16. In my view: Work with Southern providers to achieve greater scale and relevance

Sachin Chaturvedi
Director General
Research and Information System for Developing Countries

The growing dynamism, heft and bandwidth of South-South co-operation (SSC) and triangular co-operation have changed the international development co-operation system, creating new opportunities to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Innovative issue-specific pilot collaborations are finding success. For instance, voluntary national climate sustainability standards, discussed among high-, middle- and low-income countries, centre on common regional challenges and localised definitions of good social and environmental practices. India is emerging as a leader in forging innovative forms of co-operation and partnerships, which the development co-operation system should integrate. India’s leadership of the Group of Twenty (G20) in 2023 offers an opportunity to further advance innovative partnerships.

Emerging financial platforms expand the potential of non-traditional multi-stakeholder partnerships among SSC actors. These include the New Marshall Plan, the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, the Belt and Road Initiative, and the Silk Road Fund. SSC exchanges, investment, and trade projects are achieved through new development banks – the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Development Bank, for example – in the emerging market economies of Brazil, the People’s Republic of China, India and South Africa. This dynamic can provide new solutions. However, it also creates more complexity and challenges for accountability and co-ordination across diverse development actors, systems and normative frameworks. The core areas of contestation include a lack of universally accepted norms and OECD standards in measuring the quality of development; siloed financial platforms providing conflicting inputs to the United Nations’ Financing for Development Forum and High-level Political Forum; and misalignment across clubs or new institutions arising in response to a lack of representation and trust of the existing system of global governance.

Custodians of official development assistance (ODA) have held a de facto monopoly on defining norms for development co-operation, and those custodians – OECD-DAC members – have struggled to embrace and engage with new and diverse counter-institutional assistance frameworks. But change is in the air. They may have rejected SSC as a modality for development co-operation in high-level forums on aid effectiveness in the 2000s (for example, lack of recognition in the Accra High-level Political Forum in 2008) and showed lukewarm engagement in discussions at the Second High-level UN Conference on South-South Cooperation, known as BAPA+40, in 2019, but today, the new statistical measure of Total Official Support for Sustainable Development has incorporated the growing importance of SSC.

Despite unresolved areas of contestation between development actors, more providers are maximising development potential by leveraging new partnerships in South-South and triangular co-operation. This is India’s experience.

Since 2014, India has witnessed a new movement for triangular co-operation, with political impetus and engagement of the prime minister. It has pushed frontiers with new actors, deeper engagements and more significant commitments. A characteristic of the Indian triangular co-operation model is that top political leadership leverages domestic development innovations and partnerships with diverse development actors to scale up initiatives. Triangular co-operation addressing physical infrastructure can advance social progress. For instance, improving regional energy grids expands digital connectivity and provides access to opportunities in education and health.

Despite unresolved areas of contestation between development actors, more providers are maximising development potential by leveraging new partnerships in South-South and triangular co-operation.  

Its no-frills and low-cost delivery have helped India make its South-South framework a success. India has provided development partnerships through the “theory of development compact” comprised of five modalities: capacity building, grants, concessional finance, technology and trade. India tailors different combinations of these modalities to each context. In Mozambique, for instance, support for solar panel production utilised three modalities: capacity building through trainings for scientists by Central Electronics Limited, concessional finance and a grant element for infrastructure projects.

Triangular co-operation between India and Germany has enabled support in new areas. India recently concluded bilateral agreements with Cameroon, Ghana and Malawi to support agriculture-related productivity gains and launched sugar projects in Ethiopia using quality germplasm technology. This support offers access to diversified markets in addition to product packaging in European markets. India has also supported Latin American countries in upcoming construction technologies for highways. These partnerships are needs-driven and specialisation-based, going beyond the traditional donor-recipient relationship.

India has identified new avenues for engaging with the private sector to provide a platform for innovation. A Global Innovation Partnership launched in 2022 under a United Kingdom-led programme will be financed through a trilateral development co-operation fund to advance the SDGs.

RIS estimates that India’s development co-operation reached USD 8.7 billion in 2020 (OECD, 2022[1]). India’s development partnership portfolio covers over 160 countries and trains more than 20 000 people annually (RIS, 2022[2]). Delivering through Indian missions makes ventures cost-effective. Still, the impact is limited due to development co-operation portfolio budget constraints. Thus, partnerships with ODA providers will likely scale up development co-operation activities and provide an impetus for the sustainable funding required.

Common principles must be established to embark on a new and sustainable development trajectory. Doing so will ensure that partnerships between development actors leverage comparative advantages and serve common development goals. The Indian Presidency of the G20 could be the impetus, concentrating a higher level of political attention on delivering projects through development co-operation and wielding the strength of triangular co-operation. Through its G20 presidency, India could, for instance, also spearhead new paradigms for measuring gross domestic product, such as accounting for biodiversity, social inclusion and wellness.

At the core of resolving co-operation in international governance is balancing and integrating the universality of SDG frameworks for accountability and safeguarding national sovereignty for development progress. The ODA system must integrate new forms of co-operation and governance mechanisms. The emergence of South-North, North-North, South-South and triangular co-operation has garnered new opportunities for multi-actor partnerships with reciprocal learning formats. Actors should also clarify the role of civil society as implementors of triangular co-operation. Embedding civil society and helping to strengthen their delivery mechanisms can expand impact beyond the government framework and reach. For instance, engaging with diaspora-linked civil societies opens new avenues for exchanges and greater triangular co-operation efficacy.

The emergence of South-North, North-North, South-South and triangular co-operation has garnered new opportunities for multi-actor partnerships with reciprocal learning formats.   

In these challenging times, innovative partnerships are the only way forward. Rising demand and global challenges, frequent supply chain disruptions, and crises arising from food and fuel scarcity exacerbate challenges for developing countries. ODA alone cannot address these crises and satisfy overall demand. It is time to reconcile different narratives and norms and join forces.


[1] OECD (2022), Development Co-operation Profiles, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/2dcf1367-en.

[2] RIS (2022), 75 Years of Development Partnership: Saga of Commitment to Plurality, Diversity and Collective Progress, Research and Information System for Developing Countries, https://www.ris.org.in/sites/default/files/Publication/Indian_Development_Coperation-75%20yrs-NEW-PRINT-11-APRIL-2022-Web-1.pdf.

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