Development cooperation in a new world

By Erik Solheim 14 May 2015

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi shake hands during the 6th BRICS Summit held in Brazil. More development cooperation and increasing south-south cooperation mean better global development assistance. Photo by: Roberto Stuckert Filho / PR / Blog do Planalto / CC BY-NC-SA

The rapid rise of the “global south” has caused colossal and positive changes in the world.

China’s economy grew 10 percent annually for decades and 600 million people were brought out of poverty as a result. The gross domestic product of Indonesia is three times greater than 10 years ago. Brazil managed to reduce deforestation 80 percent while lifting tens of millions of people out of poverty at the same time. Young South Koreans are 390 times richer than their grandparents were.

Extreme poverty has been halved globally and the world is a much better place than at any other point in human history.

The economic and political center of gravity is moving rapidly from somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic and may soon come to a stop somewhere between China and India. The rise of the global south creates increasing pressures to adapt the global economic and political governance accordingly, including by reforming existing institutions like the United Nations and the World Bank.

Development cooperation has also changed for the better by the fact that more and more countries are becoming richer and transitioning from recipients to providers. The days are long gone when a small number of rich countries were providing assistance to a large number of poor countries. The number of poor people and aid-dependent countries is steadily decreasing. The vast majority of countries will in the coming decades provide as well as receive some kind of support from other countries.

More providers should also mean more development cooperation. Official development assistance from members of the Development Assistance Committee, which account for more than 85 percent of global development cooperation, remains record high at $135 billion per year. Additionally, many south-south providers are ramping up spending.

China is now a major player with development projects across the world. The United Arab Emirates is the most generous country in the world, spending 1.17 percent of national income on development cooperation. Other Arab nations are stepping up. Turkey provides more development assistance than the average OECD country and has been hugely generous to Syrian refugees. Brazil, Chile, Mexico, India, Indonesia and South Africa remain recipients, but have a dual role providing development cooperation as well.

Many former developing countries are now much richer than many European countries. We can expect to see increasing pressure on more countries to contribute to poverty eradication and global public goods such as peace and environmental protection. Kazakhstan is now building up its development cooperation program and is the latest country to express an interest in working closer with the DAC. There are many Arab, Asian, European and Latin American countries that could do more. Presidents, activists, priests and imams must keep pressure on countries to make faster progress toward achieving the commitments they have made including to provide at least 0.15 percent of national income to the least-developed nations.

More development cooperation and increasing south-south cooperation mean better global development assistance. There are many similarities among the modalities of south-south and north-south development cooperation and we all share the objective of promoting sustainable development. Closer collaboration and learning from success is good for the planet and poor people in the world.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is increasingly collaborating with other south-south providers to develop a new and broader measure of development cooperation. One specific issue is that south-south technical cooperation is currently considered less valuable purely because of different salary levels. A Norwegian expert working in Somalia would count as more valuable than a Turkish contribution just because the salary of the Norwegian worker is higher. But one may argue that Turkish assistance to Somalia can be more effective because Turkey has by far the biggest presence on the ground, they share the same religion and they have more recent experience with development at home.

South-south providers have recent experience of transitioning out of poverty, reforming agricultural systems or developing through industrialization. And they often share religion, culture and common language with their neighbors. Triangular development cooperation, often between recipient countries, DAC members and south-south providers, is a great model for collaboration. It can build on the complementary strengths of these different actors to bring innovative and flexible solutions to address development challenges.

Chile, an OECD member and a provider of south-south cooperation, is a great example of this potential. Germany and Chile are working to improve skills of young men and women in rural areas in the Dominican Republic. The United States and Chile are working to improve Guatemala’s agricultural exports by improving food safety inspections. In these cases, triangular cooperation proved to be a win-win-win situation as Chilean experts are cheaper than German or American experts. The Chileans are also well-regarded and can provide valuable insights from their own successful development. And Germany and the United States also brought their expertise to the partnership, including their knowledge and experience of managing development cooperation.

Traditional providers of development cooperation and South-South providers have much to learn from each other.

The Brazilian Bolsa Familia and similar cash disbursement schemes in Latin America provide probably the best method to reach the extreme poor. Why don’t we jointly make a Bolsa Famila Global? OECD members should be inspired by Chinese infrastructure projects like high-speed rail projects in Ethiopia and Nigeria or the railroad link between several East African nations.

South-south providers can learn from OECD members’ experiences as well when it comes to financial transparency, environmental standards and consultations with local populations. In an ideal world, we would get Chinese effectiveness and speed combined with OECD environmental standards and best procedures for consultation. The world needs more roads, dams, railways and wind farms.

Closer collaboration and mutual learning is key to better development cooperation in our new and exciting world.

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About the author

Erik solheim profile
Erik Solheim

Erik Solheim is chair of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee since January 2013, and incoming executive director of the U.N. Environment Program. With a solid background in climate, the environment and peace building, Solheim was also Norway’s minister for international development from 2005 to 2012.


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