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The Innovation Process
Activity 2.3 C

Find the right partner organisations

This activity will help you find partner organisations with the right mix of capabilities, experience and skills, as well as aligned incentives and a shared clarity of purpose.

Making sure you have the right potential partners is crucial if you are seeking to create something new (See also:  Partner and collaborate with others). These partners will be on a transformative journey with you, so alignment of incentives and clarity of purpose and drivers for collaboration is critical.

As well as aligning objectives and incentives and carrying out due diligence,  it is also important to consider howpotential collaborations and partnerships might be viewed, not only by the communities affected by crises, but also by other humanitarian stakeholders.

In February 2019 the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and Palantir, a data analytics firm, announced a new partnership aimed at helping WFP use its data to streamline the delivery of food and cash-based assistance. However, their choice of Palantir as a partner has received significant criticism from human rights, humanitarian and technology-for-good organisations.

As a private sector company that has previously provided services to the US military, significant concerns were raised about data privacy and ownership of data in relation to humanitarian principles and standards. An open letter was sent to WFP expressing deep concern about the partnership and various commentaries on the wider risks to the humanitarian sector have been published.

At the time of writing, this is an ongoing issue, and the actual impact on WFPs humanitarian mandate and operations are unknown, but the concerns raised and the negative perception of their decision-making process is likely to have continuing repercussions.


When partnering we recommend that you look at the problem you have identified and review your capabilities to develop a solution for this problem. You may have knowledge gaps in innovation management, technical specialities, or in the humanitarian sector or particular operational environments.

Once you have decided where your capability gaps are, you can start the search for relevant partners who might bring complementary expertise and experience, and help you develop a solution. There are plenty of established methodologies for searching and identifying the right partners, and it is crucial that you spend time assessing whether the partners are the right ones for you.

You also need to keep in mind that you will need different partners for different stages of the innovation journey. The right partners for developing an idea will not necessarily be the right partners for helping to pilot it, and the partners you require to pilot an idea might not be the ones who help you scale it.

Further inspiration

L Potter, I Gray, P Masters (2017) Does MSF need a more intelligent/empathetic approach to partnerships?, MSF Sweden Innovation Unit
Reflections on how MSF approaches partnerships in its innovation work

I Gray, M Hettiarachchi (2014) Lessons from the frontline of Humanitarian and Technology Company Partnerships, The Journal of Partnership Brokering
Insights, lessons learned and recommendations from working across the ICT and Humanitarian nexus

GSMA (2016) Partnership Guidelines: Building effective relationships between MNOs and NGOs in complex environments and crises
A review existing best practice on partnership development between MNOs and NGOs/third parties

Elrha (2011) Guide to Constructing Effective Partnerships
A resource to support collaboration between humanitarian and academic organisations