In 2014-2015, Well Grounded partnered with Maliasili Initiatives to undertake participatory research, to better understand the key challenges and opportunities for African civil society organisations (CSOs) in relation to organisation development. This resulted in a final report that outlines key issues and recommendations, published in mid-2015: Strengthening African CSOs for Improved Natural Resource Governance & Conservation

That same year, with support from Right and Resources Initiative, Well Grounded and Maliasili co-organised two peer learning sessions with some of our client CSOs (and some CSOs from Eastern and Southern Africa) to disseminate the analysis and results of the research and to get their feedback on priorities for next steps: one in Dakar, Senegal (May 2015) and another in Nairobi, Kenya (July 2015).

One of the key issues raised in the research and during the peer learning sessions was around partnerships: many African CSOs currently access funds for their work via International NGOs (INGOs). Our clients and the work that they do are therefore greatly influenced by their relationships with INGOs. In many traditional INGO-CSO partnership models, power is not shared equally: INGOs tend to set the agenda and African CSOs are often treated as service providers. These factors all constrain the growth, health and performance of African CSOs and their ability to function as change agents and sustain their impacts over time. However, there are some progressive and innovative partnership models and tools that have and are being implemented, which Well Grounded, Maliasili and our clients can learn from and build on.

Well Grounded therefore aims to support our CSO clients and INGOs to think through different ways that African CSOs can be supported so that they have more power and autonomy to set their own agenda when receiving financing via international organisations.

The objective is to work with both CSOs and INGOs to improve North-South partnerships and power relations.

As a first step, Well Grounded and Maliasili Initiatives collaborated in 2017 to develop and publish a Partnerships Tool aimed at African CSOs and INGOs outlining key considerations when designing, entering into, and managing partnerships. This document presents a summary of general lessons and principles to provide broad guidance and insights on partnerships, followed by a set of case studies that briefly describe a diverse set of models from amongst our partners and networks. A set of Annexes provides further tools relevant to designing and maintaining effective partnerships.

The intention is to use the tool as an entry point to talk about North-South partnerships – the challenges and the opportunities – with CSOs and INGOs (together and/or separately) so that partnerships are more equal and effective.