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


An African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” 

The new sustainable development agenda recognizes the importance of partnerships to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or Global Goals. This agenda presents the opportunity for a new and inclusive global partnership, of which South-South Cooperation (SSC) forms an integral part.

South-South Cooperation (SSC) is the exchange of resources, technology, and knowledge between countries of the global South. It’s about developing countries extending helping hands to each other to tackle development challenges together.

So how can SSC contribute to the achievement of sustainable development agenda?

SSC can enhance the productive capacities of developing countries through fast rising trade and investment partnerships. South-South trade in goods for 2013 was valued at about US$5 trillion. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flows among developing economies account for about half of world total.

Promotion of trade and investment contributes to countries’ long-term economic growth and development outcomes by increasing revenues and creating jobs.  This matters in all contexts, but even more so in crisis-affected countries. To break the cycle of poverty and violence, it's about jobs and more jobs. A number of countries, including Mozambique, Ghana, and Malaysia, have successfully followed this path and can share important lessons.

The AIIB and the New Development Bank are primarily led by the South and will contribute substantial amount to invest in basic infrastructure.

Lacking infrastructure comes at an enormous economic and social cost. Today 1.2 billion people live without electricity and one billion people live more than 2 kilometers from an all-weather road. SSC, with over 55% activities focusing on infrastructure, can play a big role to help fill the gap, including through new partnership initiatives such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the New Development Bank. These new banks are primarily led by the South and will contribute substantial amount to invest in basic infrastructure.

SSC provides opportunities to share knowledge and expertise with low overhead. Cuba, for example, has sent its technicians to introduce cost effective drip irrigation technique to local farmers in small Island Developing States. UNDP supports Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda to send civil servants for two-year terms in South Sudan to provide peer coaching to their counterparts. Our experience confirmed that the cost of such exchanges can be as low as a third of similar arrangements between North-South.

Today, developing countries share relevant and adaptable public policies, and seek collective solutions to common challenges through SSC. UNDP is working with Lula Institution in Brazil to help with social protection schemes in several African countries. UNDP also facilitated Jordan’s training programme for Iraq institutions to strengthen responses to gender-based violence. During the Ebola crisis, the Liberian Government and the UN brought together the national leaders from Guinea, Mali, Liberia and Sierra Leone to formulate strategies to stop its cross-border spreading.

The focus, diversity, and dynamic nature of SSC are its inherent strengths, complementing the traditional development assistance approach. It also benefits from mutual learning and support with developed countries through triangular partnerships.

As we embark on the journey of achieving sustainable development for all people and the planet, I suggest we can go neither fast nor far without going together. And when that cooperation is present, the common journey towards sustainable development can lead us far.