On 15 December 2020, nineteen participants participated in a face-to-face retreat at Anantara hotel in Bangkok. An additional sixteen participants joined the meeting online. The participants were drawn from UN agencies and intergovernmental institutions. The one-day retreat was organized by the UN Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC)’s regional office in Asia and the Pacific.
In the opening session, Mr. Denis Nkala, UNOSSC Regional Coordinator for Asia-Pacific, delivered welcoming remarks. “Today we have convened this retreat to exchange knowledge about what we are doing, the changing environment around us, and how South-South cooperation can be deployed to achieve transformation and respond to development challenges in the region. In particular, we will try to seek cooperation among UN entities and partners, which is at the heart of the UN reforms,” he said.
Mr. Nkala presented the history of South-South and triangular cooperation, how it has demonstrated its relevance during the pandemic, and how South-South Cooperation can be deployed under the UN reforms happening at regional and country level. He emphasized that the principles of South-South Cooperation, solidarity and empathy were exactly what has been required in response to the pandemic. Surveys and transactions facilitated by the Office have shown that almost every responding country to the survey had received assistance from others in the global South. The trust fund resources managed by UNOSSC under the IBSA Fund and the India-UN Partnership Fund had been repurposed to support other countries respond to the challenges of COVID-19.
Mr. Christophe Bahuet, UNDP Deputy Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific and Director of Bangkok Regional Hub, underlined three premises of the significance of South-South Cooperation in the region. Firstly, a sense of cooperation is absolutely central to the national development of countries in the region. Secondly, the Asia-Pacific countries are not only recipients of South-South cooperation, but they are also increasingly providing development cooperation assistance in a very structured and institutional way. Thirdly, South-South cooperation is a central part of the work in the United Nations Development System, and that is reflected in the Common Countries Analyses (CCA) and in the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Frameworks (SDCF).
In the follow-up session, Professor Shahbaz Khan, Director of the UNESCO Office, pointed out that in the context of pressing planetary and socio-economic challenges, sustainable and innovative digitalization solutions can deliver positive impact on SDGs for society in a high quality, relevant and efficient way. He proceeded to give examples of the essential role of digitalization in post COVID-19 pandemic recovery and aspects of development ranging from culture, education and science and technology.
The retreat touched on critical issues such as the role for South-South and triangular cooperation in digitalization in the South, South-South and Triangular cooperation in the scope of COVID-19 response, and information on resources for South-South cooperation. Each session was followed by rigorous discussion. The participants had opportunities to share their initiatives, opportunities, and challenges.
Fourteen institutions, namely, the Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific (CIRDAP), the Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (COMSATS), FAO, ILO, the International Science, Technology and Innovation Centre for South-South Cooperation under the Auspices of UNESCO (ISTIC), Partners in Population and Development (PPD), UNCDF, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCAP, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNV and World Food Programme took the opportunity to present their perspectives on South-South cooperation or to express appreciation for the Retreat.
At the end of the retreat Mr. Nkala and Mr. Arya summarised the main points of agreement as follows:
- South-South cooperation has its features and principles, that essentially means that different approaches should be taken to carry out South-South cooperation. The solidarity and empathy shown by countries through the course of the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates this and furthermore, that countries value South-South cooperation in crisis. South-South cooperation does not require large amounts of resources to achieve an impact. However, to achieve success it does require listening to the recipients.
- South-South and triangular cooperation needs to be fully embedded and well-structured in the UN reforms at regional and country level. This can be done through its integration in CCA and UNSDCF. Furthermore, the UN system can play an important role in strengthening the inputs of emerging development partners through proposing international standards.
- Demands from recipient countries need to be closely listened to in South-South and triangular cooperation so as to better support them in addressing their challenges.
- Pertaining to actions in follow-up to the retreat, UNOSSC will facilitate groups of interested stakeholders to promote action under specific themes and sectors such as the digital transformation, post COVID-19 recovery and entrepreneurship.
- The participants welcomed the pending convening of the South-South Global Development Expo in Thailand and proposed a strategy to involve all interested UN Agencies.
- Participants also noted the opportune time to scale up South-South cooperation and looked forward to providing input to the High-Level Committee (HLC) on South-South cooperation and the South Summit to be convened in 2021.
South-South cooperation can help to link up what may seem to be separate issues by its focus on disadvantaged communities, wherever they may be.