– Developing countries are creating and sharing their own innovative solutions to development problems, Jorge Chediek, Director of the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation told IPS in a recent interview.
Whereas international development policies have historically been dominated by richer countries, developing countries, also known as countries of the Global South, are now generating their own alternatives, said Chediek.
“Many southern countries have shown in the last few years that there are alternatives – alternative visions and alternative ways to do development.”
The ideas emerging from the Global South in part reflect the different circumstances many of these countries share in common – from similar climates, to economic challenges.
One area where South-South cooperation is considered particularly relevant is climate change adaptation and mitigation.
Solutions from other countries of the Global South can be more relevant and more affordable for developing countries, noted Chediek, using the example of Italy’s response to Venice going under water.
“Very few countries of the South would have the resources to do what the Italians are trying to do with Venice, so how do we adapt with less resources to the same problems?”
By contrast, he said, climate change solutions from India and China, the world’s two largest developing countries are being adapted by many other developing countries.
“The challenges that India is facing in implementation of solar technology, the progressive reduction of the carbon intensity in China, those are examples and policies that are very valuable in the South.
“(Last week) my country Argentina using one of those models launched a bidding process to buy eight percent of its electricity generation from renewable sources, and they used technologies and financial principles developed in other countries of the South.”
Affordability and relevance are not the only reasons why ideas from the Global South are gaining popularity. Some of the ideas coming out of the Global South are so innovative that they are being adopted by developed countries.
“Few people know the first payment system through cell phones was implemented in Africa,” said Chediek. This model is now being adopted in many developed countries to help people who have traditionally been excluded from the formal financial system gain access to banking.
Another example is conditional cash transfers, that were first implemented in the South and are now being implemented in New York City, said Chediek.
The ideas from developing countries can also come in the form of broader social and economic policies.
“We used to be conditioned by the policy prescriptions generated by Northern institutions, (in) terms of industrial policy, in terms of infrastructure development,” said Chediek, something that is changing as new ideas emerge from the Global South.
One such example is the concept of Sufficiency Economy from Thailand.
“Sufficiency Economy, a concept developed by his majesty the King of Thailand, is precisely one of those models of Southern development that is different and alternative to the prescriptions and alternatives that we have received from the global North. It has proven very successful in addressing rural poverty in Thailand.”
However poorer countries have not always been able to compete in areas such as research and policy analysis because they have fewer institutions working in these areas than richer countries.
Yet, Chediek says that think tanks in the Global South already exist, and that the UN Office for South-South Cooperation is currently working with other partners to support the Network of Southern Think-tanks (NeST), a network that will enable these institutions to work together.
Chediek also noted though that richer countries still have “to continue fulfilling their obligations in the global community,” using the example of neglected tropical diseases.
“They cannot use the success of the South as an excuse for limiting their commitments in terms of foreign aid, market access, financial relief,” he said.
For those developing countries whose economies have grown to middle income status, there are now also more opportunities to share information and ideas with other countries from the Global South.
However, Chediek noted that these middle income countries still have their own challenges.
“There are more poor people in middle income countries than in least developed countries, very few people know that but that’s a reality,” he said.
“On the one hand middle income countries have achieved significant success, that’s why they are middle income by definition. At the same time many of them are confronting challenges like the so-called middle income trap, challenges of how to address the residual extreme poverty that they have.”
“Meanwhile they can also be assisting countries that are at different stages of development to avoid some of the mishaps that they have gone through in the design of their policies.”
“In the next months and years,” Chediek emphasised, “Member States with the support of the United Nations will continue to expand South-South and triangular cooperation to ensure that it fulfills its potential to build a better world.”