South-South Cooperation in an Era of Transformation

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18 Oct 2017, by Xiaojun Grace Wang, Deputy Director, UN Office for SSC


We live in a time of transformation. The world of today is fundamentally different to that of just 20 years ago. There have been remarkable and rapid changes in the way we live, work, connect, and socialize.

Reflecting this, the 2030 Agenda is a transformational agenda designed from the start to take a holistic approach to development, recognizing that today’s challenges can only be met in an interconnected manner.

There is no doubt that South-South cooperation has already made special and unique contributions to the 2030 Agenda, including through enhancing productive capacity, facilitating trade and investment, and sharing contextually appropriate technologies. But what role can South-South cooperation play given these changing global conditions?


South-South cooperation in a changing world

The global economy has shifted significantly. It is estimated that developing countries will account for 55 per cent of global GDP by 2025. Africa has become the fastest growing economy of the world. However, growth in African countries has not translated into industrial revolution at scale or significant lower unemployment rate.

Against this backdrop, through the Industrialization and Job Creation for Africa Initiative, China is helping governments in Africa to attract investment. Supported by UNDP, the aim is to make Africa the next manufacturing hub for global markets. Ethiopia is already sharing its experiences with Rwanda and Senegal.

We are witnessing an ongoing digital transformation including a rapid increase in the availability of cost-effective data and technology. This revolution is facilitating activities as diverse as smart city planning, tax revenue monitoring, and delivery of public services. Many examples of these innovative practices have emerged from the South. For example, during the Ebola outbreak in 2014 hundreds of local health workers across affected countries in Africa submitted surveillance data via text messages, creating a robust and comprehensive data set more rapidly with much less cost than if paper forms had been used.  In addition, numerous Southern-led centres and think tanks have been launched to promote science, technology, and innovation.

We live in a world calling for strengthened peace and stability. One out of five people live in situations of conflict or fragility and consequently we are seeing increased flows of refugees and forced migration. In such situations, neighbouring countries are often among the first to extend a helping hand.

Emerging economies have considerably expanded their support to peace building efforts. In 2015, the largest percentage increases in international humanitarian assistance mainly came from the Gulf states. Fragile-to-fragile cooperation is being championed by the g7+ countries.

These transformations are taking place alongside rapid population changes. People over the age of 60 are the world’s fastest-growing age group. As populations age, many countries will struggle with providing social protection and age-appropriate services.

At the same time the world is now the youngest it has ever been. Nearly 500 million new jobs will need to be created by 2020 to provide opportunities for young people entering the workforce, a situation will be exacerbated by the development of automation and artificial intelligence.


Looking towards the future

These rapid changes are interlinked and present to us new and complex challenges. Failure to address them may result in halting or even reversing recent gains in sustainable development.

What is promising is the increasing number of strategic initiatives launched by countries of the South, such as the Belt and Road Initiative championed by China and Agenda 2063 of the African Union. South-South cooperation is at the very heart of these initiatives. They are promising, but can only deliver relevant results if they strive to make transformational change for the world.

We will also need to better engage with and leverage the global think tank community to advance thought leadership. This will develop a strong evidence base to inform future oriented policies. Solutions for tomorrow’s development challenges are born today, and will come from the minds of those in the South and the North.

We at UNOSSC are delighted to be a part of this conversation. Our annual Global South-South Development Expo, hosted this year by the Government of Turkey, provides an important platform to exchange proven and innovative solutions for emerging development challenges. In addition, we strive to be a robust knowledge hub and work closely with think tanks and Southern partners, to identify, share, and scale-up knowledge on international development.