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No. 187,  11 October 2019
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The Importance of “Developing National Ecosystems for South-South and Triangular Cooperation to Achieve Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development”
- on the occasion of launching the publication

By Yuefen LI

To maximize the benefits of South-South and Triangular Cooperation (SSTrC), it would be imperative to have an effective "national ecosystem" - an institutional framework at national level. Over the years, the pace of institutional improvements in conducting SSTrC by Southern countries has lagged far behind the fast expansion of SSTrC in size, making it a constraint for unleashing the full potential of SSTrC. On 26 September 2019, the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), the South Centre and the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) launched the joint publication entitled “Developing National Ecosystems for South-South and Triangular Cooperation to Achieve Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development” on the side lines of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. It discusses how to strengthen national ecosystems to promote SSTrC. The concept of national ecosystem advocates a bottom-up and incremental approach. It emphasizes that the national ecosystem is not meant to be prescriptive or a one size fits all model. Developing an effective national ecosystem for SSTrC requires understanding of the national realities and objectives and takes time, effort, commitments and financing. 

Afin de maximiser les avantages de la coopération Sud-Sud et de la coopération triangulaire, il est impératif de disposer d'un « écosystème national » efficace, autrement dit d’un cadre institutionnel au niveau national. Les améliorations institutionnelles apportées au fil des ans par les pays du Sud dans le cadre de la mise en œuvre de la coopération triangulaire a pris beaucoup de retard par rapport à l'expansion rapide que celle-ci a connu, remettant en cause la pleine réalisation de son potentiel. Le 26 septembre 2019, la Banque islamique de développement, le Centre du Sud et le Bureau des Nations Unies pour la coopération Sud-Sud (UNOSSC) ont lancé, dans le cadre de la 74e session de l'Assemblée générale des Nations Unies tenue à New York, un document conjoint intitulé « Développer les écosystèmes nationaux pour favoriser la coopération Sud-Sud et la coopération triangulaire en vue de réaliser les objectifs du Programme de développement durable à l'horizon 2030 ». Ce document examine les moyens permettant de renforcer les écosystèmes nationaux afin de promouvoir la coopération triangulaire. Il préconise une approche ascendante et progressive et souligne que le concept d'écosystème national n’a pas de visée normative et ne constitue pas un modèle unique valable pour tous. L'élaboration d'un écosystème national efficace pour la promotion de la coopération triangulaire exige une compréhension des réalités et des objectifs nationaux et nécessite du temps, des efforts, des engagements et des financements.

Para maximizar los beneficios de la Cooperación Sur-Sur y Triangular (CSST) sería imperativo tener un "ecosistema nacional" eficaz, un marco institucional a nivel nacional. A lo largo de los años, el ritmo de las mejoras institucionales en la conducción de la CSST por parte de los países del sur se ha quedado muy por detrás de la rápida expansión en cuanto al tamaño de la CSST, lo que lo convierte en una restricción para liberar todo el potencial de la CSST. El 26 de septiembre de 2019, el Banco Islámico de Desarrollo, el Centro del Sur y la Oficina de las Naciones Unidas para la Cooperación Sur-Sur (UNOSSC) presentaron una publicación conjunta titulada "Desarrollo de los Ecosistemas Nacionales para la Cooperación Sur-Sur y Triangular para cumplir la Agenda 2030 para el Desarrollo Sostenible" en las márgenes del 74° período de sesiones de la Asamblea General de las Naciones Unidas en Nueva York. En ella se analiza cómo fortalecer los ecosistemas nacionales para promover la CSST. El concepto de ecosistema nacional aboga por un enfoque ascendente e incremental. Subraya que el ecosistema nacional no está destinado a ser prescriptivo o un modelo único para todos los modelos. El desarrollo de un ecosistema nacional eficaz para la CSST requiere la comprensión de las realidades y objetivos nacionales y requiere tiempo, esfuerzo, compromiso y financiamiento.


On 26 September 2019, the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), the South Centre and the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) launched the publication entitled “Developing National Ecosystems for South-South and Triangular Cooperation to Achieve Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development” on the side lines of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The South Centre had collaborated closely with the IsDB in drafting the publication with strong support from technical cooperation agencies of the IsDB and South Centre member countries as well as UNOSSC. The concept of “national ecosystem” was conceived by the IsDB, in particular the Reverse Linkage team, based on their field projects, analysis and expertise. Although a concept cannot be owned, credit deserves to be faithfully recognized to the institution and people who have developed such original ideas and concepts.

The publication is an important contribution to addressing the deficit in theoretical and empirical study of South-South and Triangular cooperation (SSTrC) as a whole. In particular, it contributes to filling the gap in institution building for SSTrC, which is a well-known weak link for developing countries in promoting SSTrC. The impressive expansion of South-South cooperation (SSC) in magnitude, modalities and partners deserves to be celebrated, and yet, if the institutional framework is not strengthened at this stage, this weak link could develop into a bottleneck. Without a good institutional framework, countries with sizable SSTrC would not be able to maintain the momentum or the desired impact; countries with little SSTrC would lose opportunities offered by SSTrC and be marginalized; and, countries in the middle would find it difficult to expand SSTrC on the basis of their national development strategies and common interest. Over the years, the pace of institutional improvements in conducting SSTrC by the Southern countries has lagged far behind the fast expansion of SSTrC in size, making it a constraint for unleashing the full potential of SSTrC. On the whole, the level of institutional capacity for SSC is very uneven among countries, with some countries more mature and proactive than others. Currently, more and more countries have realized the benefits and the full potential of SSC and have great desire to tap into it to promote economic development as well as solidarity among the South. One important reason for the potential is that the diversity in levels of development across developing countries provides unique opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation between countries to complement each other economically, in addition to learning from each other’s development experience. To maximize the benefits of SSTrC, it would be imperative to have an effective institutional framework at national level.


The national ecosystem developed by the aforementioned publication has identified 7 pillars for constituting an effective institutional framework to maximize the benefits that countries of the South can derive from engaging in SSTrC, both as beneficiaries and as providers.  These pillars are: (i) political will; (ii) national strategy for SSTrC; (iii) national body for SSTrC; (iv) information bases; (v) connected actors; (vi) financing mechanisms; and, lastly (vii) performance management systems. Although, some Southern countries are engaged in SSC, they do not have these pillars at all, while most countries have significant gaps. To address this weak link, the national ecosystem advocates a national bottom-up and incremental approach, as an internationally or regionally agreed framework would take time to emerge. In addition, to reach consensus at international level would require many trade-offs which would often end up with a product of lower or the lowest denominator.

Nevertheless, the publication has repeatedly emphasized that the national ecosystem is not meant to be prescriptive or one size fits all. The spectrum of different pillars of the ‘national ecosystems’ allows countries to either choose to develop one pillar at a time or compose their own configurations of pillars, in line with their national conditions, economic and social priorities and national development strategies. These pillars complement and impact on each other and they are not sequential. Cohesive and coordinated linkages among the different pillars of ‘national ecosystems’ can improve the effectiveness, coordination and mainstreaming of SSTrC.
How to actualize the “national ecosystems” to promote SSTrC?
To start with, countries could undertake an exercise like due diligence — assessments of their own national ecosystems to see whether they have all the pillars, whether they need them all, or which pillar is weak and needs to be strengthened. National development strategies and national comparative advantages should be borne in mind in this exercise. Subsequently, governments may wish to step in to provide support within their capability to allow the materialization of their chosen pillar(s). Consideration should also be paid to whether they have the technical expertise and financial capacity to do so - an undertaking like a feasibility study. External and international support could be explored. Experiences from other countries could be studied and emulated if they are suitable. For instance, for formulating national strategy and establishment of national body, learning from each other would be really important. Similarly, to make the national body function effectively will require a lot of efforts and government support.
The need for pillars like information bases and performance management systems at national level have been well accepted as important tools to make SSTrC effective and facilitate well-informed policy making. However, at international level there are still concerns about how to and who will use the national data, what methodologies and standards should be used to measure and evaluate performance as well as how to defend the interest of the developing countries. The bottom-up approach advocated by the publication may be a good way to dispel various concerns and worries on this issue. At national level, efforts are driven by the national government and different national stakeholders. Policy makers together with experts could design their own measures through trial and error to arrive at options which would improve efficiency and effectiveness of SSTrC. So national ecosystems could allow “thousands of flowers to bloom”. From these national efforts, some generally accepted good practices and even standards may eventually emerge. Meanwhile, institutions like South Centre, IsDB, UNOSSC, RIS and others will certainly race to undertake further analysis and studies as there is the need for them and there are different views about them. All in all, to develop an effective national ecosystem for SSTrC is like a long march. It takes time, effort, commitments and financing.
The technical aspects and political soundness of the national ecosystems developed by the IsDB and the publication had been closely scrutinized and validated. The concept was first discussed among selected IsDB Member Countries and approved by them. The South Centre developed a national survey questionnaire with inputs from the IsDB.  A survey questionnaire developed by the South Centre and the IsDB was sent to selected countries. Along with the survey, face-to-face interviews were also conducted with officials of a few surveyed countries. The replies were thoroughly analysed and were used to validate the research for this publication. This was followed by country visits to obtain more in-depth, first-hand information to supplement and/or validate the initial research findings. In addition, a vast desk research was undertaken to review publicly available literature, including the institutional websites and other publications of government agencies of developing countries. The research had also taken into consideration the information provided by the multilateral and regional institutional arrangements engaging in SSTrC; in particular some multilateral arrangements for SSC that were established by the South and their operations. An earlier draft was sent to the national bodies/institutions responsible for SSTrC for their comments and validation. Upon the receipt of the feedback from these countries, the draft was further revised to reflect their views and updated information. At the Second High-Level United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation (BAPA+40) held between 20th and 22nd March 2019 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a high-level event was jointly organized by the IsDB, South Centre and the UNOSSC to discuss the concept and composition of the national ecosystems, which were validated by the participants without any reservation.  The country coverage includes not only the IsDB Member Countries but also other developing countries such as Argentina, Brazil, China, Cuba, Ecuador and India.

The publication on national ecosystems provides orientation for countries to consider in building or enhancing their institutional framework for SSTrC. This is a big stride forward, not a baby step. It is hoped that believers in SSTrC would work together to strengthen the national ecosystems. The IsDB, UNOSSC and South Centre signed an agreement prior to the launching of the publication with the aim of joining hands to enhance national ecosystems to unleash the potential of SSTrC for the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Dr. Carlos Correa, the Executive Director of the South Centre, stated that “the launching of the paper is not the end of our cooperation but just the beginning.” H.E. Dr. Bandar Hajjar, President of the Islamic Development Bank, said at the launch: “I couldn’t think of a better time to launch this ground-breaking publication than this very moment when world leaders gather at the United Nations to brainstorm and take concrete actions on how to achieve the 2030 agenda. IsDB has always been on the frontline when it comes to South-South Cooperation.” The South Centre looks forward to working together with all stakeholders with the aim of implementing effective national ecosystems for SSTrC and the BAPA+40 outcome as a whole.   


Author: Yuefen Li is Senior Adviser on South-South Cooperation and Development Finance  of the South Centre. 

The publication “Developing National Ecosystems for South-South and Triangular Cooperation to Achieve Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development” can be accessed at:

This article is based on the author's statement at the launch of the publication.

* The views contained in this article are attributable to the author and do not represent the institutional views of the South Centre or its Member States.

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