16 September 2016
Category : Interview
South-South Cooperation. From and for the South
According to the Ibero-American Secretariat General (SEGIB), South-South cooperation, in practice, is regarded as “a form of independent cooperation that offers strategic partnerships, under conditions of horizontality, between equals, to achieve common goals”. To celebrate the United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation, we interviewed SEGIB's Social Cohesion and South-South Cooperation Coordinator, Martín Rivero. His work is focused on the day-to-day aspects of projects from and for the South.
What is South-South cooperation?
It’s the horizontal cooperation that countries in the South, in the broad sense of the word, undertake among themselves to try to resolve some of their development dilemmas with solutions applicable to their most concrete needs.
When did the trend of South-South cooperation get started?
There are various ways of approaching this. On one hand, with a more complete chronology, covering more than 50 years of history. The 1954 Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement in Bandung is considered the start of South-South cooperation in the broadest sense.
On the other, in the last decade and a half, let’s say from the start of this century, there has been a very significant intensification of the number of international events and South-South cooperation projects recorded on the planet. To give you an idea, in just the past five or six years there have been more international events and global conferences on South-South cooperation than in the entire previous 60 years.
South-South cooperation has a very long history, going back to that Bandung Conference, and it passed a very important milestone at the Buenos Aires Conference in 1978 with the establishment of the Buenos Aires Action Plan, which will be 40 years-old next year.
How many projects and countries has South-South cooperation moved in recent years?
The Ibero-American Secretariat General, SEGIB, based here in Madrid, which includes 22 Ibero-American countries (Spain, Portugal, Andorra and all of Latin America, from Mexico to Chile, including the Spanish-speaking Caribbean countries, i.e. Cuba and the Dominican Republic) represents the only region in the world that systematically records the South-South cooperation projects that take place.
SEGIB has been recording them for eight years in the Ibero-American South-South cooperation report. This reflects all the South-South cooperation undertaken between countries.
The latest cooperation report, published last year, recorded 580 South-South cooperation projects and more than 400 initiatives, which are smaller projects. So we’re talking about over 900 initiatives involving this type of cooperation in the region in just the past year.
In the rest of the world, it’s very difficult to map it and establish precise data. We have estimations or national reports of what China, South Africa, or Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia or Turkey, might be doing. There are also very active countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, which have a significant volume of South-South cooperation, but there are no regional records like we have in our Ibero-American region.
Which countries lead in South-South cooperation?
The six leading countries of the region are Brazil, which holds a prominent place, as well as Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. Although, all Latin America countries have South-South cooperation projects, there is a strong concentration in these six countries, accounting for 90-92% of all projects.
Another interesting thing to see in these SEGIB reports is that all countries receive South-South cooperation, which is a very characteristic element and something to highlight because we’re talking about horizontal cooperation. With this type of cooperation, often one country has greater weight, more power, more resources or a higher degree of relative development in a theme, but both participating countries benefit and learn from that process. In other words, the benefit is mutual, and it’s not a donor-recipient relationship, as was traditionally established. In South-South cooperation, equality is not just an ideological position but also a reality; in practice, both countries benefit.
In addition, many countries can be very powerful but perhaps not have the same degree of relative development across the board. Therefore, many smaller countries can present opportunities for learning and benefits in areas that are very useful for other countries with a higher degree of relative development.
I think we are going to see a greater intensity in the future, even South-North cooperation, that is, countries in the South who start to provide advising, aid, cooperation and technical solutions to more developed countries.
Can you give us an example of successful South-South cooperation?
There are always some projects that are nicer and more interesting than others. Speaking of Latin American, there are three clearly-identified thematic blocks: the social area, with poverty-reduction, education, health or housing policies; the economic and agricultural development area; and lastly, the one related to the quality of institutions, governance, transparency, tax issues, and all the rest.
To give some examples of both extremes, in the social area, there is one underway in Brazil that we at SEGIB have particular affection for; it has to do with a network of 70 human milk banks in the region. In this network, women who produce more milk than they need for their own children donate this milk to children who aren’t getting enough to meet their nutritional needs, either because their mothers don’t produce enough milk or because they’re orphans.
A second example is a system of managing transplants in the Southern Cone, the region between Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. It’s a very sophisticated and highly technical system that works very well in this region.
Then there are a vast number of themes, for example, agricultural production, improving rice harvests at family farming level, and projects related to improving tax systems, the quality of public policies, training of civil servants, etc.
In other words, the breadth of projects has to do with the region’s capacities, but also with the region’s needs. The countries of the region often demand solutions that are applicable to their specific reality. That is, they don’t seek the best solution in the world, because if they did, every country would always look for cooperation from the Nordic countries, Germany, or countries that common sense tells us are much more developed.
Often we say: which are the countries that have recently developed a solution to the same problem I have but with the ability to make it successful? Sometimes one can have a fantastic solution, but later it can’t be used because it requires a great deal of resources and sophisticated technology. That famous international solution is of little use to me if it’s not applicable to my concrete reality because of my geographical characteristics, my language, my technological abilities, etc.
Very often, there are interesting cases of countries that one associates with a particular problem and, precisely because they have this problem, they have developed the ability to combat it.
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