World Disasters Report: Resilience: saving lives today, investing for tomorrow

Chapter 6: Stronger together: partnerships that build resilience

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go further, go together
African proverb

Partnerships are often at the core of collaborative efforts. The IFRC’s One Billion Coalition for Resilience (2015), for instance, acknowledges that “the key to realizing the Coalition is to mobilize a broad partnership of actors from local to global, committed to the common cause of building resilience at the individual or community level”. 

Globally, the processes involved in reaching a range of recent global agreements – such as the Sendai Framework, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and The Grand Bargain resulting from the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) – have all demonstrated the importance of collaborating with a wide variety of actors (as one example, the WHS regional consultations over a two-year period are thought to have engaged with some 23,000 stakeholders from all sectors of society). Constituencies that may have been unwilling to trust each other previously – e.g., local and national governments; local governments and grass-roots or civil society more generally; or, business/industry and grass-roots trade unions and workers – are coming together to advance common goals. The final agreements adopted at these events reflect this emphasis on collaborative action as well.

Partnerships and coalitions are increasingly being seen as key to advocacy, knowledge creation, design and implementation of programmes on the ground, as well as to monitoring and review. IFRC’s One Billion Coalition for Resilience has among its stated aims the promotion of local organizations, so that “they are treated as primary and equal partners in today’s humanitarian systems”, and creating conditions for “like-minded organizations and solution-providers to avoid working in fragmented and disjointed ways”. It believes that: “From local to global, partners will grow stronger if they agree to share ambitions, risks, resources, capabilities, successes and accountability”.

Another bold initiative led by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) with the Rockefeller Foundation is the US$ 100 million Global Resilience Partnership in Africa and Asia. Launched in 2014, the initiative aims at “solving the complex and interrelated challenges of the 21st century such as persistent and often extreme poverty, food insecurity, and climate shocks”. To achieve this, a strong emphasis is being placed on ‘connecting’ civil society with government and the private sector. 

Collaborative efforts to build resilience are becoming even more important due to the increasing pace and scale of urbanization. In contrast to rural areas, urban centres are characterized by high levels of population density and diversity, and a wide array of stakeholders. In such environments, international humanitarian actors find themselves ill-equipped to deal with the complexities of urban crises. Without partnerships and other forms of collaboration that involve local policy-makers, service providers, professionals, communities and businesses, the impact of humanitarian interventions in urban settings risks being short-lived, piecemeal, sporadic and ultimately unsustainable. 

Partnerships – an abused word?

Commitment 2 of The Grand Bargain commits its signatories to “engage with local and national responders in a spirit of partnership and aim to reinforce rather than replace local and national capacities” (UN, 2016, 5). This touches on what for many is a sore point about partnerships: that they do not always live up to the rhetoric, wherein the intentions of many partnerships – the term is intended to imply a relationship that has values, fairness, reciprocity and respect implied within its meaning – are not be realized in practice. This can occur when one partner (usually the larger and more powerful organization) who has the budget, works with a local partner, who gets less say (or no say at all) in how the budget is agreed, or even how the project purpose and activities are to be enacted. Funding transfers from the larger to the smaller organization will be accompanied with a contract, which will almost certainly spell out conditions that favour the funding partner. Effective partnerships therefore value the nature of the relationship as much as ‘getting the job done’.

Varieties of partnerships

The content and intent of partnerships can vary widely. In addition to direct implementation, others can focus, for instance, on advocacy. National governments in many countries are allocating space to other actors such as local authorities, civil society, academic institutions and the private sector. 

The private sector is emerging as a key player in building resilience in many areas. A recent study by the newspaper The Economist indicates that while the private sector still sees the government taking the main share of responsibility for the burden of climate-related shocks, companies are also inclined to make greater investments in climate-resilience building due to perceived benefits such as increased competitiveness, improved employee health, greater productivity and lower absenteeism, as well as cost savings. There is a clear intent to form partnerships with government and civil society, which marks a change from past practice, when companies tended to focus solely on their own resilience (EIU, 2014).

Partnerships can be seen as central ‘animators’ of resilience-based strategies or responses to conflicts and complex emergencies. A discussion paper on the Syrian conflict, prepared by the UN in 2013, proposes what is called a ‘resilience-based development response’. This strategy, based on collaborative action, aims to support the efforts of national and regional governments to ensure the provision of quality housing and related services for sustainable habitat (water, sanitation, energy and waste removal) and the rehabilitation and reconstruction of social economic infrastructure affected by the ongoing crisis. 

In reality, resilience-based development action offers numerous opportunities for partnerships to deliver dividends at multiple levels. In the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, the local Red Cross Society has been working closely with the local government, NGOs and volunteers to respond to the growing imbalance in the child gender ratio within the local population, which has resulted in some areas having as few as about 700 girls per 1000 boys. While the immediate objectives were to protect the female children, the activities extended to cover health, nutrition, education, sanitation, livelihoods and the environment, making the programme a vehicle for building resilience at the larger community level. 

Partnerships image

Opportunities for business action

Based on BSR’s observations from the four case studies in Thailand, and the experience of working with business, we identify four key focus points for business in investing in resilience:

  1. Incorporate resilience-building as a key dimension of risk management. For example, climate change and water security can be added as key components of corporate due diligence and risk assessment protocols 
  2. Adopt a holistic approach to building adaptive capacity that considers the relationship between the company and society, the natural resources they depend on, the people they employ, the cus- tomers or suppliers they work with, and the social licence to operate granted by local communities 
  3. Identify opportunities to collaborate with public- and private-sector players in order to amplify the impacts of resiliency efforts 
  4. View increasing adaptive capacity as a business opportunity. Tracking corporate costs, invest- ments and returns on investment (ROI) on resilience initiatives can help to assess and support the business case for investment over time. 

As climate change and disaster impacts on the private sector become more pronounced, particularly the risks inaction poses to business continuity and long-term sustainability, developing an approach to building the adaptive capacity of a company’s own operations and the communities around them will become a vital business focus.

Towards better partnerships that build resilience

Partnerships among stakeholders can thus take many forms, serving a variety of objectives. Documentation of recent experiences and lessons learned by several organizations and initiatives (e.g., reports by The World Bank and The Partnering Initiative) highlight the following key factors in building effective partnerships at local, regional and national levels:

  1. Understanding and trust – stakeholders, including communities, NGOs, the private sector and governments at different levels, must understand each other’s perspectives and sufficiently trust each other’s motivations. For this to occur, it is imperative to establish dialogue mechanisms, formal and informal, to enable them to share their respective concerns and priorities regularly
  2. Transparency – open and inclusive planning of development priorities, accompanied by decentralization and flexibility in the allocation of resources, is critical in order to build grass-roots ownership and stake in any partnership
  3. Incentives – it is important to establish clear incentives for local, national and regional governments, policy institutions and researchers to partner with communities and the private sector
  4. Measurement of impact – clear and measurable indicators must be established to assess the impact of partnerships in resilience-building. Incentives could be linked closely to these indicators
  5. Institutionalization – build institutional capability for partnering, including developing strategies, systems and processes and individuals’ partnering skills and understanding in order to scale-up, institutionalize and formalize partnerships that demonstrate effective win-win solutions (Reid et al., 2015; World Bank, 2015). 


Chapter 6 was written by Shipra Narang, Vice-President at General Assembly of Partners, Habitat III, Delhi, India. Box 6.1 was written by Marcus Oxley, Executive Director, Global Network of Civil Society Organisations for Disaster Reduction (GNDR), London, UK; Box 6.2 by Leda Stott, Partnership Director and Research Fellow, Innovation and Technology for Development Centre at the Technical University of Madrid, Spain; Box 6.3 by Maria Fellizar-Cagay, Deputy Executive Director, Center for Disaster Preparedness Foundation, Manila, Philippines; Box 6.4 by Brooke Avory, Manager, and Jeremy Prepscius, Vice-President, Business for Social Responsibility; and Box 6.5 by Mike Meaney, Chief Operating Officer, Habitat for Humanity Haiti, Port-au-Prince, Haiti and Maggie Stephenson, Researcher, University College London, UK. Content on the link between developmental and resilience initiatives along with the Indian case study has been contributed by Rosemarie North, IFRC Communications and Advocacy Manager, Geneva, Switzerland.

Sources and further information

EIU (The Economist Intelligence Unit) (2014) Building climate change resilience in cities: the private sector’s role. Executive summary of a 2014 survey. The Economist, London, UK. 

Reid S, Hayes J P and Stibbe D T (2015) Platforms for partnership: emerging good practice to systematically engage business as a partner in development. The Partnering Initiative, Oxford, UK.

UN (2016) The Grand Bargain – a shared commitment to better serve people in need. Istanbul, Turkey, 23 May 2016. UN, New York, USA.

World Bank (The) (2015) Community-led partnerships for resilience. World Bank Group, Washington DC, USA.