Development cooperation is increasingly running on a two way street. Photo by: Garrett / CC BY

Development cooperation is increasingly running on a two way street, as “developing countries” come up with novel solutions that can be borrowed by their more “developed” counterparts. At the same time, South-South cooperation is on the upswing, especially in Latin America. Triangular — or South-South-North — cooperation is also trending.

“Cooperation is becoming more horizontal,” said Rebeca Grynspan, secretary general of the Ibero-American Secretariat General, or SEGIB — an intergovernmental organization that unites 22 Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries from Latin America and Europe. “It is being done with greater humility — everyone has something to learn.”

Grynspan made her remarks during the International Economic Forum on Latin America and the Caribbean in Paris on June 3. In an exclusive interview with Grynspan — whose resume includes her role as the former vice president of Costa Rica and a stint with the United Nations Development Programme — she told Devex there are over 1,000 examples of South-South projects in Latin America.

She recalled former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s conditional cash transfer program Opportunity NYC-Family Rewards, launched nearly a decade ago. “It was inspired by the Mexican and Brazilian programs that were very successful. Today millions of poor Latin Americans are covered by such schemes,” she said. “Their influence has extended to Africa, [but] you won’t find identical programs anywhere — they are adapted to local conditions,” adding that it is one of the ideas that has “swept the world” in terms of poverty reduction efforts.

Similar challenges

A decade of robust growth has been followed by severe recession throughout most of Latin America. Few if any countries took advantage of the good times to push through reforms, meaning that structural problems remain largely the same as those from the beginning of the millennium.

Ángel Gurría, secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, ran through a well-known litany of problems at the LAC Forum: poverty, inequality, a large informal economy, weak institutions, poor educational standards, substandard regulatory environments, inefficient tax and spending regimes, poor infrastructure and insular business communities.

“There is no way to maintain growth” without improvements in productivity, Gurria said, calling for investment in innovation, education and job training, along with financial system reforms — notably to ensure funding for small and medium-sized firms.

While the recent boom years helped pull many Latin Americans above the poverty line, Grynspan stressed the need to “maintain those social gains,” address growing aspirations, and “avoid deception” among young people entering the labor market.

“Young people are more demanding of politicians and public services,” she said. “And they are less tolerant of corruption. There needs to be a program to ensure economic mobility.”

Grynspan believes that the Global North and Global South are currently facing a similar set of problems, stressing youth unemployment, social cohesion and integrating people from diverse backgrounds.

“Vertical cooperation is not the name of the game anymore,” she said. “A more horizontal conversation will probably yield better results.”

South-South cooperation in Latin America has found fertile ground in agriculture, cattle raising, the inclusion of indigenous populations and water projects, said Grynspan. One SEGIB initiative, for example, helped Haiti rebuild diplomatic archives destroyed by the 2010 earthquake, by pulling in documents that were held by other countries.

Horizontal how?

Traditionally, rich donor countries have provided assistance to poor recipient countries in a one-way process. But how can that be converted into a two way street?

Grynspan believes that multilateral institutions have been “instrumental,” citing efforts by the U.N. to push the Millennium Development Goals as the U.N. provided a space for the exchange of experiences. But now that the universal Sustainable Development Goals have replaced the more restrictive MDGs, Grynspan is looking for a corresponding mindshift.

“We have to challenge the idea that cooperation for development has to be only between the very rich and the very poor,” she said. “It has to be a conversation about development and not only about aid.”

More equal relations might seem the best way to go, but there remains the question of whether all the decision-makers in the North are ready for that.

Grynspan was hopeful: “To change a culture is not easy,” she said. “I believe that most people who work in cooperation want it to succeed. Many of them don’t know exactly how to do it. I think that’s what we [at SEGIB] can provide — an experience in progress.”

Devex was a media partner at the 8th International Economic Forum on Latin America and the Caribbean, co-organized by the OECD Development Center, the Inter-American Development Bank and the French ministries of Economy and Finance.

About the author

Bill hinchberger
Bill Hinchberger@hinchberger

Bill Hinchberger is Devex's Paris correspondent. In his spare time, he's a freelance writer, communications consultant and educator. A native of California, he lived in Latin America for over two decades, reporting for media such as The Financial Times and Business Week. He also served as president of the São Paulo Foreign Press Club and founded the online travel guide Assignments have taken him to over 30 countries, from Cuba to Egypt, India, Kenya, Turkey, and beyond.

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