comprise an engagement on public policy implementation and private companies to improve business performance on water efficiency, reuse and wastewater treatment, as well as launch new collective action projects.

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.