At a gathering of more than 70 high-level officials at the World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings in Istanbul, India gave a boost to South-South cooperation by announcing that it will join a growing number of countries contributing to the Bank’s South-South Experience Exchange Facility – a provider of quick, just-in-time funding to help developing countries share their knowledge and expertise.
During the forum, at which practitioners from India, Jamaica, and Nigeria explained how South-South knowledge-sharing had helped them implement difficult reforms, India’s Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said his country was eager to contribute its own development know-how as well as learn from the experiences of other countries. “I believe that the people of the South have much to learn from the experience of each other,” he said.
India’s decision comes one year after the launch of the multi-donor South-South Experience Exchange Facility (SSEEF)
trust fund. The contribution, whose exact amount remains to be decided, follows Denmark’s recent announcement of an additional $1 million donation to the facility. China, Mexico, the Netherlands, Spain and United Kingdom are also contributors.
The South Takes the Lead
In the aftermath of the global economic crisis the value of top-down advice doled out by global experts may be on the wane. New economic models for development are likely to be shaped by the people who “have been there before.” “I want to hear from someone who has felt the pain,” said one participant at a recent WBI event.
Many practitioners across the globe have indeed felt the pain, with some economies in and out of crisis for decades. The middle-income countries, such as China and India, have earned their stripes and climbed out of the trenches. Now they are ready to become “soft donors,” providing in-kind contributions in the form of knowledge and experience.
World Bank Group Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said demand for the facility from low-income countries has been high. “The facility has achieved clear results, with grants from the multi-donor trust fund allowing developing countries to develop new thinking and new initiatives to help promote skills, jobs and reduce poverty,” Okonjo-Iweala said.
Some 35 projects have been funded so far, ranging from working with at-risk youth in the Caribbean to outsourcing IT services in Africa.
For example, to better understand how to keep boys out of risky behavior with crime, drugs, and alcohol, Saint Lucia asked the Bank to connect it with other Caribbean countries. Together with the Commonwealth Secretariat, the SSEEF identify success stories on working with at-risk youth and set up a Best Practices Fair to showcase them. The countries then agreed on a Common Platform for Action, the creation of a network of experts, a website, and a resource kit for working with youth in the Caribbean.
In Africa, many countries would like to develop a skilled workforce that can compete in providing IT services—a field with a global potential of US$500 billion annually. In early 2009, when a 54-member of the “New Economy Skills for Africa Program for Information and Communication Technologies” initiative visited India, a world leader in IT outsourcing, the SSEEF provided funding for Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Rwanda, and Tanzania to attend. The teams got a glimpse of policymaking models and a first-hand look at the corporate workings of Infosys and Microsoft. They drafted action plan on how to advance their national IT economies; five countries have begun implementing their plans.
At last week’s meetings Okonjo-Iweala also announced the transfer of the SSEEF trust fund management to the World Bank Institute
, the part of the Bank that focuses on capacity development and knowledge exchange. WBI is launching new instruments to facilitate transfers of practical experiences among developing countries, and will manage the fund jointly with the Bank’s Partnerships and Concessional Finance group.
A New Model for Aid Effectiveness
The Accra Agenda on Aid Effectiveness pointed to middle-income countries and global funds as full partners in development, including South-South cooperation in capacity building. In this new and more equal partnership, donors seek to support countries as they follow their own paths to development. It is in this context that WBI and the Bank as a global convener can become connectors of local knowledge and expertise.
WBI’s new platform for South-South exchange aims to capture solutions that work so they can be replicated and adapted to other countries. “One great catalyst of change is when practitioners get inspired by other practitioners,” said WBI Vice President Sanjay Pradhan. “Our ability to connect practitioners to each other on the practical how-to of reform is an agenda of rapidly increasing importance.”
Another example of South-South sharing supported by the SSEEF involves tailoring the Asian model of special economic zones and industry clusters in ten African countries.
East Asia’s Special Economic Zones (SEZ) and Competitive Clusters have driven its rapid economic growth and globally competitive industries. Many Sub-Saharan African countries are looking to their neighbors and to East Asia for advice. Ten African countries: Ghana, Lesotho, Liberia, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, The Gambia, Senegal, Uganda, and Zambia, approached the Bank for support through the SSEEF, which has helped set up an Africa-East Asia Experience Exchange Program as a catalyst for a longer-term technical cooperation. In a series of one-on-one business networking sessions, over 200 East Asian firms met with the African practitioners to explore investment opportunities and develop relationships with local counterparts in Africa. The program produced a set of best practices to guide the development of SEZ in Africa, and identified joint research possibilities in training and capacity building for zone development and management.
“Exchanges like these give people with expertise in their own setting a chance to learn from others who may have tried other approaches elsewhere,” says Han Fraeters, WBI’s Manager for Knowledge Exchange. “We expect this kind of cooperation to grow rapidly and WBI has begun to provide online and other platforms to facilitate the process.”
India’s Mukherjee said that South-South learning is a two-way street even for a country like India. He noted how India’s experience in implementing economic reforms and developing the IT sector could help countries tackle similar challenges, but added that India faces challenges of its own. “We have much to learn from the experiences of other countries,” he said. “We would be keen to know how some countries have mainstreamed environmental concerns in their national development plans.”