Three is company

by Alexander Jones | FAO
Friday, 2 December 2016 12:08 GMT

In this 2010 file photo, a lone surfer prepares to take to the water at Muizenberg in Cape Town. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Partnerships give us the means to achieve more with fewer resources and improve people's lives

How can development cooperation be more effective? This is the main question that the international community must reflect on to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. The Addis Ababa Agenda for Development Financing and, more specifically, cross-cutting SDG 17  to revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development, clearly identify partnerships as a key tool for the success and effectiveness of cooperation.

Partnerships give us the means to achieve more with fewer resources, and they boost development cooperation, which in turn directly improves the lives of people in a sustainable and lasting manner. Creating alliances for development requires joining forces to exploit operational synergies. Partnerships promote creativity and ingenuity, they are an excellent base for developing the “think outside the box” attitudes needed to provide an additional and much needed boost to development.

The main global actors in development cooperation met recently in Nairobi to discuss “How to achieve effectiveness?” at the Second High Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation. During this meeting, South-South Cooperation, and in particular Triangular Cooperation, received substantial attention during a plenary session on lessons learnt and good practices coming from these innovative forms of cooperation based on partnerships.

For the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Triangular Cooperation involves partnerships between two or more developing countries along with a third partner, typically a traditional resource partner and/or multilateral organisation. Irrespective of the definition applied, triangular initiatives share not only financial resources, but know-how, skills, experiences and resources from both developed and developing countries, even though the roles of different partners can take on many different forms.

In many cases, cooperation providers in the Global South still require technical and financial support and expertise from triangular partners when engaging in other developing countries. Triangular partners themselves benefit by using the strengthened institutional capacity in the South, thereby multiplying the impact of their aid disbursements.

Triangular Cooperation models rest on the experience that Southern countries are in a better position to adapt their solutions to the needs of a beneficiary country, given that they have successfully faced similar development challenges in the recent past. Southern partners in a Triangular Cooperation model may also share similar social, economic and geographic features, have cultural, historical or regional ties, or share a common language. Traditional donors have the possibility through this three-way cooperation to actually increase the scope and impact of partnerships by taking on board a Southern partner.

Regardless of scale or political weight in the new international arena, all development actors can use Triangular Cooperation to explore exciting new ways to work with Southern partners in order to leverage their contributions to greater effect. This three-way collaboration in one area can easily generate positive spill-over effects, particularly where partnerships have proven successful. Triangular Cooperation could eventually become a tool to create partnerships that go beyond the realm of aid.

Whether promoted between countries in the Global South or with the support of a triangular partner, South-South and Triangular Cooperation are two cooperation models with which countries can achieve their own development priorities, while fostering their external economic, developmental and foreign policy networks.

For this reason they are a key means for the implementation of the SDGs, which explicitly call for enhanced South-South and Triangular Cooperation on access to science, technology, innovation and knowledge-sharing. The Addis Ababa Action Agenda highlights the increased contributions from these forms of cooperation to poverty eradication and sustainable development and encourages developing countries to voluntarily increase their efforts to strengthen cooperation among the Global South.

In the last few years, middle-income countries have funded over two thirds of FAO South-South Cooperation projects. Among them, Brazil and China have provided more than two thirds of the financial contributions. The remaining South-South and triangular activities have been funded by triangular partners, either FAO member countries or multilateral institutions or organisations. Two messages can be clearly taken from this: one is that the partnership base of Southern providers can be broadened; and two, there is a huge untapped potential for more triangular partners to facilitate Southern exchanges, particularly from OECD countries, which, engage – with a few exceptions – rather sporadically and in an ad-hoc fashion in Triangular Cooperation projects.

FAO is convinced that both South-South and Triangular Cooperation are highly effective mechanisms for achieving the SDGs in an efficient and innovative way, and we are committed to promoting and facilitating these partnerships, supporting countries from the Global South to achieve sustainable development.

Alexander Jones is director ad interim of South-South and Resource Mobilization Division of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)