Managing Power Dynamics in Partnerships

By Yusuph Masanja
Global Alumni Coordinator

On Jan 28th, 2021, Global Fellow Eyob Yishak from Ethiopia hosted an online workshop for GATHER Alumni. The workshop topic “Leveraging Partnerships” is one of 10 topics requested by the Global Alumni in a survey conducted last year. Eyob has opened—what will continue to be—monthly conversations focused on different topics as per Sept 2020 survey findings.

The survey findings had the following topic requests from the Global Alumni:

  • Leveraging Technologies
  • Strategic Planning
  • Design Skills
  • Staff Management
  • Budgeting
  • Grants Writing
  • Social Media
  • Board Development


On the subject of Partnerships, Eyob invited participating Alumni to reflect specifically on the dynamics of power in partnerships. He led conversations about sources of power in a partnership, power imbalances, how to identify power imbalances and ways to mitigate unhealthy partnership situations. Using a partnership assessment tool that he introduced during his presentation, Eyob explained how partners can find out if there is power imbalance in a partnership and ways to deal with it.

“We can’t avoid power imbalance completely, but once you identify the source of power in a partnership try to use it in a way that benefits all to avoid inequality”—Eyob Yishak, Global Fellow, Ethiopia

During the discussion, participating Alumni shared the below words that they think best describes a good partnership.

In line with this conversation, Global Fellows Dieudonne Allo (South Africa) and Jacquelyn Moore (Chicago) have started a brand-new partnership this year. With a common goal and shared interest in youth development, Dieudonne and Jackie are creating a team of youth who aspire to develop solutions to the problem of getting people to become more active in improving their physical and mental health.

We call our partnership: Two continents, One Team. We want to create a team of youth who work together as one, to solve problems that impact them both. We have now begun to work together remotely to train students on both continents in robotics.” — Jacquelyn Moore, Global Fellow, Chicago

A good example of power imbalance was shared by Global Alumni Geoffrey Omony (Uganda) and our colleague Jassi Sandhar (UK). Both Geoffrey and Jassi, through working on various projects together, have noticed many international partnerships where researchers and practitioners from the Global North work in Uganda but make all the decisions themselves and dictate the roles, rather than allowing them to be locally-led.

“Most decisions are taken by researchers without consent from child soldiers whom some of them don’t know their rights as beneficiaries.”—Geoffrey Omony, Global Fellow, Uganda

Surprised by the tendency of researchers not following through with their promises, Jassi wonders:

Why is the time of local partners or beneficiaries to facilitate researchers not compensated? Why is research produced from these partnerships not shared with beneficiaries? And most importantly, why are such unequal partnerships which can cause harm allowed to continue? -- Jassi Sandhar, Global Research Fellow

Jamal Alkirnawi, a Global Fellow in Israel, thinks that there will always be power imbalance due to differing interests.

There’ll always be inequality if government and donors are biased towards supporting only big organizations. I like the assessment tool discussed, my other tool for dealing with partnership imbalances is transparency and honest communications with partners when I feel treated unequal”— Jamal Alkirnawi, Global Fellow, Israel

In closing, Eyob shared the following resources for Global Fellows to learn more and to continue to reflect on the topic: SDGs Partnership Guidebook and Successful Partnerships Guide.

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