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Speech by UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake to Joint Board session on South-South and Triangular Co-operation

NEW YORK, 4 February 2013 - “We could use this opportunity to make a plea for more south-south and triangular co-operation. But there is no need to do so.

Because the good news is that south-south and triangular co-operation are already growing. Rapidly. And they will continue to grow, with or without greater UN involvement. The issue is not how the UN can create or manage such co-operation ― but rather how we can do still more to facilitate and contribute to it.

South-south co-operation is not happening by global design. It’s happening because communities, countries and regions are responding to ― and seizing the opportunities of ― the realities of a changing world.

The reality that emerging economies (many of which have emerged) are ready to share their positive experiences. The reality that governments facing similar problems are reaching out to each other as they design practical solutions. The reality that individuals, businesses, civil society, NGOs and faith-based organizations are ever more networked. The reality of “triangular” co-operation, where northern countries or multilateral organizations are collaborating on southern-driven partnerships among developing countries. And the central reality that development must reflect national priorities because the recipients of aid know more about what their citizens and neighbours need than do their friends in international organizations or industrialized nations.
Advancements in technology have driven these realities. Mobile phones and the internet have enabled communities and countries to establish direct partnerships with their regional and global counterparts, and share knowledge, experience and lessons learned. Information can thus be shared more quickly and cost-effectively than ever before. And anyone with a new approach to an old problem has the power to share it ― no matter where she or he lives. 

So south-south and triangular co-operation are growing ― organically, rapidly, wonderfully. Because they work.

They have already made a huge difference in the lives of many of the world’s most disadvantaged people ― for example, through the spread of cash transfer programmes, based on the success of programmes like Mexico’s “Opportunidades.”

The Laços Sul-Sul program, launched by Brazil in 2004 to combat HIV/AIDS and provide universal access to prevention and treatment, is another good example. Brazil brought together countries throughout the region ― including Bolivia, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Nicaragua and Paraguay ― to exchange information and develop joint action plans and treatment programmes using medicine produced in Brazil.

India is training Nigerian engineers and administrators to help harness and deliver electricity across Nigeria ― a country with one of the lowest rates of electricity access in the world.

Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru are taking steps to incorporate traditional indigenous medicine into their healthcare systems ― an effective way not only to deliver health care to indigenous populations…but to introduce some of these approaches to the broader population…and beyond borders.

Through the Scaling-up Nutrition, or SUN, movement, countries, governments, organizations and businesses are gathering around a common cause ― to design and deliver targeted programmes to alleviate malnourishment in the world’s poorest communities. Thirty three countries are now on board. 

These examples…these movements…prove that in today’s changing world, leadership is no longer concentrated in the hands of the few ― but shared among the hands of the many.

The challenge for UN agencies is to keep pace…to adapt...to embrace a changing world. If we don’t, we risk falling behind. Or worse, we risk irrelevance.

In fact, we do have a vital role to play ― and tools and resources to bring to the table that no one else can. Our agencies offer a number of comparative advantages ― objectivity…capacity… resources…a deep knowledge of local needs thanks to our expert field staff…and skill and experience in managing vast development projects. And in fact, many countries have specifically called for increased UN involvement in south-south co-operation, and to include it in our strategic plans.

But we must constantly ask ourselves: how can we ‘help without hindering?’ How can we ‘facilitate without dominating?’

We can begin with the Hippocratic Oath’s injunction: ‘First ― do no harm.’ Because if we try to foster co-operation using top-heavy, rigid structures or overly formal frameworks, we may do more harm than good. But we can foster partnerships by adapting our tools, resources and networks to our purpose.

For example, UNICEF’s Country Offices in Argentina and Bolivia brought the two countries together in an effort to protect Bolivian children, who were being exploited and trafficked into Argentina. Together, we’re now strengthening and computerizing the Cultural Register in Bolivia to track and safeguard these children.  

The World Food Programme’s Centre of Excellence in Brazil is fast-becoming a global hub for south-south co-operation in the area of school feeding and nutrition. It’s proving to be an effective way of sharing advice and technical assistance to governments in Africa, Asia and Latin America as they design their own nutrition programmes. UNDP has partnered with governments to establish South-South Centres of Excellence in India, Brazil, Singapore, the Republic of Korea and Turkey. UNICEF is considering similar centres, while UNFPA is seeking to establish a global consortium of population institutions for knowledge sharing and capacity-building. And all of the agencies represented here are engaged in facilitating South-South programmes of one kind or another.

South-south co-operation is also well-positioned to help in humanitarian emergencies and in building resilience during and beyond these crises. Countries like India, Indonesia and South Africa are already sharing their expertise in resilience-building with other countries travelling the same path. The UN can play a valuable role in analyzing and validating the results of their efforts… helping countries put this expertise to work within their own borders…and building more alliances among countries that could benefit from the same assistance.

Constructive triangular partnerships ― led and owned by southern partners, with participation from traditional and emerging donors as well as international agencies― hold similar benefits. UN agencies offer expertise in managing large development programmes ― expertise that can help translate triangular efforts into results. 

But UN agencies cannot foster co-operation among countries and donors without doing the same among ourselves. The United Nations Office for South-South Co-operation is playing an important role in improving how we share information…track progress…thus help achieve results. And we can do more.

For example, UNICEF is committed to working closely with UNDP to promote the use of IT platforms for south-south co-operation. UNDP has long been a pioneer in developing virtual platforms. UNDP’s “Teamworks” is a good example. It has proven useful for knowledge management among UNDP staff, and for the exchange of views and information by tens of thousands of people, including on Rio+20 and the post-2015 agenda. All of us can use such platforms to make south-south co-operation still more cost-effective and efficient.

Which brings me to a final point. It’s misleading to speak only of ‘south-south,’ or even ‘triangular’ co-operation when the whole world is interconnected as never before ― our economies…our security…our citizens…and our challenges.

There is a boy in every nation in the world who isn’t getting the nutrition he needs to stay alive. That’s not a ‘south-south’ problem or a ‘triangular’ problem…that’s the world’s problem.

There is a girl in every nation who is denied the quality education she needs to contribute to her family’s well-being ― and her own. That’s the world’s problem.

And when children are caught in conflict zones…or being driven from home because of a tsunami or earthquake…anywhere…that’s the world’s problem. 

These challenges don’t respect borders…they affect everybody. And in responding, every one of us ― every organization, every nation ― has something to learn from every other. And increasingly can, in a hyperlinked world.

South-south and triangular co-operation are essential in this new world. While not “silver bullets” to solve our challenges, they can be an essential part of an overall response ― along with national ownership, robust donor funding, effective and flexible programming, and practical partnerships.

And within the UN, we have a great opportunity ― and responsibility ― to mainstream the concept throughout our agencies’ policies and approaches to development ― as a flexible, practical means to bring the best ideas and solutions forward. A means to the only goal that matters: improving the lives of children, families and communities.”




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