Triangular Development Partnerships are the Need of the Hour

By November 21, 2022 November 21, 2022 Blog

Triangular partnerships can provide solutions to the most pressing challenges of today and play an important role in achieving the SDGs

The rapid growth of developing countries, such as China and India, has led to dramatic changes in global trade, investment, and even development cooperation. The new dynamics have also altered global power structures and changed the landscape of North-South and South-South relations. Triangular cooperation, as a mode of development cooperation, is on the rise, and many traditional donor countries and United Nations agencies are increasingly supporting South-South cooperation through triangular partnerships. Although, there are differences in the definition of the term “triangular cooperation”, broadly, the term refers to projects and initiatives that combine the comparative advantages of traditional donors and southern countries, to share knowledge and address development concerns in developing countries.

Triangular cooperation, as a mode of development cooperation, is on the rise, and many traditional donor countries and United Nations agencies are increasingly supporting South-South cooperation through triangular partnerships.

India, a key southern development partner, had initially distanced itself from triangular partnerships because it had framed its development cooperation very differently from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development/Development Assistance Committee model, which lay emphasis on the principles of demand-driven development, mutual benefit, respect for sovereignty, and “no-strings attached” development partnerships. In recent years, however, the country has shown an inclination towards triangular partnerships by collaborating with several countries like the United Kingdom (UK), Japan, and the United States (US).

In India, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the erstwhile Department for International Development, now Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, signed the “Statement of Intent on Partnership for Cooperation in Third Countries,” reaffirming the two country’s commitment to jointly assist other developing countries. In 2017, India and Germany expressed an interest in working with each other in their development partnerships with African countries. Japan and India launched the Asia Africa Growth Corridor Programme (now the project for Free and Open Indo-Pacific) in 2017 as well. India has also signed the Statement on Guiding Principles on Triangular Cooperation for Global Development with the US; and has also collaborated in some triangular projects with the UK and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Africa.

The infrastructure sector, which is characterised by lumpy investments, high risk, long project duration, and technical prowess is particularly suited for triangular partnerships.

Triangular cooperation offers many advantages. Some of the main benefits are resource-pooling, cost-effectiveness, and combining the comparative advantages of different types of actors. As such, triangular partnerships can provide solutions to the most pressing challenges of today—climate change, environmental degradation, poverty, and lack of climate-resilient infrastructure—and play an important role in achieving the sustainable development goals in an innovative, efficient, and collaborative manner. The infrastructure sector, which is characterised by lumpy investments, high risk, long project duration, and technical prowess is particularly suited for triangular partnerships. Despite these obvious benefits, interest in this modality swelled only in recent years as countries are increasingly feeling the need to counter the dramatic growth of Chinese development assistance and understand that pooling of resources and capabilities may be the most effective way to do so.

However, currently, triangular partnerships constitute a small proportion of India’s overall development cooperation budget. India’s experience with triangular cooperation has been mixed so far. According to some experts, the successful triangular partnerships have been incidental. They were not triangular by design. Some of the projects such as the India-UAE project for an ICT centre in Ethiopia experienced many delays in implementation on the ground. Most experts agree that in case of triangular partnerships, implementation, not funding, emerges as the key concern because of differences in approaches, laws, and capabilities of the three countries involved.[i] The recipient countries are also reticent to enter into triangular projects out of concerns over their own agency and ability to negotiate with two countries simultaneously. Therefore, most recipient countries prefer partnering with individual countries for each development project.

Most experts agree that in case of triangular partnerships, implementation, not funding, emerges as the key concern because of differences in approaches, laws, and capabilities of the three countries involved.

While there are significant benefits of triangular partnerships, there are several challenges too. India’s current approach to development cooperation entails preference to Indian companies and the use of Indian inputs. This is likely to be problematic for other countries who might want to favour their own companies. Also, under India’s current approach, recipient countries select development projects based on their own priorities. What will be the mechanism of selecting projects under triangular partnerships? Will the process be demand-driven? Further, there are important questions around the financial mechanism that will be followed and how risk will be apportioned.

The enabling conditions for triangular partnerships are identification of bankable development projects in recipient countries, technical expertise, and better coordination among the partners for smooth implementation of projects. Some experts suggest that the recipient country’s needs and priorities should dominate, and the procurement rules of the recipient country should be applied rather than the procurement rules of the partner countries.[ii] Also, given the high risks associated with mega infrastructure projects, it is better to implement smaller projects in a triangular format initially. The success of smaller projects will help repose confidence in triangular partnerships and the lessons learnt from smaller projects will help implement larger development projects through this format.


[i] ORF Roundtable “Triangular Cooperation in the Infrastructure Sector – Opportunities and Challenges”, October 13, 2022

[ii] ORF Roundtable “Triangular Cooperation in the Infrastructure Sector – Opportunities and Challenges”, October 13, 2022


Article by Malancha Chakrabarty and Swati Prabhu for the Observer Research Foundation. To read the original article, please click here.