This virtual issue of Development Policy Review journal by ODI under the theme of South-South Cooperation in honor of the UN Day for South-South Cooperation on 12 September 2020.


The concept of South–South co-operation (SSC) can be traced to the Asian–African Conference that was held in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955. Convened at the height of the Cold War, the Conference was intended to establish a forum for newly independent countries that would be independent from the Western power blocs. While the primary motivation for the Bandung Conference was political, what is now known as South–South co-operation derives from the Buenos Aires Plan of Action for Promoting and Implementing Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries adopted by UN Member States in 1978, which focused on economic and social development. The idea of SSC is now understood to represent “a manifestation of solidarity among peoples of the South that contributes to their national well-being, their national and collective self-reliance and the attainment of internationally agreed development goals, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

SSC can take place on a bilateral, regional or intraregional level. It can also take the form of trilateral co-operation (TC) where a “North” partner (which could be an international organization) provides the resources needed to facilitate the exchange of technical assistance and expertise between two countries of the South. SSC also occurs across a broad spectrum of activities, covering economic, financial, social, environmental and technology issues, with the common objective of sharing knowledge, skills, expertise and resources between the countries of the South.

SSC has grown significantly in recent years, as middle-income and newly industrialized countries in the South have become more engaged with building economic, political and social ties with lower-income developing countries. This is most evident in the growth in bilateral investment and aid flows between countries of the South which differ significantly in their levels of economic and social development. This new feature of SSC has promoted debate on whether the traditional development assistance co-operation model framework provides an appropriate modality for the delivery of aid flows between higher- and low-income “Southern” countries.

The wide range of forms and modalities used to deliver SSC has made it difficult to reach a commonly agreed definition. In turn, this has meant that attempts to establish a common international framework to measure and monitor SSC have thus far been unsuccessful (Di Commo, 2017). Case study evidence therefore constitutes an important source of learning about the impacts—positive and negative—of SSC. Despite the well-known methodological and practical limitations of international policy transfer, project and country-specific evidence can provide valuable lessons for policy-makers. The research findings reported in the contributions to this collection add to this learning process by demonstrating how SSC can contribute to national wellbeing and the attainment of internationally agreed development goals in the countries of the South.

The complexities of forming transparent, balanced and mutually beneficial SSC partnerships between donor and recipient are examined in the article by Molly den Heyer and Dustin Johnson, “Exploring the complexity of partnerships in development policy and practice: Upstairs and downstairs.” The authors argue that, while experience shows that proclamations of more equitable partnerships or recipient ownership of aid policy are often undermined by historical power dynamics and cleaving to dominant development narratives, it may also be possible to influence policy outcomes as options are negotiated and interpreted in a multitude of smaller policy spaces, including influences from networks of civil society organizations (CSOs). The article looks at two CSOs that use their “downstairs” position to act as interlocutors with Southern partners. In some cases, they foster more equitable partnerships and support South–South networks by applying an emancipatory learning approach and adapting aid modalities. The findings suggest that the asymmetrical nature of government donor–recipient partnerships can be addressed through a more nuanced learning approach and a greater engagement with CSOs that can experiment with project modalities and support for CSO networks.

The theme of an evolving framework for SSC is continued in the study by Annalisa Prizzon, Romilly Greenhill and Shakira MustaphaAn ‘age of choice’ for external development finance? Evidence from country case studies.” Based on nine country case studies in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, the authors map the expanding access of partner-country governments to external development finance beyond official development assistance. They analyse governments’ priorities for the terms and conditions of development finance flows they would like to access. The analysis finds that partner countries identify ownership, alignment with national priorities, speed of project delivery and portfolio diversification as key priorities, and suggest that the rise of new providers such as China has increased the potential bargaining power of recipient countries vis-à-vis more traditional donors.

Latin American countries have a long history of engagement with SSC. Historically, Brazil has been the major participant, but other regional countries, including Chile, Mexico and Cuba, have emerged more recently as significant aid donors to low-income developing countries. The following two studies illustrate the differing approaches to SSC taken by Brazil and Chile.

The study by Sean Burges, “Brazil’s international development co-operation: Old and new motives,” argues that Brazil has taken a cross-government policy approach to the provision of development assistance, which includes recruitment of business interests. While there is a genuine concern with global poverty alleviation in Brazil, this has not precluded policy-makers from using aid and development-related activities to advance national interests. A distinguishing feature of Brazil’s development co-operation, one that sets it apart from Northern counterparts, is that the provision of development assistance has offered significant benefits in terms of building up international bureaucratic experience inside the country and helping national firms to internationalize their market activities.

The emergence of Chile as a significant aid donor is examined by Alexis Gutiérrez and Dany Jaimovich, A new player in the international development community? Chile as an emerging donor.” It shows that, since becoming one of the main regional donors within Latin America, the Chilean approach to international co-operation has been a mix of emergency aid and technical assistance for social policies, often in response to diplomatic affairs. As such, Chilean development assistance has been mainly an instrument of soft power diplomacy.

China has emerged as a major player in SSC, and the next two articles explore contrasting studies of Chinese involvement with sub-Saharan Africa. The study by Antonio Martuscelli, The economics of China’s engagement with Africa: What is the empirical evidence?,” reviews the existing evidence on the nature, causes and impact of China’s economic engagement in Africa on the economic literature with a quantitative focus. The study finds that China’s reasons to engage with Africa are not so different from those of western countries: securing natural resources and seeking new export markets. However, there is evidence that China is less interested in the quality of governance and institutions of its African partners. The literature tends to agree on the positive growth effects for African countries of Chinese interest, but also suggests that their already thin manufacturing sector could be adversely affected by Chinese competition and that the increasing natural resource specialization of African countries might hamper diversification, structural transformation and future growth prospects. At the same time Chinese investments are building valuable infrastructure and linkages with local firms, which are growing though still very limited, although there is an emergent trend for more small and medium Chinese firms in Africa.

Chinese involvement in Africa has been heavily focused on infrastructure investment. The study by Deborah Bräutigam and Jyhjong Hwang, Great walls over African rivers: Chinese engagement in African hydropower projects,” examines the case of hydropower, which has accounted for almost 10% of all Chinese loans to African governments. Based on a dataset incorporating over 100 projects, and using desk research, interviews and field visits, the authors provide a detailed evidence-based analysis of Chinese financing and construction practices. This study offers a significant contribution for establishing greater transparency and improved negotiating capacity in African governments embarking on SSC with China.

The final article, entitled Challenges and opportunities of trilateral co-operation: Collaboration by the USA, Brazil and Mozambique on horticultural research 2011–2015, analyses an innovative example of TC involving collaboration by a traditional donor and two developing countries. The article explores three key questions regarding key aspects of suggested best practices for TC: (1) collaboration and co-ordination; (2) ownership and synergies; and (3) adaptive governance. In so doing it explores, from the perspective of project participants, the principal challenges and gains from working in TC. The study is based on the 2011–2015 Trilateral Project of Technical Support to the Programs of Nutrition and Food Security (PSAL), a collaboration between US and Brazilian organizations working together in Mozambique with local partners. The PSAL project tested and adapted vegetable crop production, post-harvest and processing practices and technologies; developed field infrastructure for research, extension and processing; trained Mozambican researchers and extension technicians; and collected systematic socioeconomic information that was made publicly available. The findings of the study confirm that participants reported significant gains in participants’ technical capacity and knowledge transfer, with a strengthening of Mozambique’s institutional capacity for improved vegetable production.

Originally defined at the 1978 Buenos Aires Conference as “an instrument capable of promoting the exchange of successful experiences among countries that share the same historical realities and similar challenges,” SSC has changed dramatically in its modalities, scale and volume over recent decades. The rise of newly industrializing and middle-income economies has blurred the traditional boundaries between North and South in a way that defines the South not by location but by certain economic characteristics and quality of life. The articles included in this collection illustrate the growing diversity in what is commonly referred to as South–South co-operation, and in doing so contribute to our understanding of how this unique form of international co-operation can continue to make a distinctive contribution to a shared agenda of sustainable development.

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