A time for synthesis between South-South and North-South models

There has been an intensive dialogue in recent years, involving governments, NGOs and academia of both developed and developing countries, on the conceptualization, delivery mechanisms and evaluation of various forms of development assistance. Much of this dialogue has concentrated on bridging the divide between North-South and South-South engagements. Surprisingly, there is not quite as much vibrancy in exchanges of perspectives between developing countries – the countries of the South – on the impact of their development cooperation strategies and institutions and on their approach to the ongoing debate on the global development agenda.

In the last decade or so, the range and quantum of South-South cooperation has expanded significantly. This trend has paralleled disturbing signs of what could be described as a slackening of donor enthusiasm in developed countries, in the background of difficult global economic conditions. It has also inspired spirited multilateral discussions on harmonizing the traditional frameworks of North-South cooperation with the emerging patterns of South-South developmental partnerships. These discussions have focussed on evolution of universal norms for identification, delivery and evaluation of all development assistance – North-South and South-South. They have raised important questions about values, motivations and desirable outcomes. There is, however, a pervasive sentiment among countries of the South that they do not factor in sufficiently the underlying premises of South-South cooperation, the circumstances in which it developed and its unique character.

From the time of India’s emergence as a free nation, we recognized the importance of human resource capacity building as a requirement for economic growth and independent policy making. This recognition informed the course of our cooperation with other developing countries with whom we shared the aspiration of eradicating poverty and under development. The Indian Technical and Economic Assistance programme, ITEC, was launched in 1964 with the objective of sharing our knowledge and skills with fellow developing countries. Over nearly five decades, ITEC and its sister initiatives, the Special Commonwealth Assistance for Africa Programme (SCAAP) and the Technical Cooperation Scheme of Colombo Plan, have contributed substantially to capacity building in many parts of the world. Last year, nearly 9,000 civilians from 161 countries attended training courses in diverse disciplines, conducted by 47 Indian institutions. We offer 2300 scholarships annually for degree courses in Indian universities. In addition, we run special courses at the request of countries or regions on specialized subjects such as election management, WTO studies, parliamentary practices and public-private partnerships. At the India-Africa Forum Summits in 2008 and 2011, we committed to establishing about 100 institutions in different African countries to strengthen capacities at the pan-African, regional and bilateral levels. We depute experts abroad to share expertise in areas like information technology, auditing, pharmacology, public administration and textiles research.

The core idea is to share the lessons we have learnt and continue to learn, with other countries traversing the same path towards development. This is the spirit in which illiterate grandmothers from various countries are trained in a remote village in Rajasthan, so that they can carry back solar electrification technologies to their remote villages in Africa, Central America, Asia or the Pacific Islands. The NGO SEWA – Self Employed Women’s Association – similarly contributes to women’s empowerment in rural Afghanistan through livelihood generating programmes. An earlier example is from our agricultural Green Revolution, when we shared with Vietnam our research on high-yielding rice varieties through exchanges of scientists and the establishment of a Rice Research Institute in southern Vietnam. Today, Vietnam is a major rice exporter and in fact competes with India in world markets.

In their structure and diversity, such programmes do not have many parallels in traditional North-South cooperation. Perhaps the best tribute to their efficacy is the fact that a number of donor agencies and multilateral developmental organizations are now building such socioeconomic development programmes and training in Indian institutions into their aid programmes for countries in Africa and Southeast Asia.

Over the years, we have considerably expanded our development cooperation portfolio through grant assistance to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka for projects in infrastructure, hydroelectricity, power transmission, and other sectors identified by the host government as priority areas for their development. Another strand has been concessional Lines of Credit. Over the last decade or so, over 150 Lines of Credit totalling over US$ 9.5 billion have been allocated, financing a wide range of projects from drinking water schemes to power plants to technology parks and railway infrastructure in developing countries in Africa and elsewhere.

In all these strands of development assistance, our underlying philosophy remains that which underpins South-South cooperation. Our engagement is demand-driven and responds to the developmental priorities of our partner countries. We do not attach conditionalities, we do not prescribe policies and we do not challenge national sovereignty. We promote a mutually beneficial exchange of development experiences and resources.

It is a well-established truism that South-South cooperation is on an entirely different footing from North-South cooperation in inspiration, implementation and impact. There is an acknowledged historical context to Official Development Assistance (ODA), which distinguishes North-South Cooperation from South-South Cooperation. The focus on South-South cooperation in the prevailing international discourse on aid architecture increasingly glosses over this fact. It conveniently overlooks the reality that developing countries, even the so called emerging economies, continue to confront major economic challenges of their own, exacerbated by the current global economic situation, which place an inherent limitation on their capacity to contribute to international development cooperation. The assistance which developing countries offer to other developing countries should therefore continue to remain voluntary and free from externally imposed norms drawn from North-South Cooperation. Simply put, whereas North-South cooperation is a historic responsibility, South-South cooperation is a voluntary partnership. The fact that the traditional donor community often underplays this distinction does not diminish its validity.

In the present global realities, it is self-evident that while South-South Cooperation supplements North-South Cooperation, it is not yet in a position to replace it in any significant measure. The North-South engagement leads the aid process and should continue to do so.

The importance of ODA should not be allowed to be diluted. In fact, the present predicament of many developing countries – facing contracting capital flows, economic slowdown and fiscal difficulties – makes their need for enhanced ODA even more critical than before. It is, therefore, a matter of great satisfaction that several donors have come forward to declare their continued commitment to their 1970 UNGA pledge of achieving an ODA level of 0.7 per cent of their GNP. Japan, Germany, Australia and UK have targeted attainment of this goal by 2015.

These are perspectives that should continue to feed into the important on-going discussions on the post-2015 Development Agenda, which seek to identify the key international development priorities and to define a template for global cooperation in the coming decade and beyond. We should resist excessive emphasis being placed on South-South Cooperation as a crucial pillar of the Agenda. We should reinforce the argument that while South-South Cooperation and the voluntary efforts of developing countries such as India would continue to play an important role, it would be a travesty to project them as the principal new component of a redefined Global Partnership for the new Agenda. South-South Cooperation has to be accompanied by a significant enhancement of North-South aid flows, not their diminution.

In this context, we were disappointed with the content of the recently released Bali Communiqué of the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on the post-2015 Development Agenda. It is quite astonishing that, even as the crucial importance of ODA for many developing countries is being reiterated at various high-level fora, this document does not contain a single mention of ODA. We need to register the note of caution that if the recommendations of the panel are to make a meaningful contribution to evolving a new Development Agenda, they should reflect in equal measure the concerns of both the developing and the developed world. We should be careful not to dissipate the political consensus reached in the Rio+20 Outcome.

The Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness at Busan in 2011 encouraged increased efforts to support effective development cooperation, and noted that South-South efforts could be accommodated within the envisaged Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, but on a voluntary basis. Without doubt, there is scope for an exchange of learning between the North-South and South-South models. There are concepts and practices that the South can absorb from the North-South engagement. Equally, the North can draw from the outlook and methodology that the South applies to its development partnership. A sustainable Global Partnership on Development Cooperation can only be built from a harmonious synthesis of the two models.

There is apprehension in some quarters that efforts to establish a Global Partnership are being directed at centralizing the monitoring and evaluation of developmental assistance flows and encouraging their convergence at the recipient level. If it is pursued in a clinical manner, such an approach would dilute the richness and diversity of development experience-sharing between developing countries. We need an informed debate on this aspect.

I believe that more regular and sustained interactions among the countries of the South will facilitate a crystallization of their approach to all these aspects of the global development cooperation debate. A culture of consultations and more effective experience-sharing between our development cooperation institutions will enhance our ability to feed Southern perspectives more effectively into the global dialogue.

(This in an edited version of the keynote address by India’s Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai at “Conference of Southern Providers- South-South Cooperation: Issues and Emerging Challenges,” held in New Delhi April 15. The two day conference has been organised by the  Research and Information System for Developing Countries  (RIS)  in collaboration with the Ministry of External Affairs and UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs).