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Revisiting the South-South Cooperation for the successful attainment of Sustainable Development Goal

Updated: Aug 24, 2021


‘A process whereby two or more developing countries pursue their individual and/or shared national capacity development objectives through exchanges of knowledge, skills, resources, and technical know-how, and through regional and interregional collective actions, including partnerships involving Governments, regional organizations, civil society, academia, and the private sector, for their individual and/ or mutual benefit within and across regions. South-South Cooperation (SSC) is not a substitute for, but rather a complement to, North-South cooperation.’

This definition is based on the Nairobi Outcome Document, negotiated at the United Nations (UN) High-Level Conference on South-South Cooperation and adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2009. According to this definition, all developing countries are considered as part of the Global South, and equal partners in South-South Cooperation. Many developed countries also actively support South-South Cooperation and thus form a Triangular Cooperation modality.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development emphasized South-South and Triangular Cooperation as vital means of implementation and achievement of the SDGs by 2030 in countries around the globe. Sustainable Development Goals play an important role in defining the role and success parameters of global development by laying down 17 goals and 169 targets for the global community and countries to achieve by the year 2030. SDGs are an ambitious successor to the Millennium Development Goals which the world was hoping to achieve by 2020, especially focusing on poverty reduction.

SDGs take up a more holistic view of global development with measures to contain climate change and protect the global environment being paid extensive importance and emphasis through these established goals and targets. In addition to the SDG frameworks, recent years have witnessed global agreements on several complementary development frameworks as well. These frameworks include the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, and the Agenda for Humanity. The Member States of the United Nations have emphasized the importance of South-South and Triangular cooperation for action through such complementary development frameworks and their statements.

SDG-17 provides massive importance to fostering global partnerships for achieving SDGs and building a greater, more development-oriented global community. South-South Cooperation recognises this and lays foundational importance on involving partners who face comparable challenges and support each other by fostering capacity development while taking local specificities into account. Thus, South-South cooperation has a distinctive value in actively contributing to the success of established national frameworks by the Member States in achieving the SDGs. To further support and mold itself as a partnership for sustainable development, South-South cooperation showcases and calibrates itself as a capable space that can play a complementary role to the traditional cooperation efforts such as the North-South Cooperation without replacing it and instead promotes a peer to peer dialogue between the nations to foster mutual understanding, integration, and alliances around common goals between different countries and development actors.

South-South and Triangular Cooperation have emerged as important vehicles to accelerate human development through coordination between the Southern countries and will go on to assume an even greater role in the future, especially due to the changing global order and development of Southern countries as global players. South-South Cooperation has largely demonstrated its contribution to the development by showcasing robust results through a variety of flexible cooperation modalities, including knowledge exchanges, financing, technology transfers, neighborhood initiatives, and peer support, as well as through countries forming common development agendas and seeking collective solutions to achieve their targets. While the efforts undertaken by the SSC often go under-reported and sometimes are hard to quantify, the estimated value of South-South Cooperation exceeded US$20 billion in 2013.

South-South Cooperation efforts for achieving SDGs

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) stress the importance of South-South cooperation in implementing the 2030 agenda. Goal 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals focus on partnerships, “Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development,” particularly places emphasis on the critical role of South-South and Triangular Cooperation in achieving this ambitious development agenda. SDGs also set targets for South-South and Triangular Cooperation that aim at both technology and capacity-building which all the countries have committed to achieving.

In facilitation of this, numerous initiatives have come into existence and prospered in the last two decades, including China’s Belt and Road Initiative, India’s initiatives that encompass Trade, Training, and Technology Transfer through organisations such as BRICS and supporting initiatives like the New Partnerships for Africa’s Development (NEPAD); Saudi initiatives such as the Saudi Development Fund; Infrastructure boom facilitated by Multilateral Development Banks such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Asian Development Bank (ADB), New Development Bank (NDB) and more. While aspects of technology transfer, trade, training, infrastructure development and crisis support play a prominent role in the attainment of SDGs, the wider people-to-people connect facilitated by India and other BRICS countries is supporting these countries in fostering better entrepreneurial relations and strengthening cultural ties that play a prominent role in SDG attainment.

However, despite the existence of a high level of interest and commitment to cooperation, policies, regulations, and procedures across developing countries in the Global South, the lack of policy coherence and lack of institutional capacities for cooperation may be having the unintended effect of making it more difficult for Southern countries to benefit from one another’s capacities, experiences, knowledge, products, networks and services. This challenge can pose a massive hurdle to the attainment of SDGs through South-South Cooperation and could increase the divide and cause inequality among Southern partners which could create a divide that has long term effects on their relations and abilities to coordinate and support one another through SSC.

As a result of this, there may be many partners who wish to engage in this cooperation but cannot because of numerous constraints originating from the policies in their home countries. Therefore, supporting capacities, including that of state and non-state actors, emerging economies as well as Least Developed Countries, would be important. This support needs to be provided at each of the strategic, policy, and institutional levels. For example, UNDP assisted Mexico (AMEXCID) and Thailand (TICA) to consolidate their experiences as a driver of development in South-South Cooperation. In Iraq, UNDP recently supported the government there to establish a South-South cooperation unit in the Prime Minister’s Advisory Commission (PMAC) of Iraq. In Haiti, UNDP supported better coordination of various cooperation modalities and assistance. Learnings from these kinds of examples need to be recorded and adapted for native usage in the countries for implementation among southern partners.


The South-South Cooperation partnership faces a major challenge, it is to articulate a strategic framework that promotes the role of South-South and Triangular Cooperation as an instrument that, based on its distinctive characteristics, contributes to the attainment of SDGs within the framework of the 2030 Agenda. As is, the challenges posed by the implementation of the 2030 Agenda require wide-scale combined efforts, capacities, and resources from the wide diversity of actors that have been incorporated into South-South and Triangular Cooperation. Under the aegis of capable leadership of these States, a creative and inclusive approach with these new actors needs to be developed. The approach needs to range from the private sector to civil society and academia, among others. The incorporation of these actors will maximize the impact and the chances of success at achieving SDGs on the field and will contribute to the scope of cooperation actions.

Another challenge is focussed on the lack of systematization and measurement of the impact and success of programs and actions undertaken by the South-South and triangular cooperation. While the Ibero-American space showcases significant progress in terms of systematization, countries in the South-South Cooperation do not yet have sufficient tools to measure and evaluate the impact and contribution of exchanges of knowledge, skills, resources, and technical know-how for the development of countries and by extension, the achievement of SDGs. The challenge of developing these tools for the Southern countries is the difficulty in making a uniform set of tools that respect the diversity of approaches adopted by Southern partners. This challenge is also fueled by the lack of policy coherence and seamless implementation strategy sharing among the Southern countries.

Thirdly, improving the coordination and coherence of the United Nations System's support for South-South Cooperation and Triangular Cooperation at the national, regional, and global levels needs to be placed on priority and seen through effectively by engagement of actors from both the South-South Cooperation and the United Nations. The United Nations Office on South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) could support this endeavour and necessary changes in its role need to be configured for effective tackling of this challenge. The United Nations System needs to turn into an active channel that encourages and expands developing countries' access to South-South cooperation and become the catalyst for the efforts of the developed countries to provide human and material resources in this practice.

Financing of efforts among Southern countries have been time and again stressed, notably at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD) where the outcome document encouraged “developing countries to voluntarily step up their efforts to strengthen South-South cooperation, and to further improve its development effectiveness per the provisions of the Nairobi outcome document of the High-level United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation” in the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development. The Outcome Document also committed countries to “strengthening triangular cooperation as a means of bringing relevant experience and expertise to bear in development cooperation.”

Varied differences and technological gaps among the developed and developing countries in addition to the Southern countries by themselves is a significant hurdle for technology transfer and capacity building initiatives such as the Clean Development Mechanism that lacks the concentration across the Southern countries due to the aforementioned challenge. These gaps leave a chasm in the preparation levels for the adoption of common modalities for technology transfer and therefore, capacity building among the Southern countries is an important challenge for South-South Cooperation and the achievement of SDGs. Achieving policy coherence and large scale coordination of activities through shared resources could support the efforts of Southern countries in filling this gap. However, the political will to support one another needs to be ignited and dependence on developed countries in a protectionist environment as is the case today is not a viable route to fill the gap.

Practising self-reliance through support from other developing countries could go a long way in breaking away from Wallerstein’s World Systems Theory of the core, periphery, and semi-periphery states that defined imperialism and the capitalist system that fostered within it then.

South-South Strategy embedded into national development planning

Think tanks play a crucial role in defining the policies and operation of these policies into national development by the governments. In an outstanding move to shape the functioning of South-South Cooperation, leading think tanks from Southern countries forged an alliance that entails focused research, knowledge production, and exchange of perspectives. Following, the adoption of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, Financing for Development Agenda (FfD), and WTO meeting, SSC has taken over all new importance across various international fora. These new adoptions require a new coalition that improves the scope for information exchange among the Southern research institutions and think-tanks which would contribute to building consensus on evolving a suitable model that will promote Southern development cooperation for mutual benefit.

The Network of South-South Think Tanks, (NeST), was launched at the Conference on South-South Cooperation in March 2016. Iit serves as a knowledge and information bridge for southern countries that share their developmental experiences and socio-economic challenges from their home countries. Adopting an independent narrative for southern countries has acquired an all ever importance in the view of the North-dominated information and media landscape.

Yaduvendra Mathur, Chairman and Managing Director, Exim Bank, said, “SSC requires continuous nurturing through coherent policies, coordinated not only among developing countries but also with developed and transition economies in a South-South; and South-North framework, in trade, investment, competition policy, energy/food security, and infrastructure, as well as in the facilitation of trade financing, consultative and dispute settlement mechanisms.” The NeST went on to lay incredible importance on a few crucial aspects that the Southern countries could focus on including, renewable energy especially solar, augmenting healthcare facilities, and building an institutional capacity.

While the coordination amongst stakeholders continues to strengthen SSC, adopting a multi-stakeholder approach to this that includes the private sector, social welfare organisations, civil societies, governments, and academia would help in ensuring a more comprehensive solution to strengthen the cooperation for the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals. Convening periodic conferences and consultations among all these stakeholders will help them develop robust and innovative solutions for the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals by the Southern countries.

The Southern countries’ economies are hoping to stand together for protecting their mutual interest in particular while dealing with the developed countries and restrain themselves from being influenced by coercion. The South-South cooperation may work towards a more egalitarian and sustainable society.

Improving SSMart for SDGs

To deliver strong results of the actions planned and theorised by academia the congregation of the private sector and the consumer demand is desperately needed. This congregation would assist the attainment of SDGs by connecting the suppliers from throughout the Southern countries with the consumers waiting to fulfill the indigenously produced goods from the global south. This will improve the livelihoods of numerous businesses and provide scope to improve cooperation among the countries through a better people-to-people connection.

This system will facilitate an enabling environment for governments, the private sector, civil society, and various actors to publicize their demand, share their solutions, and connect to foster South-South and Triangular Cooperation opportunities. The SSmart also provides end-to-end services to the partners to broker partnerships and make the matched initiatives fully operational and effective, upon request.

Cooperation for SDG Fund

The United Nations Joint SDG Fund supports member countries of the UN as they further chart their progress towards the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Fund operates through a series of levels in the UN system and leads towards the implementation of transformative Joint Programmes, under the leadership of Resident Coordinators. The Fund forges paths and partnerships that unlock public and private capital for the SDGs at scale across the member states. All the allocations that are made by the Fund are in the form of grants to various UN agencies that work with the member countries and run their programs for the attainment of SDGs.

Southern countries require all the support to unlock capital for the implementation of their plans and policies without relying on Northern donors and turn out to be recipients. SSC and Triangular Cooperation could gain massively from the SDG Fund that would help them gain private funding and capital for their initiatives. The Fund works on two important operations: to reinforce the SDG Financing Architecture and to catalyse strategic investments for UN member countries. The Fund works to support the UN member countries in effectively planning financing strategies for SDG attainment.

The functioning of the SDG Fund includes the strengthening of the capacities of the national and sub-national SDG financing architecture, piloting of integrated national financing frameworks, establishing partnerships through convening networks and multiple consortiums that comprise of actors from both the public and private sector and the production of SDG-aligned financing strategies. The Fund also supports UN members in making strategic financial investments that help countries create financial opportunities for themselves through their investments for SDG attainment.


By effectively utilizing the contributions to productive capacity, infrastructure, technology transfer, policy innovation, humanitarian assistance, joint solutions, and common development agenda, South-South cooperation can work towards the attainment of all 17 SDGs. The broad benefits arising from these efforts should be embedded into various modalities of South-South cooperation to expand the opportunities for the Southern countries. Converging the policy and operational challenges for the cooperation of Southern countries towards the attainment of SDGs takes severe importance in the modern global landscape. Taking a long look at the national development planning and the assistance required by the Southern countries to ensure effective capacity building and coherence of policies and governance institutions for better cooperation is necessary today.

Tackling the challenges faced in the cooperation modalities of the Southern countries will be instrumental in attaining SDGs through SSC. The challenges posed to the development cooperation managers and practitioners to ensure that trade, investment, technology transfer, and knowledge sharing requires an immediate address of the demands of developing countries which are prioritized in their development strategies. Initiatives such as the SSMart and SDG Fund need to be looked at with a renewed outlook while ensuring periodic convergence of people and representatives from Southern countries will improve the cooperation for the attainment of SDGs.

Today, the world is embarking on a journey to achieve sustainable development for all while leaving no one behind. The need to maximize South-South and Triangular Cooperation for the attainment of SDGs are undeniable today. SSC is aimed at building inclusive global partnerships that ensure win-win strategies and equal partnership.



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