Global emergencies, such as pandemics, require a strong, coordinated response. Too often, individual governments and health and policy institutions have been unable to influence countries to act in a unified way, nor have they been able to leverage the full potential of other sectors. By meeting certain conditions – including reaching a mutual understanding of goals and roles, identifying credible intermediaries for negotiations and welcoming technological innovation – governments, non-governmental organizations and the private sector can align incentives and leverage strengths. This will lead to a proactive approach that allows global institutions to work faster and more effectively to advance public health.