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Empowering philanthropy as catalytic partners for systems change

Shifting the sands: Philanthropy and system change

Philanthropy, including foundations, individuals and associations of funders, is increasingly moving far beyond traditional grant-giving and raising their level of ambition to tackle deep-seated, systemic challenges. By unlocking the powerful levers that governments, business, NGOs and investors can bring to the table, and combining them smartly to create innovative, scalable approaches and solutions, philanthropy has turned its sights towards system change.

Philanthropy can provide the essential ‘activation energy’, the drive and momentum, political influence, neutral convening power, technical knowledge and seed funding that can catalyse investment and collective action across societal sectors. However, to work this way, to maximise the transformative potential of partnership, philanthropic organisations are finding that they need to change the way they think and operate.

Recognising this challenge, a group of pioneering philanthropic foundations has come together with The Partnering Initiative (TPI) to develop the state of the art of philanthropic partnering for system change.

Building on TPI’s 20 years of cutting-edge approaches for effective partnership, this collaborative programme aims to enable and empower philanthropic organisations to deliver far more transformational impact. Bringing together peers from the global philanthropy sector, the programme helps to build the strategy and institutional capacity of individual philanthropic organisations, while building new approaches for a step change in sector practice.

The programme has three interconnected strands working at different levels:

Individual programmes of support with philanthropic organisations, directly helping them to develop or support system change collaboration, and building their institutional strategy and implementing capability, while drawing out learning for the wider sector. 

Peer-to-peer knowledge exchange: Learning from, and sharing experiences with, peer foundations going through similar journeys and dealing with similar challenges. 

State-of-the-art sector practice development through training, research, design, testing, and dissemination of new approaches for philanthropy-supported and led transformational partnerships.

Public Private Philanthropy Partnerships (PPPPs)

As an initial phase of a major new programme to accelerate the use of PPPPs, TPI, with the support of Laudes Foundation and the African Climate Foundation and in association with WAPPP, undertook research looking at 46 PPPPs around the world. The aim was to understand how they deliver systems transformation, and the essential role of Philanthropy in injecting the ‘activation energy’ that makes them happen. The report was launched in December 2023 at COP28 and provides fascinating insights into the power and flexibility of PPPPs.

The report includes our newly published PPPP Library, which includes details of all 46 PPPPs analysed, and provides a resource to PPPP practitioners globally.

The next phase of the programme will be to directly support a number of PPPPs, draw out learning from the experience and begin to codify and develop best practice guidance.

Direct support to foundations

TPI has worked with a number of foundations to support their work. These include:

  • Wellcome Trust: TPI is working as an ‘accompanying partner’ to Wellcome Trust’s new Strategic Partnerships Team. Initiated through a ‘fit for partnering’ analysis to determine needs, TPI is helping to build up the partnering strategic approach, tools and processes (including around M&E) to help Wellcome to continue to excel at partnering.
  • Jacobs Foundation: TPI developed case studies of two Jacob partnerships, helping the foundation to take stock and draw out learning from their collaborations.
  • CIFF: TPI developed a training course to build many of the ‘soft’, human relationship-building skills needed to build equitable partnerships with grantees.
  • Porticus: TPI undertook a major piece of research, examining 14 of Porticus’s partnerships to understand a) in what ways and to what extent the partnerships were able to exploit collaborative advantage to deliver extra impact (i.e. more than the sum of their parts); and b) what were the enabling factors. A report is available below.
  • J&J Foundation: TPI developed a partnership training course, and a partnering support portal, for J&J Foundation and J&J business staff, building their capabilities to develop more transformational partnerships.

Partnering for philanthropic impact

Working closely with a small group of pioneering foundations, including Johnson & Johnson Foundation and the Z Zurich Foundation as core partners, TPI undertook a year of collaborative research resulting in a major sector report: Partnering for Philanthropic Impact. The report sets out a framework to help make sense of the different ways in which philanthropic organisations can approach partnering to increase their impact (see below), as well as initial thinking on what foundations need to do to transform and build their institutional capacity to optimize their partnering.  

Reports and publications

Developed with Laudes Foundation and the African Climate Foundation, in association with WAPPP, this original research and thought piece draws on the real experiences of 46 PPPPs around the world. It is designed to inspire and equip philanthropy with knowledge and insights to play its essential role in providing the ‘activation energy’ that can unlock the power of transformational Public-Private-Philanthropy Partnerships (PPPPs).


Developed in collaboration with Johnson & Johnson Foundation and the Z Zurich Foundation, this report sets out a framework to help make sense of the different ways in which philanthropic organisations can approach partnering to increase their impact (see below), as well as initial thinking on what foundations need to do to transform and build their institutional capacity to optimize their partnering.


This report presents the findings of TPI’s analysis of partnership value creation across 14 Porticus programmes. From this analysis, the report identified four specific enablers of successful, value-creating collaboration funded by philanthropy.


Join your peers!

TRANSFORM! works with philanthropic organisations, both individually and collectively, to think through the innovations in strategy and institutional capacity required to system change collaboration.

The programme is relevant wherever philanthropic organisations are in their partnership journeys – from just investigating system change approaches, to further developing their role as systems leaders in transformational multi-stakeholder collaborations. 

Individual support projects

Tailored support helps individual foundations to reach the next level while also contributing to best practice for the sector as a whole. Foundations including Wellcome Trust, Porticus, Jacobs Foundation, Z Zurich Foundation, CIFF, and J&J Foundation have benefited from: 

  • Strategy development – to define an organisation’s partnership ambition to deliver its strategic objectives more effectively
  • Fit for Partnering assessment – to understand and address the extent to which an organisation’s leadership and strategy, systems and processes, staff capacities, and organisational culture are set-up for effective and impactful partnering
  • Development of pro-partnering systems – legal agreements, processes including partnership grant application processes
  • Partnership health checks – to review how well existing partnerships are functioning and support improvements
  • Staff and grantee partnering capacity building – to build individual skills, knowledge, and behaviours for partnering.

“The team at TPI understand deeply the fundamental building blocks of partnering[…] Their analysis and insights are very practical and will enable us to take a robust approach and make it more effective still.
Z Zurich Foundation


Knowledge exchange and peer learning 

Together with partners in the Philanthropic ecosystem, the programme curates events and resources for individual practitioners to share learning, and inspire each other’s practice. 

  • Open events – featuring partner foundations, and covering topics such as how to use the four models of Foundation Partnering; partnering with business / industry and government; and addressing power imbalances through partnership 
  • Closed peer learning exchange sessions – with topics designed co-creatively with participating organisations to focus on their needs 
  • Blogs, case studies, and podcasts exploring key themes on philanthropic partnering impact.


Sector practice development 

To influence sector best practice as a whole, the programme is developing and disseminate practical approaches and guidance. This involves:

    1. Training in partnering for system change
    2. Research to understand the issues and existing practices
    3. Development of evidence-based conceptual frameworks and best practice
    4. Co-creation and piloting of methodologies and tools

Programme details

How the programme is funded 

Individual programmes are funded by the relevant foundation, typically also including funding to draw out and share learning more widely. The knowledge exchange and peer learning strand of the programme is supported by TPI itself, with foundations hosting and supporting specific peer-to-peer events. Sector practice development is funded by organisations with specific interests in the topics or keen to support the philanthropic sector to break new ground.

Programme lead 

Tom Harrison

Interested in learning more? 

If you are a foundation interested in participating in the Partnering for Philanthropic Impact programme, please contact Tom Harrison (

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