Making science work for development

Building Partnerships of Equals

With the increase of North-South research programmes around the world, ensuring equitable partnerships is vital to generate excellent science and obtain the best development outcomes where all partners benefit from the research.

"Building partnerships of equals: the role of funders in equitable and effective international development research collaborations" is the first report to explore the essential role that funders can play throughout the research lifecycle to select and build partnerships of equals. It draws on discussion with over thirty international funders to provide an overview of current models, practices and challenges. Seven in-depth case studies exemplify the range of programmes and structures used.

There was consensus amongst the interviewees that funders need to think about their role throughout the lifecycle of the research collaborations they fund to foster equity. From the interviews, we outline ten key ways that funders can influence equitable partnerships. This includes developing clear guidelines and recognising the time and costs of building international collaborations.

It is important to note that this is the start of exploring the ways funders can encourage equitable partnerships. Although the report covers a variety of different models and practices, we cannot say conclusively what works best. Further analysis is required that includes examples of South-South funding models to gain a deeper understanding of how funders can embed equitable partnerships in international development research collaborations.

The report is primarily aimed at staff in research funder organisations, particularly those working in research call and programme design and delivery. It will also be of interest to research officers, researchers and development organisations interested in understanding current funder approaches. This report is divided into three chapters:

1. Models of North-South research collaboration implemented by funders

2. Practices that funders have implemented with the aim of increasing the fairness of research collaborations

3. Challenges and learning from international development research partnership programmes.


1. The UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS) brings together a group of 14 UK government departments and research funders working in international development. By stimulating collaboration, UKCDS ensures the best science is funded and used to benefit international development, as well as the UK. This report has been conducted by the UKCDS Secretariat and does not reflect the views of members individually or collectively.

2. The report is based on interviews with Northern research funders about the detailed models and practices they have used in eleven North-South research programmes. We also surveyed Southern science funders and ministries about their perspectives on these programmes. The report is not intended as an exhaustive summary of all models or activities, nor as a concrete set of guidelines to follow, but aims to share international learning and experiences. Unless otherwise referenced, the conclusions are based on comments from individuals during interviews and surveys. 

3. The Newton Fund was initiated in 2014 and uses science and innovation partnerships between the UK and 16 countries to promote their economic development and social welfare. Between 2016-2021, £585 million will be available from the UK, for bi-lateral and multi-lateral programmes, with matched resources provided by partner countries. The Newton Fund is managed by the UK's Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

4. The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK Government to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries through:

  • challenge-led disciplinary and interdisciplinary research
  • strengthening capacity for research and innovation within both the UK and developing countries
  • providing an agile response to emergencies where there is an urgent research need

GCRF is administered through delivery partners including the Research Councils and national academies.