Partnership: making the essential, possible.

By Malcolm Quigley, Deputy Director, Strategic Partnerships

In the past few weeks, we have stood together both metaphorically — at a distance from within our homes — and physically in the streets. As a global health organization, PSI works in more than 50 countries where inequity, discrimination, racism and violence are all social determinants of poor health. The same can be said for the United States. The only way to change the odds is to come together. Partnerships are the engine of change. PSI believes that when we strengthen our partnerships, particularly during challenges as great as a global pandemic, we strengthen our hope for the future.


PSI forges partnerships as a vital part of its business model, including during previous pandemics. We designed and executed multi-national efforts to fight outbreaks of SARs, Zika and Ebola. We’ve garnered a breadth and depth of experience addressing diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria over our 50-year history. What we have not experienced previously is a pandemic on a global scale affecting every single community in the 50 countries where we work.

Working in partnership with others is the only way to tackle large crises, as not one of us has the complete answer or all the resources needed. Yet, together we do and together we can make a difference.

PSI has previously worked with Unilever on handwashing campaigns, including campaigns in Kenya using Lifebuoy soap, a Unilever brand. Credit: PSI/Jackie Presutti


We have pulled together a response team of experts to rapidly diagnose what we need to do.

PSI turned to partners to form a unique grouping when the global pandemic of COVID-19 hit. To respond to the pandemic, we needed help to complete three immediate actions: 1. Deploy a rapid response coordination team; 2. Develop guidance for our colleagues for local adaptation; 3. Scale what is needed in each country.

Maverick Collective members and MaverickNext fellows from our Experiential Philanthropy community stepped up to immediately support PSI at the outset with invaluable donations to fund our COVID-19 Rapid Response Team. This team then determined what we needed to do to respond to the needs of the communities we serve. Subsequently, the Open Road Alliance foundation’s emergency response fund matched the monies raised with our philanthropic members and fellows.

With the rapid response team established, global guidance on behavior change communications for handwashing and physical distancing were quickly provided to country teams to adapt to their local context. 

We put our digital strategy on fast-forward.

We knew that this pandemic would call on us to rapidly evolve our digital strategy, which aims to put more choice and care into Sara’s hands through mobile technology. A collaboration with The Commons Project galvanized our ability to develop an omnichannel symptom checker called “COVIDcheck” and for adaptation in local contexts, which is anticipated for implementation in Myanmar and Cambodia. Another partnership with has opened up access to digital self-care content on WhatsApp, which PSI is looking to adapt and localize for multiple countries beyond South Africa, where it was first launched.

By building, iterating and expanding our digital self-care tools, PSI will spread accurate medical guidance, signpost people to COVID-19 related health resources, and debunk false information.

We built on our strengths.

For many years, PSI and Unilever have worked together in the Indian states of Bihar and Andra Pradesh on rural sanitation and hygiene projects. Unilever has long focused its efforts on the sanitation market and along the way developed a library of marketing assets on handwashing, hygiene and sanitation overall. Their partnership with DfID, who is also a long valued partner to PSI, on the Transform program became the natural staging point for a rapid response to COVID-19. Unilever and DfID both pooled GBP£100m and invited partners to apply. The application process was unique in its simplicity, given the urgent need to launch quickly and allow for nimble pivots in response to the constantly changing landscape. PSI deeply appreciates Unilever’s understanding of the innovative and iterative process needed to deliver results in this context.

Within one month, our coalition began work in four countries that deployed our behavior change approaches and digital technologies through PSI’s in-country offices and in tandem with respective Ministries of Health.


During the short tenure of this catalytic set of partnerships, we have learned invaluable lessons that can be applied across multiple health areas in the future:

  1. It is key to have a common objective for the coalition to drive towards.
  2. Ensure your partnerships provide complementary skills that instil trust in each other’s abilities to execute and succeed.
  3. Ensure that each organization is leveraging its resources and strengths for greater success, as we work with colleagues across a coalition.
  4. Maintain both speed and agility to best address challenges and lean on each other to work out together what we have not.

If you would like to explore the possibility of working with PSI, please do not hesitate to get in touch. The opportunities are legion, the need is great and the time is now.

Malcolm Quigley
Deputy Director, Partnerships

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