written by Joyce Soares, Forus Capacity Development and Membership Coordinator

Forus attended the Second High-level United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation, that took place in Buenos Aires on March 20-22. The overarching theme was "Role of South-South cooperation and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: challenges and opportunities". The first conference on South-South Cooperation (SSC) happened 40 years ago. Even though the then agreed Buenos Aires Plan of Action is not fully implemented to this date, South-South Cooperation and Triangular Cooperation [2] remain two important channels for development.  

Differently from North-South cooperation, that can come with several conditionalities or be tied to the business interests of the Northern partner (tied aid), South-South Cooperation aims to be horizontal, a common endeavour or a demonstration of solidarity among equals. Indeed, the political dialogue among the Souths is a way to enhance their weight in international negotiations and, recognizing the differences of context, is also a means for exchanging experiences. This can be a catalyst for finding development, technical and public policy solutions among the Souths. The innovations created in this framework are indispensable to achieve the complete implementation of Agenda 2030 as we face global issues, such as climate change.  

The capitalization of these lessons learned, to potentially scale-up the most adapted ones, is a huge challenge. Several best practices and initiatives were presented during the different side-events taking place in parallel with the official plenary meetings. For instance, to add to the evidence base on Triangular cooperation, the Global Partnership Initiative (GPI) launched a publication on Effective Triangular Co-operation, with the lead of the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate. During the plenary meetings and side-events, several Southern countries called for the Northern ones to honour their engagement towards 0,7% of ODA. Across all the different debates, it was largely acknowledged that South-South cooperation is not a substitute for, but rather a complement to, North-South cooperation. Indeed, this is reflected in the final outcome document of BAPA+40.  

In this same document, the countries recognize that South-South and Triangular Cooperation are two modalities that will be fundamental for achieving Agenda 2030. They are creative, prone to experiments, based on learning by doing and have the potential to be agile in responding to complex problems. However, they remain in their majority constituted by inter-governmental projects. The Effective Triangular Co-operation report recognizes that, while Triangular Cooperation is increasingly multi-stakeholder, only 30.6% of project are supported by CSOs. A multi-stakeholder approach, and namely civil society participation, is an aspect yet to be improved in the framework of South-South and Triangular cooperation. This was reflected during the high-level conference itself, with very few moments reserved for civil society participation. Nonetheless, representatives of civil society and trade unions seized the occasion to challenge participants with ambitious requests, such as innovation in public finances through the financing of a universal social protection, progressive fiscal systems and living wages for all – presented as preconditions for the full implementation of the SDGs.  


South-South and Triangular cooperation are already more horizontal practices when it comes to international collaborations - let’s reinforce this aspect with the participation of civil society as well. Civil society can also proactively seek to reverse the domination of North-South Cooperation models, fostering exchange and valuing the expertise existing in the Souths as regular practices. Let’s learn from the experience with previous agendas, and make sure now we put people at the centre of South-South and Triangular cooperation, using a human rights-based approach. More than a slogan let’s make sure we make bold advancements towards “leaving no one behind”.  


[1] Even though the concepts of “North” and “South” are highly questioned by academics and practitioners in the development world, they have been used in this article for clarity and coherence with the official documents from the conference. 

[2] You can find UN definitions for these two terms here: https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/03/1034941. Please note that other stakeholders speak about Triangular cooperation with a more flexible definition, with 3 or more actors.