Billions of dollars are channelled into interventions every year aiming to lift people out of poverty. While there has been much progress towards this goal new challenges are emerging, and old issues are becoming more complex due to the accelerated rate of change associated with globalisation, climate and environmental degradation and technological advances. Positive systemic change requires rethinking interventions and the roles that actors play in these interventions. Some people, or groups of people, are better able to enact change than others, with growing evidence that the success of interventions is often due to particular individuals or groups involved. These change agents occur across all cultures and domains, and have varying roles, resources, networks and world views. The literature identifies key change agent characteristics associated with values, purpose and concepts associated with mastery and entrepreneurism. However, there is little mentioned about the role change agents play in research for development interventions, particularly interventions focused on helping people and communities adapt to global change. Or how research for development projects can best support and enable these individuals and groups, such as what are the types of competencies, resources and knowledge needed to enact lasting change in adaptation projects. This research sought to illuminate the necessary and sufficient set of change agent characteristics and competencies using four project case studies, two in Vietnam and two in Indonesia, which allowed for comparisons within and across countries. If agents were critical for systemic change, evidence of change needs to established first. Projects were evaluated at three time intervals, using a mixed methods approach. Potential change agents were identified through the evaluation, then interviewed to gain a better understanding of their personal change drivers, as well as establishing what, if anything, the project did to help them. Three types of change agents were identified, pre-existing or strong change agents, as well as emerging and prospective change agents. The strong and emerging change agents felt that project activities and outputs including knowledge, networks and capacity building had helped them to enact change. The stronger change agents had values that were already aligned to the project goals and a deep seated sense of purpose including self-mastery traits, and they had developed networks, which were strengthened and broadened by the projects. For those identified as prospective change agents, the projects had lit a spark, but further development and opportunity was needed to enable these people to emerge as change agents. This research suggests that there are cultural differences about how agents perceive the future and their role in shaping it, although some characteristics were shared across agents regardless of context. These characteristics included a sense of personal responsibility and purpose and the importance of learning in their lives. R4D adaptation projects help grow all change agent capacities and competencies. Although, like the characteristics, stronger change agents already had many of the competencies, particularly good interpersonal skills and a focus on learning. The R4D projects helped expand change agent knowledge and competencies through building systems thinking, integration, and critical thinking skills. This research suggests that knowledge and resources are important, however, capacity building is more than technical, it is the development of a set of core competencies that are more important for creating change. Implications are that people matter, and that genuine relationships are needed between researchers, partners and practitioners. Catalytic change requires capacities, a shared normative purpose, reflexivity, cross-scale networks, and windows of opportunity.