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ACFID is the peak body for Australian NGOs involved in international development and humanitarian action.


ACFID works and engages with a range of strategic partners in addition to our members.


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2022-23 ACFID Code of Conduct Review

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Home 5 News 5 ACFID Blog 5 Seven partnership models that can transform your organisation

Seven partnership models that can transform your organisation

Oct 1, 2020 | ACFID Blog

To achieve social change, it is imperative to build coalitions. The partners of Australian NGOs have become significantly more diverse in recent years, with more development actors in many developing countries. In response, the structure and nature of partnerships have also evolved and become much more diverse.  

Here I explore different types of partnerships our members hold. All of these partnerships represent effective collaborations that help both parties achieve mutually agreed objectives. The ACFID Code of Conduct, through its focus on Quality Principle 5 (Collaboration), emphasises mutual respect, transparency and understanding in the formation of all partnerships. 

How Adara partners with the private sector to support people living in poverty…

The Adara Group has a fascinating structure that stops the ‘administrative costs’ debate before it starts. They are a respected international NGO (ACFID member, Adara Development), and this operates in parallel with two corporate advisory businesses (Adara Partners and Adara Advisors) that financially secure the organisation. The two parts of the business work together in one united purpose: serving communities in extreme poverty. 

In fact, the sole objective of Adara Partners is to fund Adara Development’s administration and emergency project costs. This is achieved by a panel of 15 financial expert leaders donating their time and services to Adara Partners, and the fees generated on their transactions are donated to Adara Development’s work. 

The model addresses one of the key challenges facing many not-for-profits: ensuring programme sustainability through long-term funding. Nonprofits are also roundly criticised – often quite unfairly – for their administration costs. Underpinning the Adara Group model is the idea that Adara Partners can exist solely for the purpose of funding Adara Development’s overhead costs and emergency project costs, allowing 100% of all other donations to go directly to its international development work.   

Partnering with the private sector is not a new development for Adara. It was borne from the belief that the world of business could be used to fund powerful international development work, and from this basis the Adara Group was founded in 1998. This model allows Adara flexibility in how they deliver their international development. With secured funding from Adara Partners, they have the freedom to go to the remotest communities and stay until the work is done – not until a grant comes to an end.  

How AVI works with private sector contractors to help deliver the Australian Volunteers Program…

In being the managing contractor for DFAT’s Australian Volunteer Program (‘AVP’), AVI formed a consortium with private sector contractors Cardno and the Whitelum Group to deliver the range and depth of the Program’s requirements as the world’s leading international volunteering for development program that works in 26 developing countries with twenty in-country teams.. 

AVI started, and has managed, Australia’s international volunteering for development program for the last 69 years – with the last 60 in partnership with the Australian Government.  The redesign and tender of the latest program meant that DFAT moved away from grant funding of AVI and Scope Global, to a $190 million, five-year contract with one managing contractor, including performance-related payments. The need to respond and adapt to meet the new DFAT approach, as well as the additional expertise needed in the new Program is the reason for partnering in a consortium with these highly experienced companies. 

In this partnership, Cardno provides the Deputy Program Director, Contractor Representative, three country offices and a range of supports. The Whitelum Group provides the six MEL staff of the AVP team, who work on the AVP MEL framework and program logic to record and report program outcomes, as well as facilitate the reflections sessions as part of the AVP’s continuous improvement cycle. 

Partnering with Cardno and the Whitelum Group has enabled AVI to build its capacity to be a successful contractor to DFAT and deliver outstanding outcomes for people, organisations and communities. 

How Australia for UNHCR solely supports their principal implementing partner – UNHCR…

Whilst Australia for UNHCR is an autonomous organisation and governed independently, it exists nearly entirely to fund the activities of its principal implementation partner, UNHCR. It was first established in 2000, with the aim of increasing private sector funds for UNHCR.   

They have a unique partnership with UNHCR as one of the seven National Partners making up part of UNHCR’s global private sector network. The partnership is guided by several agreements that set out the principles and shared objectives that guide the relationship, and also allows the use of the UNHCR name and brand. Annually, they agree on specific activities for the year, and there are frequent opportunities for collaboration and learning exchanges between our staff. For example, staff regularly undertake field missions to visit funded projects implemented by UNHCR, and to gather fundraising and awareness-raising collateral. Their focus in these cases is on stewardship of the funding it provides and on monitoring and evaluating implementation, outcomes, and impact of these projects.  

This partnership means Australian donors can directly support UNHCR emergency operations in conflict and disaster zones and longer-term projects such as providing healthcare, building schools and running livelihood projects. Australia for UNHCR’s partnership role with UNHCR has evolved over time, so that it now provides a supporting link with civil society, and promotes greater public understanding and support of refugees. It has also facilitated innovative new partnerships with government, corporates and refugees. 

How Family Planning NSW partners with in-country health associations, to co-design, co-brand and co-publish their health services…

Family Planning NSW partners with a multitude of professional associations in the Pacific who deliver sexual and reproductive health services to vulnerable and underserved communities. These include family planning associations in PNG, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and other areas in the Pacific. These partnerships are built on mutual respect, cooperation and shared vision.  

Family Planning NSW are committed to the long term capacity building of partners – rather than setting up their own offices in-country. This style of partnering is a natural fit because it sustainably addresses areas of sexual and reproductive health need. The model ensures that from the start, projects are focused on local priorities, are locally owned and operated, with technical assistance provided by Family Planning NSW to deliver capacity building training and support.  

This approach is essential to the way Family Planning NSW works, as in-country partners take responsibility for international development project outcomes. In this partnership approach, all projects are co-designed, all outputs co-branded, and project dissemination co-published. 

How Assisi Aid Projects’ long-lasting relationship with a local partner NGO helped deliver rapid food distribution…

Working in partnership with and through local partner NGOs is fundamental to Assisi Aid Projects’ development approach. Assisi Aid Projects’ long history and approach grew from a mutual partnership in 1985 with the Assisi Farm & Training Center in India, in response to a specific need.  Over time, those areas of need changed, and in 2015-16 Assisi Aid Projects established a partnership with the Integrated Development Trust (IDT) in Vadanallur, India. They share goals to empower women and their families to improve social, civil engagement and economic opportunities. Through this partnership, projects are developed jointly with mutually agreed outcomes.  

Assisi Aid Projects draws on IDT’s in-depth local knowledge of the issues facing tribal and rural villages in Tamil Nadu. Whilst IDT run the projects; they regularly consult and collaborate to ensure their continued progress and the most successful outcomes. Assisi Aid Projects has a commitment to support the ongoing capacity development of IDT, with the aim of working together to build programs that are culturally appropriate, address needs, and are sustainable in the long term.   

The foundation of the partnership is trust and mutual respect. The strength of the relationship between Assisi Aid Projects and IDT enabled project activities to pivot towards a successful humanitarian relief distribution to respond to an acute need due to COVID-19. The distribution of masks, soap, and over 17,000kg of lentils and rice required a rapid response and a strong partnership to create new processes in a short time frame and assess potential risks to the partner and beneficiaries.   

How So They Can works in public-private partnerships to ensure their educational goals continue long after their exit…

From the beginning, So They Can has partnered with local, regional and national governments to work collaboratively with communities in East Africa to educate and empower. These partnerships have been essential, given the importance of government in supporting the project gains beyond the projects’ lifetime. It ensures that the communities in which they work with do not form a long-term reliance on So They Can. 

So They Can collaborates with the community from the beginning of any project and forms strategic Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) with both national and local governments. They have a 7-10 year development cycle in which they support local communities and governments to create public education facilities and learn how to sustainably operate them. As they near the end of their 7-10 year development cycle with some of the 37 schools in Kenya and Tanzania, they may be exiting the community from a funding perspective however remain on the boards of management as a trusted advisor to ensure quality education delivery is maintained.   

Ultimately, So They Can has found that working in PPPs fulfils their sustainability criteria – the shared capital and operational costs ensure the government and community take ownership of the projects. It also allows them to reach the most vulnerable communities and achieve significant scale. This approach is essential to ensuring both the longevity of their programs, and an ability to work with multiple communities simultaneously. 

How indigo foundation partnered with a university to support research on the barriers Afghani women faced when seeking employment…

At the core of indigo foundation’s model is building the power and capacity of our local partners – and this extends to supporting and enabling local partners to link with other NGO, government and academic networks. In 2017 the indigo foundation embarked on a three-way partnership with the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and the Afghan Education Women’s Services Organisation (AEWSO) based in Kabul. The purpose of this partnership was to support a two-year research project identifying the barriers and opportunities for Afghan women who are tertiary graduates seeking employment. In 2017, AEWSO was an emerging organisation and it was hoped that this research would be catalytic for them and would provide a strong evidence-base for their future work and advocacy.  

The research, based on interviews with 54 tertiary-educated Afghani women about their experience of seeking employment revealed a number of key barriers to women entering the workforce, including: nepotism and a lack of merit-based assessment; unequal pay rates and remuneration; constraints imposed by family and opposition to women taking up certain occupations; harassment during travel to work and at work; and ongoing security and safety issues.

This three-way partnership came about through a shared longstanding relationship that indigo and UTS had with Nasima Rahmani, founder of AEWSO, as well as a shared commitment to supporting the empowerment and economic independence of women and girls in Afghanistan. Through the partnership, AEWSO was able to access funding for their research, academic support and expertise from UTS and a strong base to establish as a new women-run NGO in Afghanistan. 

Sophie Seck

Sophie Seck

Standards and Code Advisor

Sophie’s primary focus at ACFID is driving engagement and compliance with the ACFID Code of Conduct. This includes promotion of the Code to membership and the wider sector, and the Spotlight series is a key mechanism to explore how members put the Code into practice and also to profile the good work our members deliver.