The 2030 Agenda calls for a new and inclusive global partnership, of which South-South and triangular cooperation (SSC and TrC) forms an integral part. SDG 17 focuses on the need to enhance knowledge-sharing through improved coordination among existing mechanisms.
The potential of SSC and TrC to contribute to sustainable development and poverty eradication has not been fully leveraged. Knowledge gaps and uneven access to solutions and resources are major obstacles hindering progress. The availability of information and quality of research on the scale and impact of SSC and TrC have not kept pace with the growing demand among Southern partners for peer learning to further improve results. In addition, policy incoherence, together with a lack of understanding of the respective legal and policy environments for cooperation, can create “thick borders” between countries and hinder the expansion of SSC and TrC. Addressing these knowledge gaps will be critical in the context of scaling up SSC for sustainable development.
Towards a Solution
Think tanks globally, and especially from the global South, are best positioned to tackle these challenges. As public policy research, analysis and engagement organizations, think tanks can play a vital role in the political and policy arenas at the local, national and global levels and assist governments in understanding and making informed choices about issues of domestic and international concerns. Thus, they can strategically champion thought leadership on SSC and TrC to assist governments in making informed decisions about using SSC and TrC at national, regional and global forums.
However, the scale and complexity of SSC require multidisciplinary knowledge and analysis, which can be very difficult for any single think tank or single network of think tanks to master. A platform is needed to pool the knowledge and expertise of multiple think tank networks so that they can work together to tackle SSC knowledge gaps.
To address this challenge, in 2017, the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) supported the establishment of South-South Global Thinkers ─ the Global Coalition of Think Tank Networks for South-South Cooperation. This initiative brings together six think tank networks, totalling more than 200 think tanks from across all regions. The initiative allows think tanks to better connect with each other to collectively address multi-disciplinary challenges and to find channels through which to inform and influence the global development agenda by developing frontier research and knowledge.
The initiative conducts research on the following areas:
- SSC concepts, trends, evaluation frameworks and impact assessments;
- Policy coordination and legal environment for SSC;
- SSC in economic structural transformation;
- SSC in science, technology and innovation;
- South-South trade, investment and financing;
- SSC delivering results for the SDGs;
- SSC in basic infrastructure and connectivity;
- SSC risk management in fragile contexts and disaster risk management;
- Regional/sub-regional mechanisms and neighbourhood SSC initiatives; and,
- Multi-stakeholder engagement in SSC (including youth, women, the private sector and civil society).
The initiative provides seed funding for think tank network members to undertake research related to the above-mentioned areas. In 2018, ten research grants have been made. Research results will feed into the upcoming UNOSSC Independent Report on South-South Cooperation and preparatory processes for the Second UN High-Level Conference on South-South Cooperation (BAPA+40), (BAPA+40 Conference).
A key part of the initiative has been the development and launch of an online platform to facilitate discussion and exchange of knowledge and research ideas among members of the think tank networks. Recent online discussions have focused on the policy and legal environment for facilitating South-South trade and investment regionally and globally. Additionally, the platform serves as a space for think tank network members to share and access relevant knowledge products to stimulate debate and further research.
The initiative regularly hosts face-to-face workshops and symposiums to stimulate discussions among researchers, policymakers, development practitioners and the private sector. In 2017 and 2018, events focused on the policy and legal environment for South-South investment in Asia and the Pacific (held in Bangkok) and the policy and legal environment for South-South investment in Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (held in Prague). Scoping papers published as the result of these meetings identify key areas that will feed into a comprehensive research on South-South investments.
To ensure the sustainably of the Global Coalition, the project is contributing to capacity development within Southern-led think tank networks and institutions so that they can provide updated and relevant research and advisory services on SSC to developing countries. Thus, five years’ support is expected to help expand the client base for advisory service for the networks, strengthen the networks’ capacity, and make available the resources to support a Global Coalition that operates self-sufficiently as members continue to jointly mobilize and contribute resources.
Through this platform, UNOSSC and UNDP are working towards the achievement of SDG target 17.16, which calls for enhancing the global partnership for sustainable development, complemented by multi-stakeholder partnerships that mobilize and share knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources.