On 21-22 May, the President of the General Assembly hosted a two-dayHigh-level Eventat UN Headquarters in New York to discuss the important contributions of North-South, South-South, and Triangular Cooperation, as well as ICTs to the implementation of the post-2105 development agenda. “If we are to turn our ambitions for the post-2015 era into reality, we will need to harness all possible means of implementation.
North-South, South-South and Triangular Cooperation
In terms of North-South cooperation, both the PGA and Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson welcomed the fact that official development assistance (ODA) had reached a record high in 2013 (US$135 billion), confirming its crucial role in development implementation, today and after 2015. They also welcomed the fast-growing share of South-South and Triangular Cooperation, with demonstrated success in terms of sustained economic growth, trade, infrastructural development, social protection, health and environmental cooperation. The GA President highlighted that South-South cooperation can help governments and other stakeholders address financial, technical, legal and regulatory challenges, as well as strengthening national capabilities and resilience, and regional networks and mechanisms. Such cooperation can also help governments gain a stronger voice in global negotiations and policy-making, he added .Traditional and new forms of cooperation, technology and innovations will all have an important role to play in shaping the future we want,” John Ashe, President of the GA, stressed in his opening remarks.
In herkeynote address, Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Chair of the United Nations Development Group (UNDG), added that “Innovations and experiences from the South are often seen as the most relevant to the challenges faced by other developing countries.” She defined South-South cooperation as a “mutually beneficial partnership based on solidarity, equality, and shared development experiences,” and referenced UNDP’s 2013 Global Human Development Report, “The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World.” This report showcases the evolution of a number of developing countries into dynamic economies with increasing geopolitical influence and rising human development.
In the panel discussion that followed on the question “How can all forms of cooperation, namely North-South, South-South and Triangular Cooperation, be strengthened to promote economic growth, employment and decent work for all?,” both the Chair, as well as Eduardo Bohórquez, Executive Director of Transparencia Mexicana, the Chapter ofTransparency Internationalin Mexico, touched upon the issue of South-North cooperation, as a means to promote economic growth, decent work and poverty alleviation.
During the same panel, Aki-hiko Tanaka, President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA),proposedthree guiding principles to strengthen the potential of South-South and Triangular Cooperation and the successful implementation of the post-2015 development agenda. These are:
1. the principle of country ownership supported by adequate human and institutional capacity;
2. the principle of comprehensive and equal partnership of all stakeholders, including civil society organizations, members of the corporate sector, foundations, local governments, and epistemic communities of academics and experts; and
3. the principle of human security.
“The key to promoting truly beneficial regional South-South cooperation is to effectively match diverse resources with the needs of beneficiaries,” Mr. Tanaka voiced. He also considered knowledge sharing and capacity-building as critical tools for effective South-South and Triangular Cooperation.
Mr. Bohórquezemphasizedthat transparency and accountability are behind effective cooperation. After all, they warrant that governments and other stakeholders release “open, accessible, timely and understandable information about their activities, funding and spending within the development agenda.” He referenced various initiatives that aim to make transparency and accountability permanent topics in international development cooperation, including the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) and the Open Government Partnership (OGP). According to Mr. Bohórquez, “Transparency mechanisms, if implemented effectively, have the potential to be a game changer that can foster more coordination, better decision-making and participation of a broad range of stakeholders.”
Ms. Clark, as well as the Deputy Secretary-Generalstressedthat “despite its growing contribution, South-South cooperation cannot substitute North-South cooperation,” underscoring that this reality must be addressed when discussing post-2015 development financing. This wasreaffirmedby Silvia Ribeiro, Latin America Director of theETC Group, who also flagged other areas that require caution, including the unequal power relations among multilateral organizations of the global governance system, between transnational corporations and States, between States of the North and of the South, and within States.
In particular, Ms. Ribeiro voiced concern about the privatization of international cooperation, including within the UN, which was marked by an increase in public-private partnerships (PPPs), private philanthropy, (in)direct subsidies for transnational corporations with operations in developing countries, and financial aid flows directed towards the private sector in developed countries. “Over the past decade, [...] development finance institutions have increased financial flows to the private sector by 200%; almost half of the aid money went to support companies based in developed countries, and only 25% to companies based in the developing world. Still worse, none of this aid reaches small and medium-sized enterprises,” she underlined. Considering that the private sector often sets its own priorities, not necessarily in line with a country’s, peoples’ or the environment’s needs, and the lack of an efficient regulatory and accountability mechanism, Ms. Ribeiro reiterated the call made at other fora to establish a “binding multilateral instrument for transnational corporations at the UN, with the goal of protecting peoples against human rights abuses and environmental destruction perpetrated by private actors.”
Although some speakers insisted that developed countries should adhere to their ODA commitments, and increase aid flows where needed, Dionísio Simões, Chairman of Network of West African NGO Platforms (REPAOC- acronym in French),voiceda different perspective. “The strengthening of aid and partnerships should not involve an increase in financial aid or material resources,” he spoke. He called for putting an end to the continuous donation to the weakest nations. Instead, countries should be allowed to develop their own constructive capacities and solutions for improving their living conditions. In addition, he was of the opinion that North-South cooperation should be oriented towards cooperation between developed countries and middle-income countries, so that the latter can provide a more focussed development approach in terms of South-South cooperation. This so-called “waterfall” structure can generate a collaborative dynamic in which partners do not differ largely in their development stages. Finally, he advocated for a constructive national and international development process that recognizes civil society organizations as complementary to the private and public sector, not secondary.
ICT for Development
The full potential of ICTs to transform development efforts has yet to be fully realized, but so far the spread of ICTs has been phenomenal, participants acknowledged. “New technologies of communication completely changed the way we work, move, and relate to each other. From the microprocessor (1946), to Facebook (2007), miniaturization technologies, satellite communications, mobile devices, cloud computing and artificial intelligence ‒ [they] transformed our habits, made the world smaller, and promoted dialogue among cultures,”illustratedLeonel Fernández, Former President of the Dominican Republic, and Chair of the panel discussion on “How can all forms of cooperation, namely North-South, South-South and Triangular Cooperation, as well as ICT for development, be utilized to achieve effective means of implementation for the post-2015 development agenda?”
Ms. Clark especially welcomed ICTs’ contribution (i) in bringing about real progress to people’s lives (e.g. through remote access to health, education, banking, e-government, and other services, and to information in general); (ii) in creating opportunities for citizen engagement in democratic processes; (iii) in strengthening early warning and response systems; (iv) in driving innovation and productivity; and (v) in connecting such innovation with decision-makers. For example, UNDP is expanding theInternational Network of Social Innovators for Human Development, in partnership withMotorola Solutions, with the aim to tie together local knowledge and solutions by connecting social innovators with policy-makers at the national and global levels, and by fostering South-South cooperation through these exchanges. The PGA brought to the fore ICTs’ contribution in supporting public dialogue, participation, transparency, good governance and financial inclusion.
“According to the latestforecastsfrom the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), there will be almost as many mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide as there are people by the end of this year, and there will be close to three billion people online,”highlightedHamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General.
Despite these positive developments, various speakers drew attention to the ongoing digital divide where “billions of people across the globe do not have access to Internet or broadband services and face additional exclusion barriers.” By the end of 2014, more than half the world’s people – and two thirds of people in the developing world – will still be offline, explained Dr. Touré. Ms. Ribeiro noted that among those that do have access, 77% live in the developed world and that in Africa, Internet access was limited to a mere 16% of the population.
Matthew Boms, Communications Manager ofCommunitas Coalition for Sustainable Cities and Regions in the New United Nations Development Agenda,referredto spatial and temporal assumptions that have been used to explain the digital divide, noting that these assumptions have proven problematic. “They have generated ‘a decidedly technical approach to what is essentially a social and political problem, focusing on hardware and engineering concerns rather than the politics of information,’” he explained. He also drew attention to a so-called “second divide” where low-income children lack the conceptual and language abilities necessary for information literacy. “Even the most promising technology could ultimately fail depending on its surrounding social envelope,” he said, explaining that today’s digital divide exists in people’s differential ability to use new media and technologies. Similarly, Ms. Clark highlighted that access to ICTs was not sufficient. “In a world where information is power, people need to acquire the skills to use new technologies,” she stressed, while calling for big investments in ICT literacy in school systems and in lifelong learning. Suvi Lindén, Special Envoy for the Broadband Commission for Digital Development and Former Minister of Communications of Finland,acknowledgedthis by concluding that it is all about empowerment and education for all.
Together with the ITU Secretary-General, Ms. Lindén questioned why ICT was not given a priority in the post-2015 agenda. Dr. Touré underscored that the crucial role of ICT for development has been acknowledged time and again at different international fora; yet, in the current post-2015 discussions, “ICTs have not yet gained the full attention they deserve,” he stressed. Accordingly, the ITU Secretary-General made a strong plea for giving ICTs greater prominence in the UN’s post-2015 development agenda as catalysts of broad economic and social development, and as keystones in the process.
Despite ICTs role in development, Ms. Ribeiro cautioned that ICTs are not a panacea; “they raise many issues, including issues related to ownership and social, cultural, economic, environmental, health, gender and other impacts.” She drew attention to the human rights violations that are supported by the use of ICTs (e.g. the recent privacy invasion scandals by governments), and called for the establishment of laws to compel the enforcement of exclusive intellectual property rights (IPRs) related to the Internet, software and content. Her concerns were somewhat shared by Anita Gurrmurthy, Executive Director of IT for Change, whospokeon behalf of the Post-2015 Women’s Coalition. Unlike Ms. Lindén, who was in favour of a healthy and responsible private sector, Ms. Gurrmurthy cautioned against entrenched private interests in the “very DNA of the digital ecosystem”; and the absence of policy or legal frameworks to protect civic rights. In particular, she addressed the Transparency Paradox ‒ “rather than public and private institutions becoming ‘transparent’ to people, it is people who are becoming ‘transparent’ to these powerful institutions”; the Identity Paradox ‒ “big data seeks to identify at the expensive of individual and collective identity”; and the Power Paradox ‒ “the rhetoric of big data privileges large government and corporate entities at the expense of ordinary individuals.” Finally, she cautioned for “reverse redlining,” which she defined as “the use of new data collection and mining techniques to revive outlawed discriminatory practices.”
To conclude, Ms. Gurrmurthy called for rethinking national and global frameworks on Internet governance and data ownership and control. In her view, global public policy in the digital area is non-negotiable and should be decentralized, peer to peer, open and egalitarian. Without such a policy, an implementation agenda for development cannot materialize and will “remain an empty dream,” she said.
Ms. Ribeiro believed “A technology facilitation mechanism (TFM) could address some of the present global inequities, as well as offer a new avenue for North-South, South-South and Triangular Cooperation.” A prerequisite, however, is that the TFM includes, as an integral component, a multilateral, democratic, participatory technology assessment mechanism, which can offer, particularly to countries in the South, a rigorous evaluation of the potential risks and benefits of a technology, independent of the interests of those promoting technology. “Without this multilateral capacity for independent evaluation, technology transfer could result in subsidizing transnational corporations’ sales and profits, securing monopoly over their technologies while facilitating their entrance into wider markets in the developing world,” she concluded.
UN-NGLS and ETC Group side event, 4 June
On 4 June, UN-NGLS and ETC Group are organizing a side event on the technology facilitation mechanism entitled “Technology Access and Assessment – The Trillion-Dollar Challenge.” More information on this event is availablehere.
• Photo 1: “Panel discussion on the question “How can all forms of cooperation, namely North-South, South-South and Triangular Cooperation, be strengthened to promote economic growth, employment and decent work for all?,” ‒ © UN Photo/JC McIlwaine;
• Photo 2: “President of the General Assembly at the opening of the two-day event” ‒ © UN Photo/Evan Schneider;
• Photo 3: “Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator and UNDG Chair” ‒ © UN Photo/Evan Schneider;
• Photo 4: “Overview photo of meeting room” ‒ © UN Photo/Evan Schneider.
• Photo 5: “Silvia Ribeiro, Latin America Director of the ETC Group” ‒ © UN Photo/Evan Schneider.