Taking Partnerships to the Next Level,
the N4J Way

The Four-Legged Stool Theory is in essence the institutional capacity approach for program scaling: creating enduring impact versus implementing a ‘project’. There is frequent reference to the Three-Legged Stool of sustainable development, or the “Triple Bottom Line” of economic, social and environmental impacts. However this leaves out the fourth key element – organizational capacity – which is essential to effectively implementing sustainable development strategies over time.

As a new organization, we are just beginning to work with a number of partner organizations, and so I’m discussing what we aspire to versus what we have achieved to date. Partnerships take time to develop, and it will be several years before we’re likely to see significant impacts or results.

Strengthening Partnerships

A central focus of Nature For Justice (N4J) is to strengthen the capacity of partner organizations that are addressing both socio-economic development and environmental conservation, increasingly within the context of climate change. There is a great need to promote practical solutions to these three interrelated issues, and also a historic opportunity to access the rapidly growing pool of climate finance. Helping our partners to access climate finance represents a good opportunity to generate long-term financial support for their work, ideally providing unrestricted or “core” support, which is typically very difficult to obtain.

We are explicitly not interested in one-off projects. We hope that access to climate finance will support capacity building so that we and our partners are not donor dependent in the long-term. That said, we also work with partner organizations that may not be able to easily access climate finance to develop carbon credits due to national policy or other factors, for example our partners at Los Aliados in Ecuador.

Our Approach

partnershipsOur approach to working with partners is participatory. N4J seeks to complement the partner’s expertise, resources, and experience, and we strive to work with local partners on longer-term plans (3-5 years) where we can identify more specific actions to implement together on an annual basis in an ongoing, iterative manner.

We look to  adaptive management where together with our partners we base future efforts on new information, results achieved, lessons learned, etc. Over time, we want to be able to demonstrate the impact we have on organizational capacity development in addition to key “Triple Bottom Line” performance indicators, such as how many tonnes of carbon sequestered, hectares conserved, revenue growth, improved wellbeing and so forth.

In most cases the on-the-ground partner organizations we work with operate at a national or sub-national level and have the potential to scale-up the implementation of successful approaches. In turn, the partners support local community organizations of various types that work at the grassroot levels. Therefore, as we think about organizational capacity development we need to do so at two levels, both our immediate partners and also the local organizations that we help them to support.

Our Future

As we move forward, we plan to develop a uniform, participatory, approach to assessing their institution capacity and how that changes over time. Part of the approach will be a candid assessment of the relationships we develop, and how that can be improved by both parties.

Over time, we anticipate that we will be able to facilitate interactions between our various partners so they can also learn from and support each other in a synergistic manner.

We believe that this focus on developing long-term relationships and improving our collective organizational capacities will have significantly positive impacts on the economic development and conservation, along with the human and natural aspects, of our world. These efforts, ultimately, will help fulfill our overall mission to address the social justice needs of populations around the world confronting the climate crisis.


  • Frank Hicks

    Frank has over 30 years of broad expertise in international development as a senior manager, board member, and consultant with leading NGOs, foundations, and impact investing funds. He is based in Costa Rica, formerly in West Africa, Asia, and the US.

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