South-South Champions: Ms. Nathalie Fustier, UN Resident Coordinator, Saudi Arabia

“The UN Country Team in Saudi Arabia considers South-South cooperation as a key dimension of its work.  Among the most important modalities of cooperation used to this end is the mobilization of technical expertise and experience sharing. Although the (previous) UNDAF’s expected results in this regard have not been fully achieved, the UNCT is using South-South cooperation to respond to the host country’s priorities in various areas, including in responding to advisory support requests.” (Nathalie Fustier, 2021)

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

The UN and other multilateral organizations are particularly well placed to facilitate SSTC by identifying, documenting, and disseminating good practices and expertise by leveraging their global reach and policy and institutional capacities. UN Country Teams (UNCTs) are expected to help operationalize the UN Strategy approved in 2020, which provides a strategic framework to promote and maximize SSTC opportunities to respond to national priorities. They can encourage successful and innovative approaches for possible adaption and scaling-up in other countries facing similar challenges.

The UNCT in Saudi Arabia considers South-South cooperation as a key dimension of its work.  Among the most important modalities of cooperation used to this end is the mobilization of technical expertise and experience sharing. Although the (previous) UNDAF’s expected results in this regard have not been fully achieved, the UNCT is using South-South cooperation to respond to the host country’s priorities in various areas, including in responding to advisory support requests. The country team supports its national partners to develop their capacities in a wide range of areas (urban planning and management; sustainable development; tourism; housing, socio-economic development, etc.), capitalizing on experiences and facilitating exchanges with other countries from the South.

The Youth Exchange Program, implemented by UNDP in partnership with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2010 to 2016 is an example of a successful South-South cooperation initiative conducted in Saudi Arabia. It provided a group of Saudi youth the opportunity to take part in a series of international youth dialogue meetings to exchange knowledge and engage with their peers from countries such as China, India, Tanzania, and many others. These exchanges covered various themes such as ICT for development, renewable energy, biodiversity, medical research, e-education, and smart cities. For more information about UNDP’s Youth Exchange Program, please click here.

The UNWTO SDGs Global Startup Competition could also be mentioned in the tourism sector due to its potential impact on SSTC . Seeking the long-term recovery of tourism, this competition was developed to accelerate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Over the open call for start-ups from all economic sectors, it received responses from 10,000 participants from 138 countries. The 25 winning projects from 18 countries, covering all geographic regions, have now entered a curated program of benefits with the support of 21 partners, including mentorship, access to technological support, connection to the Member States, corporates, and investors for opening the doors to funding and pilot projects opportunities. For more information about the UNWTO’s SDGs Global Startup Competition, please click here.

Another example of South-South promising new initiatives is the launch, on 26 November 2020 in Riyadh, of the Digital Cooperation Organization, a new international organization, following the conclusion of Saudi Arabia’s G20 Presidency, to maintain the Kingdom’s momentum on accelerating the growth of the digital economy across the globe. The organization includes five founding members, i.e., Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, in addition to Nigeria and Oman, who joined later, which share an interest in collaborating to realize their collective digital potential. The organization aims to strengthen global collaboration and unify efforts among its members to take advantage of opportunities related to advancing digital transformation and accelerating the digital economy’s growth. For more information about the Digital Cooperation Organization, please visit click here.

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

South-South exchanges are an essential dimension of international cooperation, particularly in the context of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. They can potentially speed up the development process and boost chances to achieve their development targets. They are particularly relevant in the middle- and high-level-income countries like Saudi Arabia, who use a range of approaches to offer and request expertise and knowledge from their peers. The Kingdom is well placed to engage in SSTC, both as a provider and beneficiary, in various areas, such as ICT, agriculture, renewable energies, and green economy. SSC helps countries who have already achieved or are well placed to achieve the SDGs share relevant experiences with others who can learn from their peers. As such, the South-South approach facilitates the search for solutions for current challenges. It can also help disseminate best practices, including through the exchange of technical expertise. Thus, it could have a great value-added to assist countries in improving their capacities to reach the SDGs.

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

The UN system could do more to promote South-South and triangular cooperation and optimize its potential, including through the following approaches:

  • Establishing effective SSC coordination platforms and mechanisms at a regional level to map good practices and successful solutions that could be shared within and beyond regions.
  • Supporting countries to improve their SSC policy and coordination frameworks to achieve the intended impact and make the best from such a modality. Experience shows that countries with strong policy and coordination mechanisms, and dedicated resources,have proven more successful in South-South cooperation than those acting on an ad hoc basis.
  • Identify innovative financing mechanisms, including in-kind contributions to fund SSTC activities. For example, new modalities such as awqaf (Islamic endowments) and crowd-funding could be used to support South-South partnership initiatives in the Middle East and the Gulf region. As an example, and in partnership with UNDP and the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector, a branch of the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), the RC Office in Saudi Arabia undertook a research on the potential for awqaf to be mobilized as sustainable financing for the SDGs and the Saudi National Transformation Plans. Saudi Arabia can use the recommendations from this research to advise other countries utilizing Islamic finance on modalities for mobilizing sustainable financing for development priorities.
  • Better coordinate with regional IFIs, such as the (Saudi-based) IsDB, which plays a leading role in promoting and matching SSTC supply and demand in the region to achieve Agenda 2030. IsDB has championed SSC as an expression of solidarity among its member countries by connecting them and providing funding to transfer of know-how, knowledge, technology, and expertise, and resources to address their development challenges through peer-to-peer exchanges, based on a demand-driven approach.

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

UNOSSC could support the UNCTs in the region, including Saudi Arabia, to address the existing challenges and unlock the potential of SS cooperation by:

  • Contributing to match SSTC supply and demand in the region by mapping opportunities and solutions across the globe to meet countries’ challenges and needs.
  • Assisting the country teams to respond to technical assistance requests from their national partners through SST cooperation.
  • Offering opportunities to exchange regularly, at the regional and global levels, around SS and triangular cooperation frameworks and modalities.
  • Strengthen awareness about South-South Galaxy platform and existing tools for both UNCT and government of KSA.

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?

The UN Country Team is developing its cooperation framework for the next programming cycle (2022-2025). In this regard, South-South and triangular cooperation have been identified as one of the main cross-cutting issues and a tool to apply in the identified priority areas. Therefore, it is planning to maximize its use to assist its national partners, both as cooperation recipients and providers. To this end, it would be highly interested in coordinating with UNOSSC and benefiting from its technical support during the next programming cycle.

Nathalie Fustier is the Resident Coordinator in Saudi Arabia, responsible for overseeing and facilitating the work of all of the UN agencies across the coutry. Nathalie is a French national and holds a Master’s degree in Political Sciences and a Master’s Degree in International Negotiations. 

Previously she worked at OCHA in various capacities, including as Head of Office in Lebanon (2017 – 2018), Senior Humanitarian Affairs Officer for the Middle East (2015 – 2016) and OCHA Head of Office in Gaziantep, Turkey (2013-2014).

Prior to joining OCHA, Ms. Fustier has worked eight years in the private sector, advising international companies on various issues related to the Gulf and the Middle East. In parallel, she was volunteering as the President of the Women’s Foundation for the Mediterranean, a French NGO.

Ms. Fustier has been working on the Middle East for the last twenty years. She was cultural counsellor at the French Embassy in Doha from 2004 to 2006. She served as Political Affairs Officer in the Oil-for-Food programme of the United Nations (2000 – 2002) as well as in the Department of Political Affairs in New York (2002 – 2004). In 2003, she worked within the SRSG Office in Baghdad (Iraq). For eight years (1992- 2000) she was in charge of the Middle East and North Africa office of the Delegation of Strategic Affairs in Paris.