Collaborating for Transformation in Times of Crisis: Learnings from 2020

2020 will go down in history as a year of crisis and disruption. The overlapping crises arising from the COVID pandemic, climate change, racial inequity, weaknesses in democracy, and humanitarian emergencies have touched every life across the globe.

In this look back at 2020, we share five learnings on how to collaborate in order to transform crises:


Father and son having a moment


We enable groups with diverse, often competing and even conflicting perspectives to understand each other and work together.


Our work brings the whole system together to seek root causes behind their problems and to collaborate to address them.


We support groups to take an intentional, iterative, and innovative approach to developing, strengthening and scaling new and existing solutions. 

Our approach

Reos Partners uses a variety of methods that help diverse groups to address complex challenges.

Our methods are characterized by three consistent elements:

  • We enable collaboration
  • We work systemically
  • We support experimentation
In 2020, we supported groups to address complex challenges in 33 countries, across all of the Sustainable Development Goal areas. The 130 initiatives included Transformative Scenarios Processes, Social Labs and Collaborative Platforms, Multi-Stakeholder Dialogues, Design Sprints and Accelerators, Collaborative Strategy and Governance Development, Collaborative Research and Learning,  and Courses and Capacity Building.
Explore five exemplary projects that show how collaboration can transform crises.

Australia and New Zealand


Transformative Scenarios Process and Strategy Testing

The purpose of the project is to discover how fire and emergency service agencies can best prepare in order to provide effective services in a climate-challenged world. Reos Partners is supporting stakeholders to create a systemic, shared understanding of plausible futures in an increasingly turbulent context. This understanding will be used to strengthen emergency service agencies organisational and sector strategies across Australia and New Zealand.


The process is enabling participants to develop a richer and more complete understanding of their context.

Equipped with this new understanding, emergency service agencies will be better able to develop the policy, strategies, tools and relationships needed to navigate an uncertain and increasingly volatile future.

Learning 01.

Exploring possible futures together enables more effective crisis response


Australia and New Zealand

Preparing Emergency Services for Operations in a Climate-Challenged World

Bushfires in Australia are a regular and widespread natural occurrence. However, the ones in 2019-2020, known as Black Summer, were the worst in history. Worryingly, it is widely predicted that future bushfire seasons will be longer and worse.

In the past, emergency response in Australia and New Zealand has typically followed a seasonal cycle of preparedness, response, and recovery. However, more frequent and catastrophic bushfires and growing climate-related emergencies are casting doubt on whether the old way of doing things is going to suffice. And yet, in 2020, there was no clear way forward.


  • Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre
  • 25 Australian and New Zealand governmental and non-governmental agencies with a key stake in emergency responses
“I’m thankful for this exercise. It has opened a space in my mind for a new way of thinking which I find refreshing and difficult. There’s a need for more of this. It frees up the space that we shield ourselves from.”

– Scenarios Exercise Participant

Learn more about how looking into the future together can address today’s challenges.

Learning 02.

Working systemically reveals strategic opportunities in a crisis



COVID Futures Process for Justice Innovation in Syria

The Syria Justice Innovation Process supports Syrians to design innovative solutions to everyday legal problems facing the people of Syria. Through this platform, which launched in 2018, a stakeholder team of diverse Syrians including regular citizens, lawyers, judges, business innovators and government officials has developed a set of six Justice Innovation Goals and Targets and has launched Innovation Labs to develop ideas and approaches to meet those goals.

When COVID-19 hit, it was clear that it would impact the achievement of the justice goals and the process to get there, but it was unclear what that impact would be. How should the justice innovators proceed?

What Changed

The early analysis of how COVID-19 would affect the Justice Innovation Goals was entirely bleak. Access to legal service providers became difficult, there were rising rates of domestic violence, and poor access to information. As the justice innovators continued through the COVID Futures process, new opportunities became clear. For example, increasing technological awareness and capability can create opportunities for digitizing legal processes such as registries and signatures, supporting several of the goals. Similarly, increased attention on problems such as domestic violence and access to justice can be leveraged into quick and effective action.

Looking at the whole of the system helped the stakeholders see beyond the immediate confusion brought about by the crisis to recognise where new threats and possibilities had emerged for achieving their goals.


  • Lawyers
  • Judges
  • Civil society leaders
  • Business innovators
  • Informal justice leaders
  • Academics

Convening and Delivery Partner

Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HiiL)




COVID Futures Framework

The Six Justice Innovation Goals


  • Reduce violence and discrimination against women;
  • Ensure access to personal documents;
  • Ensure access to services guaranteed by law;
  • Ensure access to protection, education and health services for children;
  • Secure the rights of Syrians to property, land, and housing;
  • Ensure that all people in Syria are protected from unlawful violence and infringement on freedoms.
“Behind every crisis, there is a hidden opportunity.”

– Justice Transformation Process Stakeholder

Learn more about how using the COVID Futures Framework has helped systems to identify strategic opportunities.


What Changed

Personal Protective Equipment Production

In the early days of COVID, when masks were in short supply, partners in the Sustainable Fashion Lab swiftly pivoted an existing pilot to produce uniforms with circularity design principles to producing and distributing masks and gowns. In this collaborative effort, seamstresses working from home under good working conditions receive fair wages, and equipment is quickly distributed to where it is needed most.

Policy Advice

Seeing that the lockdown would have significant economic and social impacts, especially for workers and small businesses, the Lab members supported the creation of a sectoral position paper, presented to the Ministry of the Economy, in support of emergency measures for those most affected by the crisis, using sustainability as a key element of the recovery.

Connectivity support

As the Lab members continued to work together to respond to the pandemic, it became clear that some of the Lab members lacked adequate access to technology to participate in further conversations. The Fashion Lab was able to provide support and access to technologies and good quality internet to enable all Lab members to connect and contribute equally.

The existing connections and ways of working established in the Sustainable Fashion Lab enabled rapid, effective response to support those most affected and facilitated planning the recovery of the industry using sustainability as a key element.


Learning 03.

In a crisis, robust relationships across a system can be activated to enable effective and timely responses



The Sustainable Fashion Lab

At the beginning of 2020, the Sustainable Fashion Lab was already a well established platform. Having worked together over the past three and a half years, the unlikely group of collaborators had developed strong trust and mutual understanding.

When the pandemic hit, the members of the Lab quickly organized to identify what solutions they could contribute. The systemic understanding and strong relationships shared by Lab members enabled them to rapidly develop sustainable responses.


  • Seamstresses and garment workers
  • Manufacturers and retail brands
  • The public sector
  • Industry associations and unions
  • Institutes and foundations
  • Academia
  • International organizations
  • Civil society organizations
  • Media
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Financial sector
  • Consultants
  • Fashion industry activists and movements


Social Lab and Collaborative Platform

“The trust, relationships and partnerships created amongst the members of the Lab over the last few years enabled us to quickly adapt our initiative to produce necessary equipment during the crisis involving seamstresses working in safe conditions and receiving fair wages. A win-win solution for all.”

-Sustainable Fashion Lab Member

Read about how other Reos Partners collaborators responded to the needs created by COVID19.

Learning 04.

Working towards decolonization supports resilience

Manitoba, Canada

First Nations in
Manitoba, Canada

Wahbung Revisited

Manitoba First Nations have been working for decades, if not centuries, to undo the harm of colonization and to create better futures. In 2018, Reos Partners was invited to support the development of a shared vision and pathway towards Mino Pimatisiwin (“the good life” in Cree).

Convening and Delivery Partner

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs


Transformative Scenarios Process

The Wahbung Revisited process created scenarios, a vision, and pathways toward self-determination of First Nations people in Manitoba. It revived and built on a seminal 1971 political declaration (Wahbung) that outlined an agenda for action, including First Nations’ inherent right to design and have full authority over their health, education, and child and family services systems, informed by First Nations worldviews, laws, and approaches.

Following the 2018 process, the First Nations of Manitoba worked with federal and provincial government partners to realize this vision. The relationships and shared vision that were built through the process began driving historic change and action. It was in this context of collaboration towards decolonization that COVID-19 hit.


  • Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC)
  • Local First Nations political, health, education, and civic organisations
  • The University of Manitoba
  • Provincial and federal government officials
Manitoba, Canada

First Nations in
Manitoba, Canada

What Changed

The value of the work of the previous years was evident as members of the Wahbung project collaborated effectively, across their institutional silos, to address the quickly morphing crisis. COVID-19 disproportionately hit First Nations people both in cities and in remote communities. The Wahbung team continuously worked together to deal with all dimensions of the crisis, including communications, emergency response, patient transport, vaccine distribution, and policy development.

While the whole Wahbung Revisited project was focused on decolonization, the process used was one in which we, as Reos Partners, also aimed to decolonize our methods. Through the process, we braided First Nations’ approaches with our own, including incorporating traditional ceremonies into the day, elder and knowledge keepers working in their own parallel process, moving the facilitation from Reos Partners to the First Nations leaders, and finding a balance between the structured and time-bound parts of the process and less structured activities.

“We are united in trying to move forward. Differences seem to melt away when we look to the future. The fulsome discussion allowed me to see things in a different light with a fresh perspective, better equipping me to be part of the solution.”

– Wahbung participant

Learn more about our past work braiding methodologies.


  • Life Insurance and Non-Life Insurance Companies
  • Micro Insurance companies
  • Consumer protection organisations
  • Insurance associations
  • Distributors
  • Intermediaries
  • Mobile network organisations
  • Banking partners
  • Non profit organisations

Convening and Delivery Partner

Access to Insurance Initiative

What Changed

By taking an approach that puts customer needs first and then testing, refining, and re-testing new, and innovative ideas, the Lab is creating solutions that work in the real world, helping those who need it most to weather future shocks.

These multi sector lab teams use this rare opportunity of working together in this creative, experimental, generative way to build better understanding of their shared concern, build robust relationships, challenge each other’s thinking and execute collective problem solving. This lays the ground for not only these innovations but any future endeavours the industry needs to address.

Learning 05.

Working experimentally can reduce the devastation of future crises

Inclusive Insurance Innovation Lab

Argentina, India, Morocco, Rwanda

Insurance is a powerful tool to help people recover when unexpected crises hit, and yet many of those who are most vulnerable do not have it. There are many barriers to ensuring that those who need insurance get it; insurance is unaffordable, especially for those earning $4 a day. It is also not well understood by potential beneficiaries as well as the trust of insurance is low.

The Inclusive Insurance Innovation Lab aims to develop innovative solutions to these challenges so that more people can be protected from the consequences of unexpected events in their lives.


Multi-location Social Lab

In 2020, Reos Partners in partnership with A2ii supported the Lab’s second group of country cohorts to develop insurance solutions that can soften the blow of future crises for those who are most vulnerable. Taking an experimental approach, the country cohorts are prototyping solutions that can provide insurance for:

  • Informal domestic workers in Argentina
  • Low-income households in India
  • Farmers and youth in Rwanda
  • Vulnerable people in Morocco
“To meet this challenge, we really needed to be innovative. And we were. These ideas are really out of the box – a bit crazy – but they can work.”

– Lab participant


Learn more about how social labs and collaborative platforms create impactful interventions.

In addition to enabling many systems to respond effectively to the crises of 2020, we, of course, also responded ourselves.

Reos Partners’ response to a year of crises

Making Our Work More Equitable

As the Black Lives Matter movement mobilised people around the world, we continued to explore the ways in which we needed to change.

In some of our projects, we invited conversations exploring how colonial legacies are present in our methods and relationships; in our offices, we reflected on how they are present in our policies and procedures; and at the personal level, we took steps to identify and dismantle these legacies in ourselves.

The more we look, the more we see that colonial legacies are ubiquitous. We are committed to continuing to do the difficult work of facing and addressing them in the months and years to come.

Distributing Collaboration

As a result of the pandemic, we quickly converted processes to an online environment.

We learnt to guide and support local facilitators from a distance in some contexts, while holding other processes fully online.

While we look forward to in-person events again, we have also found  online modalities that we will continue to use, both to support local partners and to reduce our carbon footprint, even when travel is an option again.

Read about some of our lessons learnt from going online.

Using Our Methods on Ourselves

As we rapidly pivoted, shifting our work to the context of the pandemic, we worked in a systemic, collaborative, and experimental way, using the methods that we share with others.

Across the globe, Reos offices worked more together than ever before, embraced uncertainty, developed systemic understanding. and experimented our way forward.

This has resulted in internal systems and processes that work better than ever, an explosion of innovative practices, shared learning, and stronger personal connections.

As we move forward we are continuing to learn, discover, and improve.

The crises of 2020 will certainly not be the last ones that we face.

As we move into this decisive decade, Reos Partners is committed to working together and sharing our experience, methods, and curiosity with those who have the courage to tackle tough challenges, helping systems to thrive, whatever may come.