Raquel Castillo

South-South or triangular cooperation among organizations of civil society differs from projects of official South-South Cooperation. They are targeting the disadvantaged people, they focus on human rights, they emphasize gender mainstreaming. Raquel Castillo exemplifies this with the description of the “Real World Strategies for Education for All”. This is an initiative taken by the Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education (ASPBAE) in conjunction with national partners. Together, they promote advocacy strategies in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Raquel Castillo is ASPBAE’s Asia Advocacy and Campaigns Coordinator.

Enabling South-South and Triangular Cooperation Among Civil Society Organizations: the ASPBAE Experience

In the international aid architecture, the prevailing notions of the relationship between donors and recipients of assistance in the social sector has been slow to transform over the years despite civil society organizations’ (CSO) consistent push for principles of ownership, alignment of intentions and CSO’s genuine participation in processes. The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness is doing much to change norms and level up the expectations on North-South assistance and cooperation. But it is not easy to shake off the implications of power asymmetry in any relationship, whether economic or political.

Because of this, there is increasing attention being given to cooperation initiatives that are forged among the “South”, the term referring to all developing countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. And any kind of bilateral or multilateral collaboration undertaken among countries of the South has come to be known as “South-South Cooperation”. When northern partner/ donor is involved, the initiative is called “Triangular Cooperation”.

The year 1978 is said to mark the birth of “South-South Cooperation” among member states of the United Nations at the UN Conference on Technical Coop- eration among Developing Countries, held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In recent years, it has been used interchangeably with “South-South Transfer” because it has increasingly been used as a policy tool for development that facilitates knowledge and information sharing, apart from financial resources. However, this is thought to be misleading because some types of cooperation may not involve transfer, as when strategies are formulated collectively instead of being borrowed or lent. Also, it is contended that while cooperation is always voluntary, transfer itself may be either voluntary or prescribed – or even imposed in some instances.

Intuitively, South-South Cooperation should be desirable among developing countries and development practitioners, as it resonates with the ideals of self-reliance and international solidarity, as against dependence on more powerful and richer nations of the North. A noteworthy example would be the cooperation provided by Cuba in education, where it has transferred Yo, Sí puedo (an adult literacy program via radio) to countries that are its political allies, such as Mozambique and sent its teachers to countries such as Jamaica and Namibia. Another example is the Network of South-South Cooperation for Adult and Youth Education, which is being established by all Portuguese-speaking countries of the South: Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique and Sao Tome and Principe. With the Brazilian Ministry of Education in the lead, these countries jointly negotiated a South-South Cooperation strategy for adult and youth education in 2006. (Jules,Silva, 2008)

And yet, a civil society and development activists’ perspectives of South-South Cooperation, and for that matter, Triangular Cooperation, differ in certain respects in the nuances of the relationships engendered and in the approaches from those found in official cooperation arrangements taken among states. How is it the same, and how is it different when CSOs enter into South-South and Triangular Cooperation amongst themselves?

The different international commitments as outcomes of the conferences of the 1990s up to the turn of the Millenium and beyond added much impetus to the forging of alliances around them – for example the Global Campaign for Education on the Education for All Jomtien Declaration and Dakar Framework of Action and the Global Call Against Poverty on the Millenium Development Goals. What civil society strives to bring into partnerships involving them is usually of a more developmental perspective, often absent in contractual partnerships that involve the business sector with government or those that involve philanthropic individuals.

The benefits of South-South and Triangular Cooperation among states are said to include technical capacity building, strengthening of national policy and institutional framework, enhancement of credibility and reputation and scaling up. But apart from these, CSOs add lenses by which they look at any South-South and Triangular Cooperation initiatives, and these include, for example,

  • Promoting equity ➞ proactively targeting the disadvantaged
  • Ensuring Human rights ➞ that these cooperation ventures are not entered into at the expense of human rights, and that the rights-based approach is central to their design
  • Mainstreaming gender equality ➞ that the cooperation embeds gender equality objectives in its components, over and above mere gender parity in education

The Real World Strategies (RWS) for Education for All

In the ASPBAE experience, one important example of a South-South and Triangular Cooperation is an eight-year initiative supported by the Government of Netherlands from 2003 to 2010 called the Real World Strategies for Education for All. Challenged by the urgent need to accelerate progress towards Education for All (EFA), the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) cooperated with the Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education (ASPBAE), the Africa Network for the Campaign on Education for All (ANCEFA), and the Coalition for the Right to Education in Latin America (CLADE), and launched this initiative to undertake realistic and practical advocacy strategies based on the actual conditions, experiences and aspirations of people in communities. The idea was to build a movement, a cadre of campaigners analysing and articulating the injustices they saw in their daily lives.

The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) is a civil society movement covering more than 100 countries that aims to end the global education crisis, hold governments to account for their promises repeatedly made to provide free quality public education for every girl, boy, woman and man.

ASPBAE is a regional association of close to 300 members, working across more than 30 countries in the Asia-South Pacific region, building a movement committed to advancing equitable access to relevant, quality and empowering education and learning opportunities for all people, especially the most marginalised groups. Its overall goal is to secure equal access of all citizens to basic and Adult Education of good quality, thereby contributing to poverty eradication, sustainable development and lasting peace. ASPBAE’s members include NGOs, national education campaign coalitions, national federations of Adult Education, community groups, indigenous people and women’s organizations, university departments and popular education groups.

Together with ASPBAE, eleven national coalitions in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu carried out policy advocacies and campaigns in their countries and challenged governments to fast track their commitments to EFA. With support from the Dutch Government in 2003-2005 (Phase 1) and 2006-2010 (Phase 2), RWS was able to mobilise and amplify the civil society voice in making governments accountable to providing public quality education for all.

RWS affirmed the fundamental importance of southern activists being able to define their own messages and “learning by doing” even if progress was not always linear. (Moriarty, 2010). The overarching goal was to strengthen the advocacy and campaigning potential of civil society organizations in the global South with the hope that this would speed up attainment of the Education for All goals. The civil society in the global South were considered as vital partners and advocates who through mass public support for their actions and providing evidence could hold government to account towards progress on the six EFA goals set in Dakar.

The project’s ambitions, despite a comparatively small budget of €5 million,1 were big in scale.

  • Strengthen and deepen the work of existing education civil society coalitions such that they are able to mobilise public demand and concern for free quality Education For All
  • Build further education coalitions in countries and regions where none exist
  • Deliver time-bound, coherent national and regional advocacy strategies
  • Contribute to the delivery of effective global advocacy work by GCE, ensuring consistency, coherence and cross-fertilisation between national advocacy plans and regional/global strategies
  • Build broad-based movements with other interest groups, linking education interests with others working on public sector service delivery, aid, debt and children’s issues
  • Bring about specific policy changes at global, regional and national level, consistent with overall objectives of the GCE global strategy

In the Asia-Pacific region, capacity-building activities included:

  • Conducting and funding in-country workshops and training courses
  • Mentoring the coalitions’ Boards and Secretariats
  • Acting as a sounding board for the coalitions’ ideas
  • Providing information on sub-regional, regional and global education campaigns and initiatives
  • Organising sub-regional and regional workshops and training courses
  • Facilitating the exchange of experiences with other coalition networks
  • Facilitating links to donor organizations and other education players
  • Facilitating the coalitions’ participation in regional and sub-regional platforms such as the ASEAN, South Asia Ministers of Education Forum, SEAMEO and UNESCO

Different operational models appear to have emerged in each region of the world. For ASPBAE in Asia-Pacific, the model is that of back-seat “enabler”, taking a less visible role themselves but instead building the capacity of a small number of national coalitions to advocate on EFA in their own national context and in regional platforms. ASPBAE appears to have taken a middle route between ANCEFA’s big push to build national coalitions and CLADE’s prominent lead in regional platforms. ASPBAE has also been thought to have gone further and better along the cross-fertilization of advocacy between countries than the other two regions. (Moriarty, 2010)

With ASPBAE as Regional Coordinator of the initiative in Asia-Pacific, a strong regional dimension within RWS was brought in and this distinguished it from other projects such as the Common Wealth Education Fund2 or the more recent Civil Society Education Fund. The regional dimension, in turn, facilitated the more coordinated South-South approach among national education coalitions, instead of just having each country doing things on their own.

The Civil Society Education Fund (CSEF)

Another example of a CSO South-South and Triangular Cooperation initiative was the CSEF, put together by the GCE with support from the EFA Fast-Track Initiative, the global funding facility for EFA re-launched this year as the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). This funding to civil society organizations (CSOs) in advocacy work around Education for All (EFA) is the first of its kind, since the support being provided by bilateral and multilateral donors in the FTI/GPE have been always previously reserved for national governments, through their Ministries of Education, to fund their EFA national action plans. The GPE itself pools funds for EFA from many donors, and in the last pledging conference in November 2011 in Copenhagen, was able to garner $1.5 billion in commitments for EFA funding over the next three years.

In the Asia-Pacific region, GCE forged partnerships with ASPBAE and Education International (EI) to serve as Regional Secretariat and Fund Manager, respectively. Partnerships with 13 national education coalitions in the Asia-Pacific are in place, to augment their resources for institutional strengthening, capacity development and policy advocacy on the broad and interlinked EFA goals. The countries include Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka in South Asia; Mongolia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Timor-Leste in East and Southeast Asia; Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu in the South Pacific.

Now on its second year, the core objectives of the CSEF are:

  • To provide support to the core work of national education coalitions in FTIeligible (low income) countries so that they can more fully engage with national governments and local donor groups in working towards the EFA goals.
  • To help civil society to become more effective advocates for education for all and to put them in a better position to raise future funding direct from incountry donors.

Much like in RWS, the CSEF facilitates the establishment (where previously nonexistent) of broad-based and democratically run national education coalitions. For both existing and emergent coalitions, CSEF supports institutional strengthening by strongly encouraging a broadening of a national education coalition’s constituency to include teachers unions, women’s groups, parents’ associations, human rights organizations, rural community groups, media, and other education stakeholders.

Capacity building is pursued through CSO trainings, for example to monitor spending on education both at local community and national levels: budget tracking, gender disaggregated budget analysis, translating budgets so that communities understand what it means for them politically, etc. Support is also given to strengthening the communications ability of the coalition: hosting and updating a website, establishing a communications plan targeting officials, the media and the general public.

Policy advocacy, as in RWS, is pursued through increasing civil society engagement with government, donors and IFIs and enhancing their role as key stakeholders in policy dialogue and supporting policy oriented education research or evidence collection, designing effective advocacy activities, and strengthening coordination across civil society in the country for a unified voice to realize the right to education.

Keys to Effective CSO South-South and Triangular Collaboration

Demand-driven, context-based, real world approach

Although the work in RWS remained true to its central component of capacity building, there was much flexibility in the partnership that allowed the regions to develop the project in different directions. Funds were allocated through the regional networks to national coalitions to support their capacity development and advocacy activity. Allocation of these funds was largely demand-driven, with coalitions identifying a particular campaigning activity or capacity need and submitting a proposal to the regional networks. Based on the regional secretariat or steering committees’ appraisal of the absorptive capacity of the coalition in each year, a grant was made. At other times the need was identified by the regional network, which then either facilitated the establishment of a coalition or helped to develop and support actions by existing coalitions.

A UNDP study in 2009 of South-South Cooperation among countries observed that there was limited information at the stage of need-matching between governments going into South-South cooperation initiatives and that limited capacity in articulating and assessing needs and developing specific programs/projects constrained the use of a demand-driven approach. This was very different from the ASPBAE experience in putting together the partnerships for both RWS and CSEF, where the approach was basically demand-driven, and the capacity building and advocacy plans of education coalitions were rooted in their specific “real world” imperatives.

“National coalitions had the freedom to define their priorities and campaigns. Along the way, they were offered training courses customised to their needs, opportunities for peer mentoring, greater access to information resources useful to their advocacy work, and spaces for policy engagements. Very few programmes would give you such a high degree of flexibility, coupled with accountability”. (Maria Khan, ASPBAE Secretary-General)

Coalitions’ independence and integrity were always respected. Even if they were coming together as partners, there was a deliberate attempt to balance what, on one hand, the coalitions thought of as their priority areas of work, and on the other hand, the need to bring them into certain thematic policy areas that they would not naturally go into, because they may not yet have the capacity to do so or they have not really attempted to look into them yet – like education financing.

In Dolowitz and Marsh’s (2000) conceptual framework, a distinction is made between voluntary and coercive transfer and it is argued that both types of transfer exist in South-South cooperative relations. Voluntary transfer occurs when decision-makers voluntarily engage in transfer with a “natural tendency to look abroad” to see how others have reacted to similar situations and to seek ideas when innovation is required. (Bennett, 1991, cited by Jules-Silva, 2008)

Direct coercive transfer occurs through force by an organisation, country or supra-national body to make another organisation, country or supra-national body adopt some idea or some prescribed policy. The role of so-called “International Knowledge Banks” (IKBs) in setting policy conditions in developing countries in exchange for loans under heavy influence by individual countries are examples of this. Still other “IKBs” collect and select “best practices”, treat them as a “public good”, and then transplant them from one nation to another. Clearly, CSOs in RWS and CSEF give a premium to “voluntary collective sharing” – not even just “voluntary transfers”, and least of all “coercive transfers”.

Strategic planning and clustering of partners according to individual priorities and capacities

As a planned South-South cooperative venture, it was not a collection of discrete pieces of work or one-off activities for the coalitions that participated. For example, one regionally coordinated multi-year undertaking under RWS was the Education Watch Initiative, where coalitions surveyed and monitored various aspects of the progress towards achievement of EFA on the ground.

There was a practice of three-year strategic planning involving all partner coalitions at certain points. They are asked to choose activities in their annual action plan in line with this common strategic policy agenda drawn up through regional consultations.

Ownership of joint actions

One success story in terms of joint action was the combined actions in the run up to and during the CONFINTEA VI (the International Conference on Adult Education) in December 2009. This provided a blueprint for joint action at all levels – national, regional and international – that is useful for future action. ASPBAE very deliberately organised its participation in the CONFINTEA VI processes to enable its effective lobbying and influence of the conference policy outcomes. The ASPBAE-led delegation, a number of them RWS partners, was highly organised and exerted an authoritative presence in all possible spaces open for civil society participation.

The organised presence of ASPBAE and its partners was most felt in harnessing support from the heads of government delegations to the CSO positions: Asia Pacific CSO lobbying delivered very good results, indicated by strong endorsement by several national delegations of CSO advocacy positions in full – Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga; and the endorsement of key lobbying points especially on Adult Education financing targets by the heads of delegations of Pakistan, Philippines, and the small island states of the South Pacific who further argued for attention to their unique Adult Education needs. The coordinated formal support of at least 36 heads of government delegations to the CSO advocacies strengthened the lobbying spaces of the CSO representatives in the official Drafting Committee. While deeply disappointed by the flaws in the process adopted by UNESCO in finalising the Belem Framework of Action, through the coordinated lobbying work of CSOs from all over the world where ASPBAE and its members played no small part – CSOs secured approximately 40-50 % of their core lobbying positions.

Ownership by constituents of cooperation initiatives at all levels

When the cooperation initiative is “owned, there is generosity on the part of partners to see to the common good. An example of this instance occurred almost at the end of the RWS initiative when there was no capacity within the Latin American budget for their documentation & assessment process. Asia and Africa generously agreed to contribute to the shared costs of the documentation & assessment.

South-South sharing of knowledge and experience involved not only countries within the Asia-Pacific region; in fact, there were also inter-regional transfer of skills. In March 2006, ANCEFA took part in the Asia Pacific Education Watch Planning Workshop held in Jakarta, Indonesia. In August 2006, ASPBAE attended the Africa Education Watch Planning Meeting held in Dakar, Senegal. The experiences developed through this inter-regional collaboration facilitated development of a model that saw the operation of the EdWatch project translated from research to a popular political agenda in the two regions.

Clear governance and accountability systems

One of the important roles that RWS played was to bring together diverse groups and allow them to share experiences and learn from each other. The RWS Steering Committee was instrumental in facilitating better understanding and forging greater cooperation among the key constituent groups of GCE in the region – NGOs, teachers unions, child rights activists – which, at the onset of the RWS programme, had very limited experience of working together. A Steering Committee was established at the programme’s inception, responsible for programmatic oversight and strategic planning for RWS in the region. The RWS Steering Committee consists of representatives from four organizations: ASPBAE, Education International representing teachers’ unions, Global March Against Child Labour representing child rights advocates and GCE (the Asia-Pacific representative in the GCE Board).

Whereas in RWS, a coalition may be a partner without legally registering, but only designating a registered lead member organisation of the coalition to receive and acquit the funds received, CSEF required that coalitions seriously pursue the process of legal accreditation, professional external auditing and evaluation of programme activities. Because funds were coming from the GPE, whose Secretariat is hosted by the World Bank, then the financial reporting process was more stringent. While this posed complex problems for the smaller and the newly formed coalitions that had to contend with the ramifications of specific legal requirements that differed in each country, it also allowed them to be more attractive to other funders and to see possibilities for broadening their funding base. On reflection, could this be a case of direct coercive transfer of a good practice in governance?

Predictability of funding support

Many countries in the South have country and issue-specific official South-South cooperation strategies, most of them aimed at medium-term but not long-term. The RWS and CSEF, the experimental Triangular Cooperation mechanisms with funds provided by Northern donors. While RWS Phase 1 and Phase 2 may be considered medium-term in outlook, CSEF remains short-term so far, with funding getting secured on a year to year basis. On this point, the CSO South-South and Triangular Cooperation is faced with a similar limitation as that of official cooperation between countries.

Is there Evidence of Achievement of Results?

The University of Amsterdam, in a study of the political gains in the policy advocacy work of national education coalitions, referred to three types of external changes: political, procedimental and symbolic impact. (Hoop and Verger, 2010) They relate closely to policy work (political) and process (procedimental). Their 3rd category, symbolic impact – the changing of public attitudes and awareness – can be seen in case studies, for example mothers’ empowerment in Sri Lanka to claim their right to education or mobilising out-of-school youth to increase the education budget for non-formal and alternative education in the Philippines under the RWS experience.

Responses from governments in the 2009 UNDP study indicate that many of their programmes have achieved results in terms of output but fewer programmes have achieved desired results at the level of outcome and impact.

In the RWS, there were successful policy gains by CSOs, for example, for the coalition in Cambodia. They were able to successfully work towards the eradication of informal school fees in the country, and steps are underway in terms of making sure that these are implemented more robustly in Cambodia.

While, of course, there were several players who contributed to making sure that the landmark Right to Education Act in India became a reality, the National Coalition for Education in India was certainly a key player in this.

The RWS programme was highly supportive of these coalitions in their efforts to achieve these policy gains. In December 2009, national coalitions in South Asia convened to plot out their lobbying tactics at the South Asia Education Ministers Meeting. As a result of intense lobbying by RWS representatives, the ministers’ Dhaka Declaration on Education for All encouraged member countries to spend six percent of their GDP on education and supported the role of CSOs in achieving education goals.

These are policy outcomes. The more acid test of the difference that any CSO South-South and Triangular Cooperation can make will be in the impact on the very lives of education-deprived children, young people, women and men.


ASPBAE/Fortunato, Barbara. 2011. Adventures in Advocacy: Real World Strategies for Education in Asia. Global Campaign for Education/Moriarty, Kate. 2010. Real World Strategies – Towards Education For All By 2015: A Story Of Civil Society Advocacy. Jules, Travis and Michelle Morais de sá e Silva. 2008. Society for International Education Journal, vol. 5, no. 1.

UNDP. 2009. “Enlarging South-South and Triangular Cooperation: Study of the Current Situation and Existing Good Practice in Policy, Institutions and Operations of South-South and Triangular Cooperation”.

University of Amsterdam research on transnational advocacy, led by Antoni Verger and Mario Novelli, publication forthcoming from Sense Publishers. This research draws on work done by Master’s degree students on selected GCE member coalitions.

Reflect circle in Morocco






















Reflect circle in Morocco Source: DVV International


1 For example, compared to CSEF which is US$17.6 million over two year (2009-2011).
2 The Commonwealth Education Fund (CEF) gave advice and funding to education groups in 16 Commonwealth countries for the promotion of free primary education. See http://www.commonwealtheducationfund.org

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