BACKGROUND: Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the leading cause of death globally. While upstream approaches to tackle NCD risk factors of poor quality diets and physical inactivity have been trialled in high income countries (HICs), there is little evidence from low and middle-income countries (LMICs) that bear a disproportionate NCD burden. Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean are therefore the focus regions for a novel global health partnership to address upstream determinants of NCDs. PARTNERSHIP: The Global Diet and Activity research Network (GDAR Network) was formed in July 2017 with funding from the UK National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Global Health Research Units and Groups Programme. We describe the GDAR Network as a case example and a potential model for research generation and capacity strengthening for others committed to addressing the upstream determinants of NCDs in LMICs. We highlight the dual equity targets of research generation and capacity strengthening in the description of the four work packages. The work packages focus on learning from the past through identifying evidence and policy gaps and priorities, understanding the present through adolescent lived experiences of healthy eating and physical activity, and co-designing future interventions with non-academic stakeholders. CONCLUSION: We present five lessons learned to date from the GDAR Network activities that can benefit other global health research partnerships. We close with a summary of the GDAR Network contribution to cultivating sustainable capacity strengthening and cutting-edge policy-relevant research as a beacon to exemplify the need for such collaborative groups.