The human and material cost of type 2 diabetes is a cause of increasing concern for health professionals, representative organisations and governments worldwide. The scale of morbidity and mortality has led the United Nations to issue a resolution on diabetes, calling for national policies for prevention, treatment and care. There is clearly an urgent need for a concerted response from all interested parties at the community, national and international level to work towards the goals of the resolution and create effective, sustainable treatment models, care systems and prevention strategies. Action requires both a 'bottom-up' approach of public awareness campaigns and pressure from healthcare professionals, coupled with a 'top-down' drive for change, via partnerships with governments, third sector (non-governmental) organisations and other institutions. In this review, we examine how existing collaborative initiatives serve as examples for those seeking to implement change in health policy and practice in the quest to alleviate the health and economic burden of diabetes. Efforts are underway to provide continuous and comprehensive care models for those who already have type 2 diabetes; in some cases, national plans extend to prevention strategies in attempts to improve overall public health. In the spirit of partnership, collaborations with governments that incorporate sustainability, long-term goals and a holistic approach continue to be a driving force for change. It is now critical to maintain this momentum and use the growing body of compelling evidence to educate, inform and deliver a long-term, lasting impact on patient and public health worldwide. © 2007 The Authors.