Partnership is a Journey: Equitable Partnerships Are Fundamental to Achieving a Gender-Equal World

EngenderHealth’s vision and approach to building equitable partnerships.

At EngenderHealth, we know partnership is a journey. And we are in it together. We have learned through experience that equitable partnerships are the result of intentional collaboration, trust building, knowledge sharing, and a people-centered approach. They require hard, focused, purposeful, and rewarding work. Partnership ​​is a cornerstone of our commitment to locally-led development and is critical to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in the world’s most vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations—spanning all geographies and fields of expertise we work in. 

We have learned much through our decades-long history of partnering with local and national NGOs, community-based organizations, international NGOs, government agencies, research institutions, private sector companies, and funding entities. EngenderHealth is committed to applying the learnings from our rich experiences with partners to all of our programming. We are committed to supporting country-led solutions for country-specific opportunities and challenges, co-designing projects for local needs with local partners, strengthening and supporting systems and capacities for future sustainability, and strengthening and sharing power and resources with national and local partners. Within that context, we are excited to share our Partnership Framework and Toolkit! The framework and toolkit were developed based on numerous internal and external consultations, using a variety of inclusive approaches to ensure that it was reflective of our partner needs and the experience of our staff across the world. We asked our partners what good partnerships look like and used this to help design our journey together. Built in line with EngenderHealth’s core values and designed to provide strategic direction and practical tools for building long-lasting, equitable partnerships, we hope that it will guide us, and others, to better live up to the goals of locally-led development. 

An equitable partnership at EngenderHealth is an arrangement or relationship formed around a shared vision or mutual interest. It is entered into consensually and intentionally between all parties, characterized by reciprocal benefits, formation of trust, and commitment to either long-term collaboration or the lifespan of a specific project, as agreed upon by all involved.

Partnerships in Action

Though our partnerships are diverse and wide-ranging, all our work with partners is characterized by three core approaches that broadly define our role and contributions. We convene and amplify. EngenderHealth amplifies local organizations’ work by elevating their voices, strengthening their skills, fostering connections across communities and countries, and bringing separate but related networks together. We co-design and jointly implement. When forming partnerships, we seek out organizations with complementary expertise and aligned values because a program can only be successful when its partners’ qualities, abilities, and experience align with the program’s deliverables and objectives. This enables us to facilitate a truly “one team” approach guided by co-creation and joint implementation. We strengthen and share capacity. EngenderHealth offers our partners technical support across our core impact areas—SRHR, including contraception and abortion care, gender-based violence, and maternal and obstetric care. Moreover, we integrate a gender, youth, and social inclusion perspective throughout our programming and organizational operations. 

Let’s take a look at these approaches in action!

Amplifying the Voices of Youth-Led Organizations in West and Central Africa to Advance SRHR and Eliminate Gender-Based Violence

Through our Strengthening Local Youth- and Women-Led Organizations to Become Key Actors in Promoting SRHR and Improving the Management and Prevention of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in West Africa program, EngenderHealth is supporting an established network of youth- and women-led organizations across multiple countries in West Africa, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, and Togo. We established equitable partnerships with nine youth-led organizations (YLOs) and recently recruited twelve new YLOs. Our work is to provide technical and financial support to ensure these organizations can effectively implement their advocacy goals and plans.

Our partner YLOs are critical to the achievements of this program. EngenderHealth staff interviewed members from all nine YLOs in the project’s second year to determine our approach’s success and inform future activities. During those interviews, one YLO, Young Health Volunteers (JVS), said, “Coming together and sharing the experiences and potential of the three organizations for a great impact in advancing the status and rights of women were a motivating factor from the very beginning. It was an opportunity to learn from the experiences of other feminist organizations and to work together for the project’s success. Being at the heart of planning, implementing, and monitoring actions were also delightful from the start.” We agree! Not only is it delightful, but it is also critical to expanding the reach of SRHR and GBV services.

By partnering with the organizations already working in the region and continuously learning through those partnerships, we can remain flexible to needs as they arise and gather lessons for future work throughout this program and others. By focusing on partnership, we can also encourage coordination and strengthen collaboration among organizations across West Africa. These efforts support grassroots and regional SRHR and GBV movements, which previously operated separately. By amplifying the voices and strengthening collaboration among young feminist activists and organizations, we can all enhance advocacy efforts to improve laws, standards, guidelines, procedures, and services for SRHR and GBV.

Implementing Jointly to Reach People Living with Disabilities with SRHR Services in Tanzania

To ensure that our Scaling Up Family Planning in Tanzania program reaches the country’s most vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations, such as people living with disabilities, we have partnered with a local organization, Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania (CCBRT). CCBRT’s extensive experience delivering services to people with disabilities, combined with EngenderHealth’s expertise in strengthening the quality of contraceptive services, is accelerating the uptake of SRHR services among people living with disabilities, addressing gaps in service delivery, and making services more inclusive.

People living with disabilities face many barriers when it comes to accessing healthcare, including accessibility and availability of information, accessibility of facility infrastructure, limitations on insurance coverage, lack of training for healthcare providers, and attitudes and stigmas surrounding disability from healthcare providers and the general public. Today, more than 4 million Tanzanians are living with a disability. To address the multi-faceted barriers to high-quality, affordable, and effective healthcare information and services faced by people living with disabilities, we are working together with local partners, like CCBRT, to implement evidence-based, holistic approaches jointly.

CCBRT Advocacy Officer Fredrick Msigallah lists just some of the work we are doing together: “We are building the capacity of people with disabilities themselves to first understand their rights to health and other rights, but also to engage with the relevant policymakers and decision-makers to lobby and advocate for their rights and representation. We are also creating opportunities—workshops, meetings—whereby we engage with healthcare providers and professionals and people with disabilities so that the healthcare providers hear the needs of people with disabilities and the way they can address them in their programs. Also, we train healthcare providers on how to provide disability-inclusive services. We are also advocating for improvement of infrastructure for healthcare services.” We couldn’t do this work as well without each other.

Strengthening Government and Civil Society Organization Capacity for SRHR Initiatives in India

Through our long-running TARUNYA program in India, EngenderHealth works with governments and local civil society organizations (CSOs) to expand and strengthen adolescent SRHR initiatives. This includes helping the national government, local governments, and CSOs improve the spaces where adolescents can access SRHR information and services. We also support CSOs in increasing awareness among adolescents, parents, and other influential community members. 

Measurement and reflection are crucial to improving our impact and understanding how to strengthen the capacity of our partners best. In August 2019 and October 2020, EngenderHealth, in collaboration with the government of Bihar in India, implemented baseline and endline cross-sectional surveys to measure sexual and reproductive health (SRH) knowledge, attitudes, and practices among adolescents to guide future interventions of the TARUNYA program. Through these surveys, we found that community-based activities, such as peer education and adolescent health days, contributed to increased awareness and utilization of adolescent programs and services. Further, we saw large increases from baseline to endline in awareness of where to access contraceptives among all adolescents aged 15 to 19, indicating that program activities contributed to the distribution of information among adolescents in communities. 

After the surveys, we have continued to support local CSOs and the Government of Bihar in scaling up this implementation model to additional districts in Bihar and transitioning roles and responsibilities to local CSOs and the government to reach those adolescents that are hardest to reach. EngenderHealth began providing technical assistance in India in 2008. Over time, we have developed solid and lasting partnerships with governments and CSOs throughout the country—these partnerships have been integral to the program’s success. By leveraging the expertise, resources, and commitment of the government and CSOs while contributing our SRHR expertise, capacity-building experience, and gender, youth, and social inclusion tools, we have significantly expanded the reach of adolescent and youth SRHR information and services throughout India.

Transforming Together

At EngenderHealth, equitable partnerships drive our mission forward. Therefore, our partnership approach is integral to enhancing our impact and the impact of our partners. Collaboration, inclusivity, equity, shared responsibility, transparency, trust, mutual respect, and adaptability are the core principles that underpin our partnership model. These principles guide us as we build equitable partnerships and are grounded in our broader organizational values— reflection, inclusion, integrity, respect, and transformation.

Our work has repeatedly shown us that equitable partnerships are a powerful tool for transformation—not only for the individual partners but for SRHR work and the communities we serve. Each partner brings to the partnership their distinct resources, networks, and expertise for delivering high-quality SRHR health services, and that diversity of experiences, skills, and approaches contributes valuable perspectives that encourage innovation and nuanced problem-solving. Equitable partnerships also help leverage resources and optimize collaboration across geographical boundaries, which allows for broad and scalable impact. Through partnerships, a group of singular voices comes together to create a collective voice that strengthens our ability to advocate for policy shifts and raise awareness about sexual and reproductive health.

The Partnership Journey—A Path Forward

EngenderHealth has always partnered with local organizations, governments, community leaders, research institutions, and others to help meet the needs of communities. We know that we are a better organization, and our work is more robust because of partnerships like the ones we looked at earlier and we are honored to work closely with such exceptional partners throughout our long history. 

EngenderHealth’s partnership journey is grounded in cultivating trust-based relationships, but we know the process is fluid and ever-changing. We acknowledge that the realities of working within processes and timelines mean we may not always achieve our ideals at the outset. Still, we believe we can build a foundation of trust that can weather the ever-shifting journey of partnership. We remain committed to our partnership principles even when circumstances are less than ideal. We will do this through measurement, review, and reflection. Our Partnership Journey provides details on what this will look like.

As we move forward, we know our role in the broader ecosystem must ensure that our partners, particularly our national and local partners, own and lead the work and have the support they need. To do so, we plan to dedicate resources; improve our policies; utilize, evaluate, and refine the partnership framework; and evolve with our learnings to continue developing trust and promoting locally-led development. The new Partnership Framework and Toolkit provide us with a conceptual framework, a validated roadmap, and a pragmatic toolkit for ensuring that we continue to live up to our principles and commitment to equitable partnerships now and in the future. EngenderHealth welcomes ongoing dialogue and shared learning as we review and improve our approach to equitable partnerships. We believe in the power of collective action and mutual growth, and we look forward to continuing to work together to advance our shared mission of advancing health, rights, and equity.