South-South Champions: Michaela Friberg-Storey, UN Resident Coordinator, Kazakhstan

“The countries of Central Asia have a lot of potential for further South-South and East-East cooperation in terms of economic development, trade, migration, employment opportunities, etc. They not only share similar geography, but also a similar legacy, cultural heritage, language, traditions and religion.  A regional approach can further facilitate cross-border cooperation, knowledge sharing, dialogue and enhanced collaboration.” (Michaela Friberg-Storey, 2021)

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

South-South cooperation (SSC) is and will be more important than ever before. In our work, we try to enhance the South-South nexus increasing technical cooperation among developing countries. Activities are focused on several dimensions.

First and foremost, regional and subregional cooperation becomes key to SDGs achievement. In that sense the role of regional commissions is instrumental. The Special Programme for Economies of Central Asia (SPECA) provides a platform for subregional knowledge sharing, subregional strategies and joint initiatives in energy, water, knowledge-based development, trade facilitation and transport connectivity. SDGs platform for Central Asia is interesting joint EU-UNDP programme. The cooperation aims to contribute to sustainable development through the development of a multi-stakeholder regional platform supporting Central Asian countries to track and adjust key socio-economic policies by monitoring SDG progress and financing, as well as improving the effectiveness of relevant regional EU programs. We also have the Regional Hub of Civil Service in Astana (ACSH), a multi-country UNDP project “Strengthening Community Resilience and Regional Cooperation for Prevention of Violent Extremism in Central Asia”.

Another important dimension is women empowerment and countering gender-based violence. One of the flagship programs is the UN-EU Spotlight Initiative Regional Programme for Central Asia and Afghanistan. The Spotlight Initiative provides an important platform to tackle the pandemic of violence, one that threatens individual health and integrity, communities, and the global efforts to achieve the SDGs. The second important project is the EU-funded cross-border action “Supporting the Economic Empowerment of Afghan Women”. In light of the growing uncertainties in Afghanistan, investing in education is crucial. The project allows Afghan women to study and graduate from universities in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, facilitating a sustainable system of exchange education. UNFPA also leads on project “Strengthening national capacities to improve prevention of, and responses to Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in Central Asia”. This project also works with faith-based organisations and religious leaders, to raise their awareness, build their capacity on gender equality, GBV and sexual and reproductive health.

And speaking about national ODA system development, the UN has provided technical support to the Government of Kazakhstan for several years to promote SSC. In December 2020 Kazakhstan Agency for International Development “KazAID” was established, which enables the country to further integrate into the regional and international relations system and facilitate the achievement of international goals of ODA supported by the country. We do believe that Kazakhstan can become a strong player in SSC and an important initiator of the implementation of the SDGs.

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

There is substantive evidence showing that SSC, trade and investments have the potential to accelerate improvements in health, education, social welfare, in harnessing knowledge and experience, and in establishing critical partnerships which are instrumental to fast-tracking the SDGs.

Using SSC, developing countries with similar development levels and experiences can share practices and solutions that are highly adaptable to local economic and social conditions. Partnerships built under the SSC arrangement are based on trust, mutual learning and equity and as a result, lead to establishing long-term relationships. Therefore, it is quite important to move this issue of SSC to the next level.

The devastating socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 showed us how interconnected the world is — and the importance of global partnerships in tackling global challenges. And therebefore South-South and triangular cooperation are more important than ever to bring development solutions to countries in need. With the current shift in government’s emphasis towards issues in relation to COVID-19 impacts, South-South and Triangular Cooperation could help not to lose the progress gained in recent years in terms of achieving Sustainable Development Goals.

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

The countries of Central Asia have a lot of potential for further South-South and East-East cooperation in terms of economic development, trade, migration, employment opportunities, etc. They not only share similar geography, but also a similar legacy, cultural heritage, language, traditions and religion.  A regional approach can further facilitate cross-border cooperation, knowledge sharing, dialogue and enhanced collaboration.

In particular, we could build national capacities for SSC; advocate for increased coordination of efforts among regional organizations; share good practices internally across the UN system at country, regional and global levels. Also it is important to identify and document innovative approaches that can inspire and be replicated in neighbouring countries. We have several examples where one Central Asian country accelerated its progress for example in advancing gender equality by learning from another neighbouring country. We should ensure more regular interactions and dialogue among current and potential participants of SSC initiatives.

What do you see as challenges and opportunities in moving the South-South and Triangular Cooperation modality forward?

Speaking about the challenges, there is still limited evidence and knowledge on South-South/East-East and triangular cooperation in Europe and the CIS region. We face challenges at the policy, institutional and operational levels. These include issues pertaining to financial resources, institutional arrangements, strategic vision, human resources, monitoring and evaluation, awareness and access to information, participation in global forums, fragmentation and language barriers.

In most cases, due to COVID-19, the focus is being shifted from development needs and regional cooperation to the immediate needs of countries in the health sector. There is a lot of focus on economic development and trade and less so on the promotion of human rights and investment in the social sector. Also, there are still barriers to freedom of movement and migration.

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

UNOSSC could assist in identifying areas where SSC has the highest potential for Kazakhstan and its cooperation with countries in the Central Asia region and beyond. Also, we could enhance our internal communication between the RCO and UNOSSC. We will also be happy to host UNOSSC presentation for the UNCT, outlining the examples and perspectives of SSC.

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?

As mentioned above, Central Asia has a lot of potential for enhanced SSC but receives limited support from multi-donor trust funds and other similar global mechanisms. Seed funding would go a long way to promote enhanced SSC.

UNDP Kazakhstan is planning to further develop on-going South-South and Triangular Cooperation initiatives by utilising capacities of Astana Civil Service Hub, capitalizing on the Central Asia women leadership initiative, Spotlight Initiative, and the Afghan Women action.

Any final thoughts to share?

I would like to emphasize that our SSC dynamic is the best example of how much we can achieve when we work with engagement and enthusiasm. Kazakhstan’s example of ODA policy is remarkable. Looking back, over the past 20 years Kazakhstan has delivered aid amounting to USD 500 million. In the past several assistance programmes have been implemented with a focus on Afghanistan, including training and education for Afghan women. KazAID is in the process of developing partnerships with the UN and other partners. Moreover, in June this year, KazAID and USAID signed a memorandum of understanding to increase cooperation on development assistance that fosters social, political, and economic stability and security in Central Asia and Afghanistan. We find these processes as a true reflection of South-South synergy, which will create opportunities for sustainable growth.

Ms. Friberg-Storey brings over 20 years of experience working with peace, security and development to this position.  Most recently, she has worked on strategic leadership of humanitarian operations and diplomacy for the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement through the Swedish Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). She also served as Head of the Security Sector Reform Division of the Agency for Peace, Security and Development (FBA) of the Swedish Government and worked at the Security Policy Department of the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. 

Under the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Ms. Friberg-Storey also headed the Election Field Operations of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), held the position of Director of European Union Integration Office, and served the United Nations Special Envoy for Kosovo.

Ms. Friberg-Storey holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Stockholm University and completed a post-graduate degree on master’s level in Humanitarian Assistance at Uppsala University.