Anabel Cruz

Anabel Cruz is the founder director of the Communication and Development Institute (Instituto de Comunicación y Desarrollo ICD) in Uruguay and the Chair of the Board of CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation. South-South Cooperation, carried by civil society, is an opportunity to establish a practice based on solidarity and horizontal knowledge exchange. It needs to follow the principles of the Accra Agenda for Action, agreed upon at the Third High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness 2008. She then goes on to discuss the ways how horizontal partnerships can be built. The text was first published by „Development Outreach“, edited by the World Bank Institute, Resources/213798-1286217829056/cruz.pdf

South-South Cooperation and Knowledge Exchange – A Perspective from Civil Society

South-South Cooperation is not new. It has been around for several decades in the form of economic integration, cultural exchanges, and technical Cooperation. Traditional North-South cooperation, however, with resources coming from the rich northern countries to the poor southern ones has been supplemented by other models. Indeed, middle-income countries have been taking on various roles, not only as recipients of development aid, but also as providers of development cooperation. New actors and approaches have entered the development cooperation landscape.

South-South Cooperation (SSC) has been receiving increased attention lately and the reasons are manifold. On the one hand, developing countries are gaining greater influence in the world economy: 40 percent of the world’s population now lives in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), which already account for 25 percent of the global domestic product.

On the other hand, the number of countries not belonging to the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) that contribute to official development aid has been rising, especially among the middle-income developing countries. Among numerous other examples, Brazil stands out because of its South-South Coopera-tion with Angola, Mozambique, Paraguay, and Argentina in the field of education, including projects for school capacity building and reducing illiteracy.

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have often warned about the problems associated with the delivery of aid, denouncing top-down practices and calling repeatedly for an end to the conditionalities that developed countries often impose on developing countries. CSOs have had high expectations for South-South Cooperation (SSC) as a practice based on the principles of solidarity; and the role of CSOs and the principles of SSC were explicitly articulated at the Accra Agenda for Action (AAA) of the 2008 Third High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness. It was affirmed that:

“South-South cooperation on development aims to observe the principle of noninter-ference in internal affairs, equality among developing partners and respect for their independence, national sovereignty, cultural diversity and identity and local content. It plays an important role in international development cooperation and is a valuable complement to North-South cooperation.”

CSOs have indeed been struggling to make SSC a vehicle for horizontal conversation and knowledge exchange. Civil Society and its allies, such as media and academia, have been intent in many situations on ensuring that the mistakes made in other forms of international cooperation should not be repeated in SSC practices. South-South cooperation presents an important opportunity for CSOs, if it can be transformed into South-South learning and serve as a tool for generating policy and institutional change.

How Can Horizontal Partnerships be Built?

If SSC can be a platform based on solidarity, then it should also be a means for building horizontal partnerships that can promote learning exchange. Furthermore, the five principles of the Paris Declaration are also valid and applicable to SSC: ownership, alignment, harmonization, managing for results, and mutual accountability. But are they really present in SSC?

The recent high level event on South-South Cooperation and Capacity Development, hosted by the Government of Colombia in Bogota, (March 24-25, 2010) was attended by more than 400 participants, including ministers, vice ministers, heads of cooperation agencies, delegates from multilateral organizations, representatives from CSOs, parliaments, and academic institutions with an active involvement in the cooperation architecture. They discussed how to promote and implement good practices in SSC and capacity development to support countries in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The final declaration discussed by the participants highlights two sine qua non requirements for SSC: It has to be a Southern-led process and it has to generate evidence-based information and good practices on which to base effective and widespread knowledge exchange.

Indeed, CSOs attending the high level event in Bogota identified some important pending tasks for actors involved in South-South, so that learning and knowledge exchange can really happen in a horizontal and transparent ways:

  • Stronger institutions to generate reliable data. There was consensus on the need to generate quantitative and qualitative data for measuring, assessing, and accounting for the inputs and results of SSC. Fragmented systems and weak institutions cannot produce reliable and timely information. Solid and well-equipped institutions are a precondition for generating knowledge and for exchanging relevant and usable information about SSC.
  • Coordination among different actors. Coordination among all involved stakeholders in SSC (governments, socially responsible corporations, civil society organizations) is another condition for an effective and just process.
  • Mutual accountability is a requirement for horizontal learning and all actors are responsible. Accountability needs to receive more attention, at all levels.

The Role of Civil Society

CSOs have a crucial role to play in ensuring that the renewed attention to SSC becomes an effective tool for poverty eradication and for horizontal learning exchanges.

In this regard, CSOs associated with the Reality of Aid Network1 are calling for donors and recipients in SSC to help strengthen development effectiveness by taking important measures, such as:

  • South-South Cooperation must be aligned to national development and poverty reduction strategies, and these strategies should be developed through broad-based processes with the participation of parliaments, CSOs, academic institutions, and independent media.
  • South-South Cooperation projects must be executed with greater transparency, and mutual accountability must be enhanced, including that of Southern donors and countries to each other and to their citizens. More actors must be involved in assessing aid and development effectiveness. CSOs are also part of the process of mutual accountability and are prepared to be accountable to multiple audiences by means of diverse mechanisms, especially self-regulation in its different expressions and formats.
  • South-South Cooperation cannot be loaded with old practices and conditionalities and all partners must be transparent and open, so that developing country partners are well informed about the eventual comparative advantages of goods and services provided through their aid relationships.
  • South-South Cooperation best practices should be studied, promoted, and disseminated among both developed and developing country actors, and international organizations.

In Bogota, some of these recommendations seemed to be taking shape and gaining support. The 110 cases of South-South and triangular cooperation presented at the High Level Event told stories as a source of learning and possible replication. I hope this book is the first of many more learning products.

CIVICUS and its member organizations and allies are taking action in the form of cooperation among peers and promotion of civil society knowledge exchange between developing countries. The CIVICUS Civil Society Index (CSI) is an excellent illustration. The CSI is a participatory needs assessment and action planning tool for civil society around the world. It aims to create a knowledge base on, and momentum for, civil society strengthening initiatives. The CSI is initiated and implemented by, and for, civil society organizations at the country level. It actively involves, and disseminates its findings to a broad range of stakeholders including: government, donors, academics, and the public at large.

Civil society stakeholders make use of participatory and other research methods to create knowledge about civil society and to assess its state or condition. This assessment is then used to collectively set goals and create an agenda for strengthening civil society. Besides the activities at the country level, partner organizations implementing the CSI conduct a variety of other exchange initiatives: sharing their results, trying to find common patterns, and seeking solutions to shared problems. Regional exchanges for example, in Latin America, are currently very active and are an emerging form of South-South cooperation and knowledge exchange.


1 The Reality of Aid Network (RoA) is the only major North-South international nongovernmental initiative focusing exclusively on analysis and lobbying for poverty eradication policies and practices in the international aid regime. Measures presented here can be further explored in their most recent report on South-South Cooperation.

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