PERSPECTIVES: Walking the Talk Towards South-South Cooperation

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By Jaya Ramachandran*

South-South cooperation is not only a "promising approach" to development cooperation, but can also lead to "inclusive ownership" and help strengthen cooperation with non-state actors in developing lands, according to a high-level conference in the European Parliament.

South-South cooperation, as an important element of international cooperation for development, offers viable opportunities for developing countries and countries with economies in transition in their individual and collective pursuit of sustained economic growth and sustainable development. Its roots go back to the UN General Assembly resolution of December 19, 1978, calling for technical cooperation among developing countries (TCDC).

The conference in Brussels on May 31 brought together Costa Rican Foreign Minister René Castro, Jamaican Minister of State in the Foreign Ministry Marlene Malahoo Forte, members of the European Parliament and senior representatives from the European Commission, non-governmental organisations and national ministries.

Under the title 'Organising Inclusive Ownership --The EU's Structured Dialogue to strengthen cooperation with Non State Actors in the South', a number of programmes supported by The Netherlands were presented, including Social Watch, based in Montevideo, 'Communities of Change', supported by Cordaid, a Dutch development organisation, and 'Partners in South-South Cooperation' based in Costa Rica.

"South-South cooperation is a visionary idea that is starting to pay off today. Due to their first-hand familiarity with the problems on the ground, actors in South-South cooperation can be more efficient and effective in identifying and implementing solutions," said Castro. "South-South cooperation increases the cost effectiveness, promotes the transfer of appropriate technologies and ensures local ownership, leadership and capacity building," he added.

The European Union's structured dialogue aims to increase the effectiveness of all stakeholders involved in EU development cooperation by agreeing specific roles for all actors and by aligning their strategies and programmes. Through this process the European Commission hopes to strengthen their partnership with civil society organisations and local authorities worldwide.

"South-South cooperation is meaningful and effective in terms of regional integration and unity in global negotiations. In relation with civil societies, the conventional North-South split is fast becoming meaningless after the 'Arab Spring'," speakers at the conference pointed out. Social Watch and other voices warned about the financial crisis and about the imminent collapse of the Arab dictatorships. To allow for second opinions and for voices to be heard that are usually not consulted is, precisely, the added value of the European Union's structured dialogue," said Social Watch coordinator Roberto Bissio.
All speakers warned against the EU trying to reinvent the wheel, and urged it to rely on experiences that have been tested and found successful. "The EU should use the structured dialogue and its focus on ownership to implement policies that include all stakeholders in the identification of the most-promising development strategies," said René Grotenhuis, Cordaid director Cordaid. "Countries like The Netherlands, who have supported new approaches such as South-South cooperation early on, can have a leading role in this drive towards a more promising future of development cooperation."

'Partners in South-South Cooperation', formerly 'Programme for South-South Cooperation', a sustainable development partnership founded in 2006 between Benin, Bhutan and Costa Rica presented at the conference their success formula.

After initial funding by The Netherlands, 'Partners' has been running independently hands-on and inclusive projects, which enable small-scale farmers and micro-entrepreneurs to share their experiences and expertise across continents. Its 36 financially sustainable projects have created thousands of new jobs and additional income for poor people in the three participating countries.

"Given the global character of today's challenges it is time that the EU, as a leader in promoting aid effectiveness, supports South-South cooperation instead of just focusing on bilateral aid. South-South cooperation ensures that developing countries are equal partners in their own development and creates joint global responsibility for global problems," said Mirjam van Reisen, Professor at Tilburg University and Director of Europe External Policy Advisors (EEPA).

South-South cooperation is an inherent and successful part of the aid effectiveness agenda. Due to their first-hand familiarity with the problems and development challenges faced, actors in South-South cooperation can be more efficient and effective in identifying and implementing promising strategies and solutions.

South-South technical cooperation therefore increases the cost effectiveness, promotes the transfer of appropriate technology and ensures local ownership, leadership and capacity building.

"By working closely together we are able to tap into the diverse knowledge of each partner. We taught Costa Ricans the value of edible insects for fodder, while Costa Ricans helped us to introduce organic pineapple farming, which opened up new export markets for our small-scale farmers and generated much needed additional income,” said Mathias K. Pofagi, Director of Partners' Benin chapter.

"Partners' success formula was independence from donors, emphasis on genuine reciprocity and equality between members and the participation not only of governments but also businesses and civil society, indigenous people, women, farmers and universities," said Marianella Feoli, from the Partners' Secretariat. "We have proven that South-South cooperation can make the difference, if one not just ‘talks the talk’ but also 'walks the walk'."

Underlining the importance of South-South Cooperation, a UN General Assembly resolution of December 23, 2003 declared December 19 the United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation. This was the date on which the General Assembly endorsed the 'Buenos Aires Plan of Action for Promoting and Implementing Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries' in1978.

It urged all relevant United Nations organizations and multilateral institutions to intensify their efforts to effectively mainstream the use of South-South cooperation in the design, formulation and implementation of their regular programmes and to consider increasing allocations of human, technical and financial resources for supporting South-South cooperation initiatives.

The action plan stressed: "TCDC clearly serves many other purposes, such as overcoming attitudinal barriers, increasing developing countries' confidence in each other's technical capabilities and enhancing the process of harmonization of their interests so as to take fully into account, within the context of the fundamental concept of solidarity, their specific subregional, regional and interregional characteristics, particularly by identifying priorities in such fields as transport and communications, employment, development and exchange of human resources, as well as agriculture and industry."

*Florian Eisele contributed to this report.

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http://www.eepa.be/wcm/index.php

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