Why it pays to single out your partners

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Your chief executive is addressing an international conference. Representatives of your partner agencies, including donors, are in the audience. “We're so grateful to our many partners around the world who make our work possible,” your chief executive says.

General acknowledgements like this are all too common. Many of us can recall hearing or reading similar statements. But in today’s complex landscape of traditional and new partnership models, generic recognition of your partners is often insufficient.

Generic versus specific recognition 

In some contexts, collective recognition of development and humanitarian aid partners makes sense. Where space or time is limited, it is practical. Perhaps you work for a regional development bank that has so many members and other partners it would be cumbersome to single out every entity on every public occasion.

In other instances, even when backed by genuine intent, a generic acknowledgement can seem dismissive. It can even imply that valuable support and collaboration is being taken for granted. This is especially pertinent for bilateral partnerships.

Certainly, in a crowded operating environment, few aid actors can afford to be known for consistently claiming the credit for progress instead of giving other parties due recognition for their contributions, leadership and ownership.

Visibility matters

“When partners tell their development stories and share their results, Canadians learn how their contributions are making a difference and transforming lives,” and their partners “can help engage Canadians in development issues,” according to the Public Recognition Guidelines for Global Affairs Canada Development Partners.

Moreover, public acknowledgement and other forms of visibility contribute to accountability and transparency.

“Ireland places accountability at the heart of its development cooperation programme” and it is “more important than ever that the Irish Government and its partners clearly demonstrate to the public the results which are achieved through Irish Aid support,” the Irish Aid guidelines for partners explain.

These are among the reasons why some partners specify mandatory visibility clauses. For example, the European Union’s latest requirements for implementing partners describe “partners’ legal obligations and the mandatory elements of the communication and visibility measures that must accompany all EU-financed external actions”, unless the agreements and contracts concerned explicitly provide otherwise.

Other partners provide visibility guidelines which set out their preferred approach.  For instance, principles to be considered when using the New Zealand Aid Programme logo and acknowledging their support are that “our contribution is fairly acknowledged alongside our partners” without “undermining country ownership of development initiatives”.

Make the effort

It is possible, over time, to achieve a balance between generic and individual recognition in a way that works for your organization and each of your partners. Making the effort to understand, and respect, your partners’ visibility requirements and guidelines is essential.

The Aid Visibility Forum is an advocate of simple visibility plans which set out how, when and where your organisation will single out each partner for meaningful attention over a given period of time. Use a mix of mass and interpersonal communication. Focus on the results of partnership actions, rather than administrative or procedural milestones.

Check visibility manuals and plans for practical advice. Among the ideas to recognize Government of Canada funding set out in their guidelines are: mentioning their support at events; including Government of Canada quotations in news releases and using the handle @CanadaDev when publicly recognizing Global Affairs Canada support on Twitter. “Integrating visibility and recognition into routine work planning can help funding recipients identify opportunities to publicly recognize Global Affairs Canada support,” they advise.

Occasionally, partners do not wish to be singled out publicly. This might be due to political sensitivities or security concerns related to a particular initiative. Always respect such wishes.

Good practice examples

It is worth revisiting speeches. Transcripts and audiovisual recordings can be made available online, serving as a point of reference and means of acknowledging individual partners on the public record. Extracts can be quoted in traditional and social media, and in reports. It is therefore worthwhile maximising the opportunities presented by key public speaking engagements.

A January 2018 speech to the Executive Board of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) by the UNFPA Executive Director, Dr Natalia Kanem, effectively combines collective recognition for partners with visibility for specific partners.

Consider these extracts (and see UNFPA website for full text) from Dr Kanem’s address:

“The coalition of faith-based organizations and religious leaders around the world pushing with UNFPA for an end to female genital mutilation, child marriage and other harmful practices continued to grow.

“Through the power of our partnerships – with the Board, with governments, with our UN partners, civil society, academia, the private sector and other actors — UNFPA reached more than 33 million women and over 1.6 million adolescents and young people with services for their sexual and reproductive health and to tackle gender-based violence…”

“With funding from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, our project Preventing Maternal Deaths in East and Southern Africa reached 3.4 million users with family planning and trained more than 6,000 providers on a wider choice of contraceptives…”

When deciding which partner or partners to mention at different occasions, consider the audience. During his speech at the 2018 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting – the focus of which is public-private cooperation – the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, chose to single out two private sector partners:

“…The Fourth Industrial Revolution does not just entail risks; it also brings solutions to humanitarian problems. For example, the ICRC is partnering with Microsoft to use facial recognition technology to help reunite families separated by conflict, and ABB has constructed a solar grid for our Nairobi warehouse”.

These examples show how simple, yet meaningful, it can be to single out partners rather than referring to them as an amorphous mass.

Image: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (via @UNOCHA)


  • Singling out your partners for recognition - consistent with their visibility requirements - will help position your organisation as a partner of choice.
  • Generic acknowledgement of partners should be an exception rather than the rule: consider making this part of your organisation’s communication policy.
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