The potential of international academic partnerships to build global capacity is critical in efforts to improve health in poorer countries. Academic collaborations, however, are challenged by distance, communication issues, cultural differences, and historical context. The Collaborative Health Alliance for Reshaping Training, Education, and Research project (funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and implemented through academic medicine and public health and governmental institutions in Michigan and Ghana) took a prospective approach to address these issues. The project had four objectives: to create a "charter for collaboration" (CFC), to improve data-driven policy making, to enhance health care provider education, and to increase research capacity. The goal of the CFC was to establish principles to guide the course of the technical work. All participants participated at an initial conference in Elmina, Ghana. Nine months later, the CFC had been revised and adopted. A qualitative investigation of the CFC's effects identified three themes: the CFC's unique value, the influence of the process of creating the CFC on patterns of communication, and the creation of a context for research and collaboration. Creating the CFC established a context in which implementing technical interventions became an opportunity for dialogue and developing a mutually beneficial partnership. To increase the likelihood that research results would be translated into policy reforms, the CFC made explicit the opportunities, potential problems, and institutional barriers to be overcome. The process of creating a CFC and the resulting document define a new standard in academic and governmental partnerships.