South-South Champions: Ms. Alanna Armitage, Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, UNFPA

“At UNFPA, we have long recognized the benefits and tremendous impact that South-South and triangular cooperation (SSTC) can bring to our work, and we have a history of successfully utilizing SSTC to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.” (Alanna Armitage, 2021)

How is South-South cooperation (SSC) important to your work? Are there any South-South cooperation projects that you are particularly proud of?

At UNFPA, we have long recognized the benefits and tremendous impact that South-South and triangular cooperation (SSTC) can bring to our work, and we have a history of successfully utilizing SSTC to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.

COVID-19 has clearly demonstrated that we need South-South cooperation more than ever. I am particularly proud of the way we’ve utilized SSC in our COVID-19 response. At the very onset of the pandemic, UNFPA organized a series of South-South knowledge-sharing events so that medical and policy experts from China could share their experience from the early response to COVID-19 in the context of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). These were some of the most well-attended virtual UNFPA events ever—hundreds of participants from the national agencies of many countries took part. To give another example from our region, in Bosnia and Herzegovina we have supported the production of exercise videos for national TV to help older people stay healthy during the pandemic – an initiative that is being replicated in several other countries in the region.

What do you believe is its value in achieving Agenda 2030?

South-South cooperation is an effective tool to mobilize global solidarity and drive progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Many countries in the Global South have built thriving economies and societies, and are driving much of the global economic dynamism we have seen in recent times. Based on a recent study on costing of SSC, which UNFPA conducted in collaboration with Avenir Health, we know that:

  • SSTC generates significant direct returns on investment. For example, a study of a specific SSTC case on midwifery in Thailand found that every dollar of investment generated four dollars of social returns;
  • SSTC generates knowledge that is highly relevant to development contexts, thus it provides effectiveness and efficiency in achieving results;
  • It also mobilizes domestic financing—as governments realize that investment in SSTC not only enables them to meet their development objectives, it also contributes to their international relations goals.

Can you share your perspectives on how we can better facilitate this modality?

By broadening our own perspective on SSC. For example, South-South cooperation has traditionally been government to government. However, at UNFPA we are also nurturing equally important connections across the south in civil society, academia, private sector, and youth networks. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, we are increasingly reliant upon the expertise and long academic history of institutions in countries such as the Russian Federation, Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Romania, particularly in the area of population & development, and SRHR. Our partnerships with Moscow High School of Economics, PETRI in Bulgaria and Charles University in Prague are among the best examples of such work.

How can UNOSSC facilitate your Office’s work to help scale up South-South cooperation?

A very important role that UNOSSC plays in our region is that of sharing information, successful practices and expertise. SSC has huge potential, however, for such transformative sustainable development to continue and to reach everyone, what has worked well should be widely shared.

UNOSSC has organized region-wide forums where UNFPA has participated, and had a chance to share and learn about many remarkable accomplishments in SSC. These platforms and fora are important to encourage countries that have reached a higher level of income to play a larger role in financing development. 

Any future plans you would like to share? What do you see as the role of SSC in supporting these plans or realizing this vision?  Any final thoughts to share?

At UNFPA, we are looking at how SSC could be further upscaled to support our 2022-2025 Strategic Plan, guided by the results of the recent independent evaluation of SSTC in UNFPA.

Specifically, the current thinking is around:

  • How to better Integrate SSC into the strategic frameworks – not only to strengthen the concept in the next Strategic Plan but also mainstream it in all relevant thematic/sectoral strategies.
  • Enhance implementation at regional and country levels. There are also plans to support SSC centres of excellence, which are national agencies acting as knowledge hubs to foster partnerships in an effective and sustainable way. As knowledge does not only come from the Global South, we need the collaboration of like-minded institutions from the Global North to partner with us on this initiative – thus, this gets to the heart of triangular cooperation.
  • Improve communication and knowledge management – as I mentioned above, the sharing of knowledge and information is important. We plan to strengthen our system and processes to better capture SSC investments, activities and results.

We are committed to continue working with UNOSSC to utilize SSC as a powerful vehicle for achieving the SDGs!

Alanna Armitage is UNFPA’s Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. She has championed women’s health and rights over the past three decades including as UNFPA Representative in several countries. As Director of UNFPA’s Geneva Office, Alanna led the Fund’s Geneva-based multilateral interactions on global health, human rights and humanitarian response. Ms. Armitage connects social influencers as part of the “Let’s Talk!” movement, opening up space to speak about harmful taboos around women’s health and bodies, while also acting as mentor of young women leaders. Alanna holds degrees in Cultural Anthropology and International Development Studies and a postgraduate degree in Health Systems Management. She is completing a PhD at the Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, on the impact of population decline on gender equality in Eastern Europe. Ms. Armitage was featured in Apolitical’s 100 Most Influential People in Gender Policy 2021, honouring people working on gender through policymaking, public service, research, philanthropy, advocacy, and activism.