Breakthrough Moments

From a one-way relationship to a partnership of equals

Breakthrough Moments: From a one-way relationship to a partnership of equals

In working with our partners, we are always striving for the best possible results.  Often though, those results don’t just depend on the work on the ground but rather on the relationships in the office.

In 2017, three years after our launch, we felt it was the right time to step back to reflect on our progress and identify ways to be more effective. That’s why we commissioned our first ever Grantee Perception Report, carried out independently by the Center for Effective Philanthropy.

The report revealed that our partners recognise we are gaining credibility in transforming the industry. And more than one in four partners reported receiving intensive non-financial assistance, such as technical support and access to a network of specialists, which they appreciated. But there is definite room for improvement.

As a results-driven foundation, we have a specific goal and theories of change to get us there. So, while our intention has always been to listen to our partners, we have been strict in adhering to our strategies and haven’t always adapted enough to our partners’ needs and ideas. This has led to some of our partners feeling more like service deliverers fulfilling our goals instead of equal partners on the same journey. The report helped us better understand the challenging dynamics of our funder-grantee relationships.

As we work towards achieving our mission, our goal-oriented approach will remain. But we can resolve this tension by creating the time and space to truly understand our partners. We must better appreciate their deep experience and seek out their expertise in the field to co-create solutions. We must become equal partners.

Action is already underway. Since the report, we’ve improved our grant process and communicated it more clearly, convened cotton partners in Sri Lanka, brought transparency partners together in Bangladesh, and held a partners’ meeting in Mexico focusing on gender. We also held our first ever three-day All Partner Design Forum in Milan in October 2018. This was a real breakthrough moment in our new approach as we realised our efforts to improve our partnerships were starting to work.

At the All Partner Design Forum, 70 of our partners came together with 30 C&A Foundation staff to spark new ideas, share lessons, and explore how we could better support each other.

By the end of our three days together, we established ten principles that will form the basis of how we work together over the coming years. And, for the first time, our partners gave their input into our next five-year strategy. This process shed light on the challenges and opportunities in our own organisation. For example, our partners highlighted that our work was missing an intersectionality lens – how different forms of discrimination overlap to keep people marginalised.

The opportunity to pause and reflect on our work will be crucial in building better partnerships for the future. And it was only possible with sincere, constructive and even critical feedback from our partners. It hasn’t been easy. But that honesty has created trust on all sides and the drive to improve.

We are now on the right path to building stronger, more collaborative relationships for the long term. We are already planning our next All Partner Design Forum, and we have set up a Learning Fund to allow partners to visit one another and keep learning from each other’s work.

The changes we made to our grant process


Published more information on the website to clarify the funding levels and requirements

Began process of reviewing partner proposal with our evaluation team, ensuring partners understand the evaluation process

Began holding kick-off meetings with partners after signing contracts to make sure everyone understands the process and deliverables

Completed 60 After Action Reviews completed with partners to act quickly on lessons learned during initiatives

Introduced the grant exit questionnaire to procure feedback from partners

Held our first-ever All-Partner Design Forum in Milan

Designed, with our partners, the 10 principles for how we work together

Launched our Learning Fund to support partner-to-partner learning







I appreciate that C&A Foundation has brought together their partners to learn and discuss our current challenges and opportunities to inform their next strategy.

Nazma Akter | founder, awaj foundation

Principles of How We Work

  1. FOCUS on the impact we want to have on the people, environment and communities where we work.
  1. COLLABORATE for greater impact. Partner with other organisations in pursuit of common goals and promote connections between organisations and networks.
  1. COMMUNICATE by listening actively, being realistic and honest.
  1. Align and CO-CREATE our partnerships by playing to each other’s strengths, field experience and knowledge.
  1. Be mutually ACCOUNTABLE for the commitments within the partnership.
  1. LEARN from start to finish. Build formal and informal feedback and evaluation processes. Collect and share lessons with each other and externally.
  1. Be FLEXIBLE to adapt plans and evolve partnerships. Acknowledge internal and external changes, lessons learned and unforeseen risks.
  1. Be BOLD and take RISKS. Dare to challenge the norms and mindsets that make fashion unsustainable.
  1. Make SOCIAL INCLUSION central to our work. Address diversity, equity and inclusion in our initiatives.
  1. Cultivate trust and robust relationships in all partnerships to address POWER DYNAMICS.