Click here to watch the recording of the event on Bilibili

Since 2019, UNDP Human Development Report Office (HDRO) has been engaging with the South-South Global Thinkers, a global coalition of Think-tank Networks on South-South Cooperation, supported jointly by UNOSSC and UNDP. This will facilitate the sharing of knowledge, expertise, and perspectives from the Global South, making the process inclusive and participatory. Given the diverse levels of economic, cultural, and social influence of the Global South, the southern perspective will help inform policy debates and advocacy, giving a broad view of development challenges and their solutions that are representative and unequivocally reflect or match the reality in the Global South.

HDRO is now embarking upon the consultations process for the 2021/2022 HDR in order to start a conversation on the themes of the report, with the purpose of seeking input and advice on report content from thematic and regional experts. These consultations will inform the report's development process and ensure that it speaks to key human development issues for people and policymakers.

Recognizing the importance of South-South cooperation, an e-discussion along with a virtual consultation on South-South Cooperation in a Context of Uncertain Times & Unsettled Lives was facilitated to seek contributions and insights from Southern-based think tanks and academia on how South-South Cooperation can play a role in addressing issues related to inequalities, and uncertainties which include technology, and prospects and implications of economic, social, and political decisions.

Over 26 think tanks from 16 countries, representing all five regions participated representing member think tank networks and institutions from the Global Research Consortium on Economic Structural Transformation (GReCEST), Network of Southern Think-tanks (NeST), Southern Voice (SV), Middle East and North Africa Public Administration Research Think Tank Network (MENAPAR), Statistical, Economic and Social Research and Training Centre for Islamic Countries (SESRIC), Finance Centre for South-South Cooperation, and CAREC (Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation) Institute. The consultation was organized and supported by Heriberto Tapia, Carolina Rivera Vazquez, and Fernanda Pavez Esbry from HDRO, in partnership with Shams Banihani and Naveeda Nazir from UNOSSC.

In the opening remarks, Mr. Pedro Conceicao, Director of HDRO acknowledged partnership with UNOSSC and the active engagement by members of South-South Global Thinkers. He further reiterated what the human development approach is and highlighted its two pillars that are central to the notion of human development. Firstly, human welfare is determined by more than income that determines people's welfare and well-being which was the inspiration behind the human development index; secondly that people's capabilities are determined by their ability to hold values and make commitments to things that go beyond advancing their own welfare and well-being.

He further explained that the work for 2021- 22 HDR has been initiated, which in a way, is the culmination of a trilogy of HDR reports in 2019 on inequalities and in 2020 which looked at human development in the context of the new planetary reality, described as the Anthropocene. For the upcoming report, HDRO is exploring how these two aspects intersect with each other and how processes of dangerous planetary change manifested by climate change, biodiversity loss and many of the hazards that we confront today are forcing all of us to think about the transition into a different way of organizing our economies and our societies

Ms. Xiaojun Grace Wang, Deputy Director of UNOSSC applauded the collaboration with HDRO, bringing together the think tanks and thought leaders from the global South to contribute to the flagship report that shapes development thinking discourses and inspires policies, reflect the evidence, reality, analysis and perspectives from the global South. She added that the South-South Global Thinkers, a joint initiative with UNDP, is able to serve as a participatory platform for consulting views and ideas from think tank thought leaders from the developing world. She stressed the interconnected and cross-border nature of the crises that define the era of the Anthropocene—climate change, biodiversity loss, the overshoot of planetary boundaries, and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic – and further highlighted the importance of cooperation, especially, through South-South and triangular cooperation, to seek collective, bilateral or multilateral solutions through various forms of SSC, including through regional integrations, sub-regional mechanisms, and neighborhood country initiatives.

To set the context, Mr. Heriberto presented the objectives of the consultation and timelines and hypothesis and focus of various chapters that the upcoming HDR intends to explore.

The open discussion consisted in the intervention of several think tanks answering the questions: how can just and inclusive transformations be brought about for the Global South? What are the threats and opportunities to human development in the Global South? and what kind of metrics are needed to guide just and inclusive transformations in the Global South?

Justin Yifu Lin, Dean of Institute of New Structural Economics and Dean, Institute for South-South Cooperation and Development in China stressed that there is a need to have both, an urgent support to stabilize the jobs situation [in the global South] and, in the future, the need to have a conducive environment for encouraging investment. In this process, certainly, ICT can be very important investment to reduce the business cost, but at the same time targeted support for sectors which the country has comparative advantage would be essential”.

Prof. Njuguna Ndung’u, Executive Director of the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) in Kenya while highlighting the main issues said “we have to rethink human capital development, especially in the global South and see how are we going to protect private investments in health, education and nutrition being an important aspect of human capital development”. He further highlighted issues we need to think about such as how to help markets for economic recovery, especially in low-income countries, the stressed fiscal spaces, the need for domestic resources mobilization and dedicated space for digital evolution as this is going to influence future economic activities.

Ms. Yuefen Li, Senior Adviser on South-South Cooperation and Development Finance from the South Centre appreciated the initiative to engage the southern think tanks. She highlighted that it is important to look into the issues beyond just institutions, but also governance issues that have inherent structural problems which make inequalities and divergences become worse. She also highlighted the issue of inequalities in access to COVID-19 vaccination, debt servicing and financing.

Mr. Adel Ben Youssef from the Arab Governance institute in Tunisia stressed the importance of digitalization and green skills. He stated that digital skills should go beyond e-learning and should include not only operational skills but also informational skills to equip people to navigate the information and learn how to use it. He also stressed on the need to invest in digital skill services particularly when people are made to use services such as financial inclusion, education and health. He added that climate change is also increasing inequalities and there is a need to invest in green skills to help implement the COP26 agreement. For this, there is a need to invest in people to adapt to new contexts.

Mr. Sofiane from MENAPAR in Bahrain presented the threats & opportunities to human development in the Global South from the governance perspective. He highlighted that governments and states are the biggest determinants of capacity building and creating “level-playing fields” for actors of transformation. He also presented suggestions on Human Development Metrics covering indicators related to State Capacity Metrics vis-à-vis communities (covering indicators such as easy access and reliability of State bureaucracy; effectiveness and quality of service delivery to communities) and Community Transformation Metrics (covering indicators such as access to and sustainability of development initiatives, access to digitalization, etc.)

Mr. Andre de Mello e Souza from Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada (IPEA) in Brazil emphasized that inequality, almost by definition, involves and leads to social disintegration and higher political instability. It doe so by means of many and complex mechanisms, including rising criminality and organized crime, greater propensity for violence and less functional democratic institutions. All of these tend to raise uncertainty and, in so doing, drive away investments and reduce economic growth, in what becomes a vicious cycle. Hence, reducing inequality is key to promoting functional democracies, reducing uncertainty, create political stability and economic growth.

The meeting concluded with the sharing of expert insights on the importance of institutions and governance in the recovery from shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenges to reach vaccine equity around the world, the concern for climate change as a live threat and its implications for food insecurity, the concern from the economic recession and the decrease on female labour force participation, the importance of closing technological gaps and building technology literacy and the challenges of recent political instability and crime, among other issues. Given the diverse levels of economic, cultural, and social influence of the Global South, the southern perspective will help inform policy debates and advocacy, giving a broad view of development challenges and their solutions that are representative and unequivocally reflect or match the reality in the Global South.

In her concluding remarks, Ms. Faiza Effendi, Chief of Effectiveness Group of UNDP, thanked the think tanks for their active engagement in this consultation and summarized the key takeaways. She stated that today's development challenges are dynamic and interconnected and require collective action which is multi-stakeholder, multilateral and multi-directional. Such partnerships and solutions will require co-creation and co-investments in global public goods.

She further acknowledged the South-South Global Thinkers Initiative is supporting southern think tanks and offering a unique opportunity to leverage analysis, research and knowledge to inform the global policy agenda. The collaboration with HDRO can serve as a useful entry point for southern think tanks as a sounding board to promote constructive policy dialogues, influence policy priorities and expand policy choices.