How Foundations Collaborate: a Case Study Reveals Successes, Hard Lessons from a 10-year Initiative to Strengthen African Higher Education

New York, Nov 3, 2010—A new case study highlights how seven foundations with distinctly different cultures, leadership styles, and missions, found ways to collaborate to enhance their individual foundation grantmaking and their collective impact on African higher education.

The study shares successes and shortcomings from the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa, a multi-foundation collaborative which began in April 2000, and whose members together invested nearly a half billion dollars in 65 universities and colleges across nine countries by the time the Partnership’s small coordinating office, the secretariat, closed at the completion of its original 10-year commitment in 2010.

Lesson learned include:


  • Increased investment in and awareness of higher education in Africa;
  • Strengthened individual universities;
  • Increased focus on larger initiatives that would not have been possible individually by foundations;
  • Generation of new data and information about African higher education institutions.


  • Lack of mission clarity;
  • Initial lack of strong coordinating body and expertise on specific issues;
  • Lack of joint grantmaking and “big picture” grantmaking;
  • Lessening interest and changes in leadership from presidents;
  • Lack of exit plan when Partnership ended.

The study is particularly relevant in light of the increasing attention being paid to the effectiveness of funder collaboratives.  Though a series of recent reports examining collaboration among foundations has enriched the field of philanthropy, few of these reports have offered the hard evidence and in-depth examinations of the strategic benefits and risks of this type of grantmaking

Lessons from A Ten-Year Funder Collaborative: A Case Study of the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa describes the collaboration’s notable successes, its sometimes thorny challenges, and the course corrections it made along the way.  In addition to offering sound advice to other funders considering similar collaboratives, the case study examines the Partnership’s genesis, its operating structure and impact.

Authored by Susan Parker, an independent consultant, the study is based on a series of discussions with 30 participants of the Partnership including the four founding presidents, as well as a review of key documents produced over the last 10 years including meeting notes, internal memos, case studies, a 2004 evaluation, a 2008 midterm review and documents describing the Partnership’s structure, organizing principles, vision of success, and accomplishments.

The case study is the second in a series of three publications documenting the 10-year Partnership.  The first report, Accomplishments of the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa, 2000–2010 captures the key accomplishments, quantifies each foundation’s investments and summarizes their respective programmatic contributions.  A third report, scheduled for publication in 2011, will share the stories of women and men whose careers were impacted as a result of the Partnership’s investments and interventions.  The documentary project will also examine how funding from the partner foundations catalyzed or accelerated efforts by leaders of African universities and academic associations to strengthen their respective institutions.

Established by Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundations and later expanding to include the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and The Kresge Foundation, the Partnership focused its support on universities in nine countries: Egypt, Ghana, Madagascar, Mozambique, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda.  Leaders of the Partnership foundations saw an opportunity to make a difference by encouraging systemic and sustainable change to higher education institutions in countries where they were already actively working.

The study is available on line at: