By Jorge Chediek and Bernardo Kliksberg
South-South Cooperation, a promising and innovative pathway to holistic inclusive development, alongside North-South and triangular cooperation, is vigorously advancing in Latin America and has increasingly become a key instrument to effectively advance toward the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly
The first of these goals – to end poverty in all its forms – poses a difficult and demanding macro-challenge to Latin America and the Caribbean, since poverty figures have tended to stagnate or increase annually since 2012, according to data from the Social Panorama of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
In 2014, it was estimated that 28.2% of the region’s population was living below the poverty line; by 2017, this figure had risen to 30.7% – i.e., 186 million people. Plus, rates are even higher for children, adolescents and women. This is the infantilization and feminization of poverty.
In many analyses of Latin America, a continent with enormous economic potential, poverty is linked to high levels of inequality, and the region continues to be (even with improvements) among the most unequal in the world.
Although the region has made considerable strides at various levels, it is facing major challenges, among them: taking its place in the technological revolution, increasing its productivity, developing its infrastructure, coping with trends that are weakening world trade, continuing to reduce unemployment by creating “decent” jobs (as the International Labour Organization calls them), grappling with the impacts of climate change, investing heavily in clean energy and protecting its extraordinary biosphere.
At the same time, Latin America should continue expanding health and social security coverage, and innovate substantively in education, where high dropout rates and underachievement continue to plague secondary education.
In all these and in other critical areas, South-South Cooperation is expanding rapidly and providing substantial aid.
In the forward to the tenth edition (2017) of the respected Report on South-South Cooperation by the Ibero-American General Secretariat, its Secretary-General, Rebeca Grynspan, says that South-South Cooperation shows that “we all have to learn and contribute to building an inclusive and sustainable development.”
According to the report, 5,000 South-South Cooperation initiatives have been documented in the past decade, and their numbers have increased eightfold over this time. In 2015, the number of initiatives rose to 1,475, surpassing the ever-growing annual average by a wide margin. Of these initiatives, 1,206 were bilateral, 168 were triangular and 101 were regional.
Among Latin America’s 19 countries, the initiatives’ main providers were Argentina, with 180 projects; followed by Mexico, with 125; Brazil, with 110; and Chile, with 90.
Projects and programs targeted critical areas. They primarily strengthened the economies of aid-recipient countries, followed by social welfare and institutions.
In figures, 40% supported productive sectors and development of infrastructure and services, 33% aided social areas, and 15% strengthened government and civil society institutions. By sector, 17.8% focused on health, 16% on agriculture and 14.7% contributed to improving performance of governmental institutions.
Together with bilateral cooperation, the region intensively developed its capacity for triangular cooperation, where one of the region’s countries acts as the first provider and another country outside the region or an international agency is the second provider.
Triangular initiatives increased from 21 in 2006 to 159 in 2015. It is significant, from several angles, that a country with a small population such as Chile would be the leader in these types of projects, accounting for 29.8% of them. This is an indicator of the existence of experiences that are internationally recognized as successful, the pull they exert on other countries that would like to emulate them, and the interest they spark in third parties willing to finance and support the propagation of exemplary cases.
Following Chile are Brazil, with 18.1% of triangular projects; Mexico, with 16%; and Argentina, with 6%. Second providers included Germany, with 20% of projects; Spain and Japan, with 18% each; followed by the United States and various international agencies.
In 2015, 44 programs and 57 projects were carried out in the framework of regional cooperation. The region also actively connected with other developing regions, providing them with South-South Cooperation: 400 initiatives were carried out primarily with non-Ibero-American Caribbean countries, Africa and Asia. Latin America was also the recipient of 38 initiatives from other regions, 80% from Asia.
How can we explain this history of rapid dissemination and growing implementation of South-South Cooperation in the region? There appears to be a good match between priority needs and the substance of cooperation, and cooperation modalities, in many cases innovative, have been widely accepted.
Cooperation has also helped with issues that countries find very sensitive at present, such as non-conditionality; full respect for the sovereignty of recipient countries and their cultures and idiosyncrasies; effective technology transfer and opportunities for taking ownership, adapting and developing it; the interactive nature of projects; and the open attitude to collective learning presiding over them. All these are substantive policies adopted by the United Nations and the Office for South-South Cooperation.
A clear purpose stimulates South-South Cooperation, guides its methodology and has impelled provider and recipient countries, the UN, the UNOSSC and other collaborating organizations; this comes from the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and was stressed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres: we must attain a development where “no one is left behind.”
Jorge Chediek is director of the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation and Envoy of the UN Secretary-General on South-South Cooperation.
Bernardo Kliksberg is strategic advisor to the Director of the UNOSSC and was awarded the Order of Civil Merit by Spain.