Blog by Xiaojun Grace Wang, UNDP's lead adviser on South-South and Triangular


South-South Cooperation (SSC) is gaining new momentum as global political and economic realities change rapidly. It is also adding critical value to development. So how can we ensure that the larger potential of SSC is reflected in ongoing discussions on financing for development, while recognizing its differences from more traditional forms of ‘North-South’ development cooperation?

SSC encompasses elements of trade, investment and technology transfer as well as direct financial assistance between developing countries. In 2013, South-South trade in goods was valued at about US$ 5 trillion. South-South grants, concessional loans, debt relief and technology transfer were estimated between US$16 to 19 billion in 2011, and continue to rise. These figures undoubtedly underestimate the true scale of such flows since they are not reported in any systematic way. Much of it is also not directly quantifiable such as the amount of knowledge shared or technology transferred through SSC.

South-South grants, concessional loans, debt relief and technology transfer were estimated between US$16 to 19 billion in 2011

SSC made, and continues to make, an important contribution to development and to people’s lives. It is also becoming more diverse. For example, while SSC continues to favour infrastructure investments (around 55% of its activities), it also supports the social sectors, agriculture and food security and, increasingly, social protection, as well as renewable energy. All these are important elements of sustainable development in the post-2015 period.

At UNDP, our work on SSC is based on the recognition of its growing potential and its positive impact on sustainable development. Our role is to broker knowledge exchanges, facilitate partnerships, and strengthen the capacities of countries to engage in South-South and Triangular cooperation.

For example, we supported Indonesia to share best practices with the Philippines in the recovery efforts related to Typhoon Haiyan. We have also facilitated knowledge transfer between Cuba and Jamaica on the issue of risk reduction. During the Ebola crisis, we partnered with the Government of South Africa in deploying autoclaves in Ebola affected countries (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone) to safely dispose medical waste. We assisted Mexico (AMEXCID) in consolidating its experiences as a SSC provider, and supported the government of Iraq in establishing a SSC unit in the Prime Minister’s Advisory Commission.

Triangular cooperation is also a valuable mechanism to help scale up the impact of SSC for sustainable development. With support from Denmark, we worked with the Governments of China to support renewable energy in Ghana and Zambia.

In our discourse on development cooperation, it is time to recognize beauty in diversity. SSC is to be warmly welcomed while recognizing its distinct characteristics. It is not just about ‘how much’ financial assistance emerging economies provide. It is about how much knowledge and technology are transferred among all countries in the global South, to address common challenges. It is about how we can maximize the sustainable development impact of SSC through its dynamic processes and various modalities.