Expert’s Take: Harnessing South-South and Triangular Cooperation to accelerate inclusive development

Date: Tuesday, November 28, 2017

About the author

Photo: Courtesy of Monjurul Kabir
A. H. Mojurul Kabir. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

A.H. Monjurul Kabir, Chief of Asia-Pacific & Least Developed Countries Section with UN Women HQ in New York, is currently leading UN Women’s global engagements and portfolio on South-South and Triangular Cooperation. Prior to joining UN Women, Mr. Kabir worked with UNDP offices in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Slovakia, Europe and Central Asia, Southern Africa, USA in both programme, development policy, and management responsibilities. During his 18-year career in this field, Mr. Kabir’s work has spanned shaping and influencing public policies, promoting institutional development, as well as working with and for vulnerable groups and marginalized communities in making development work for the poor. Mr. Kabir a Ph.D. in Politics from University of Hull, and LL.M in International Human Rights Law from University of Essex, United Kingdom.

Recent years have seen almost universal agreements on several complementary development frameworks. These include the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, the Agenda for Humanity – Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the Paris Agreement. In these complementary development frameworks, Member States have continued to emphasize the importance of South-South and triangular cooperation for action.

The SDGs depict a universal, integrated and transformative vision for a better world that leaves no one behind. However, not every country has the capacity to advance simultaneously the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Addressing the principle of leaving no one behind is easier said than done. South-South and Triangular Cooperation (SSTC) could be a key vehicle to achieve sustainable development by developing capacities and sharing knowledge between developing and developed countries.

Emerging Trends and Potentials

The new type of SSTC differs from the previous decades both in terms of scale and implications for global governance. The practice SSTC has brought significant benefits to more countries in different regions in terms of sustainable human development. It has led to increased institutional and technical capacities at various levels of government, civil society, academia, and the private sector. It has also enabled countries in middle income and upper middle-income countries to join forces on specific themes, producing faster progress (such as in vocational and skill development training), higher impact (such as on mine action in post-conflict and frozen conflict areas, food security in South Asia) and innovative tools (such as evaluating public policies and assessing impacts in Latin America and the Child Protection Index in Eastern Europe).

SSTC is also spreading to new areas, such as finance and infrastructure, featuring a few potentially game changing initiatives such as the New Development Bank (NDB), Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and various cooperative forums led by the South with Africa, International Meeting(s) on Gender Statistics in Mexico to mention a few. In fact, if its evolution even remotely parallels that of the World Bank, it might end up having a formative impact on economic policy-making and overall development strategy in the Global South. While there is no shortage of national and regional development banks as well as private financiers of infrastructure projects, there is still a massive gap in development finance, estimated to be as high as US$1 trillion per year. These and other Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) have agreed to strengthen their collaboration to attract private sector capital for funding vital infrastructure that will help countries worldwide attain inclusive growth and fulfill their commitments to the Paris climate change pact. These institutions have already made an effort to establish more equal relationships with their lower-income developing peers and emphasized an attractive narrative of partnership, non-intervention and knowledge transfer, For all these reasons, these initiatives are likely to have deeper impacts on global development cooperation including South-South Cooperation and on achieving the 2030 Agenda.

Operationalizing SSTC: Leading by Examples

Like other member states and UN entities and non-state actors, UN Women’s role has evolved in SSTC through learning lessons from the field. Its bottom-up approach to SSTC entails the use of electronic platforms, virtual schools, exchange visits, dialogues, global and regional communities of practice, peer-to-peer education and training-of-trainers, among other strategies. Through these, UN Women has achieved concrete results.

In 2016, for example, low-cost, targeted knowledge exchange helped national partners in several countries develop gender-responsive budgeting. This contributed to the revision of the Budget Law in Lao People’s Democratic Republic, allowing sectoral ministries and national mechanisms to invest directly in the national gender equality agenda. For the first time, several Arab States countries formally committed to applying gender-responsive budgeting.

An East-East exchange workshop for experts from ministries of finance from five Eastern European countries helped articulate institutional roles, opportunities and challenges in gender mainstreaming in fiscal policies, and shared knowledge of past pilot strategies previously implemented with technical support from UN Women.

UN Women used its convening power to bring together 60 women from 15 states engaged in peacebuilding and refugee responses in Europe and Central Asia, and the Arab States. As a follow-up to mutual and cross-regional south-south support initiatives, countries in the Middle East and North Africa region formally committed to applying gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) in their respective financial and budget systems.

An exchange of knowledge and good practices among countries in Latin America and the Caribbean and Asia and the Pacific guided new insights on incorporating international human rights standards in legislation. In Jamaica, this resulted in the ratification of Convention 189 on labour standards for domestic workers. Twenty-five countries adjusted key guidance documents on preventing and responding to gender-based violence.

Sharefairs organized by UN Women in East and Southern Africa have brought together researchers, policymakers, development agencies, regional bodies, civil society organizations, business leaders, investors, and others to discuss innovations and good practices, and agree on methods to support gender equality and women’s empowerment solutions in agriculture and extractive industries.

Going beyond Global and Minimum

It is clear from the examples and lessons learned that countries and regions are developing their own strategies, plans and cooperation initiatives to facilitate sustainable development. Examples include the Belt and Road Initiative championed by China, Agenda 2063 of the African Union, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Community Vision 2025, and the Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America. This implies the growing need to enhance the development effectiveness of South-South cooperation by continuing to increase its mutual accountability and transparency as well as coordinating its initiatives with other development projects and programmes on the ground in all regions.

The development agenda is spanning across multiple regions and many countries with participation of countries, non-state actors including civil society, academia, and, private sector. It is reaching to sub-national and local levels. However, it is more important than ever is to ensure that the outreach of these global-regional-national-local policy initiatives and developmental efforts are not gender blind, not limited to privileged few, and are not captured by local elites. They certainly need to go beyond minimum. The efforts and initiatives must be gender responsive, and, inclusive enough to leave no one behind, particularly disadvantaged groups and marginalized communities.