South-South cooperation explained

Answers to your most frequently asked questions

In May 2017, the Chinese government provided a contribution of US$3 million via the South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund (SSCAF) to support UNICEF’s response in Lebanon and Somalia in benefit of families and children in need.
11 September 2019

Dr. Alison Jenkins is the Senior Adviser for South-South Cooperation and Partnerships at UNICEF China. She recently sat down with us to talk about South-South cooperation, why it’s important, particularly for climate change, and what UNICEF and the Government of China are doing in the area of South-South cooperation.

1. What is South-South cooperation?

South-south cooperation (SSC) is defined as the exchange of resources, technology, and knowledge between developing countries. South-South cooperation embraces a multi-stakeholder approach, including non-governmental organizations, the private sector, civil society, academia and other players that contribute to meeting development challenges and objectives in line with national development strategies and plans.

2. Why is South-South cooperation necessary for sustainable development?

By sharing knowledge, development solutions, technical know-how and resources (people, supplies and development finance), we can accelerate achievement towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including for children.

3. The theme for a South-South panel that recently took place in Beijing was climate change. Why was it important to have this theme specifically?

One of the key challenges in our time is climate change, and its negative consequences for people in all countries, and the planet. Tackling climate change will require an unprecedented effort from all sectors of society, including enhanced SSC and partnerships. Children are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, environmental degradation and lack of (sustainable) energy. According to the World Health Organization, more than 1 in 4 childhood deaths under 5 are due to unhealthy environments. As such, UNICEF has been steadily increasing its involvement on climate, energy and environment (CEE) issues, and has been active both in advocacy and integration of these concerns into operations and programming. 

4. What areas in climate change do you think South-South cooperation will be able to help address?

SSC will allow countries to exchange good practices and technologies and to facilitate policy dialogue, enhancing adaptation and increasing the resilience of developing countries and communities facing the devastating impacts of climate change. For example, in Mongolia, air pollution is a serious problem– which is why UNICEF Mongolia has made a concerted effort to build solid programmes on air pollution and child health, with both mitigation and adaptation efforts prioritized. The Country Office will organize an international conference on October 29-30, 2019 on Air Pollution and Maternal Child Health for knowledge sharing and experience exchanges.

5. Tell us a little bit about your experience working in the field of South-South cooperation.

I’ve had the opportunity to work in and learn from colleagues in various countries over the past 20 or so years, first China, Vietnam, then in a number of countries in Africa- Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Guinea Bissau, Tanzania and Sierra Leone. I’ve worked in international NGOs, in academia, and in UNICEF. Sharing knowledge and good practices has been a core part of this work – whether through the more “traditional” approaches like international or regional conferences and network meetings, or through fostering understanding through more long term technical exchange.

6. What barriers do you foresee for South-South cooperation? And in relation to that, what will it take for South-South Cooperation to succeed?

For SSC to be successful, it is important to understand the global and national context, for example, the relevant costed national development strategies and plans, and associated guidelines, training curricula and materials, etc. There is also a need to understand the partnership environment – at global, regional and national levels. National partnerships are led and coordinated by the host government; typically, there are many ongoing strategic and technical coordination processes in a given country, and we absolutely must coordinate to make the most of SSC – to make sure that it complements other investments in national programmes. Successful SSC for children will also require more resource mobilization, through public partnership, private sector engagement and innovative financing.

7. What is UNICEF doing in the area of South-South cooperation?

UNICEF supports countries around the world to exchange knowledge and expertise across wide-ranging programme areas, such as child survival, early childhood development, protection of children (including adolescents), environmental protection and humanitarian assistance. As an example, in May 2017, the Chinese government provided a contribution of US$3 million to UNICEF in Lebanon and Somalia to benefit over 300,000 women and vulnerable children. Besides providing life-saving treatment of severe acute malnutrition for children in Somalia, winter kits and education supplies to Syrian refugee school children in Lebanon, these projects also built capacity and delivery of services.

8. Why is China a crucial partner in South-South cooperation? How do you think China’s experience can be helpful to other countries?

President Xi Jinping announced plans to set up a South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund (SSCAF) at the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Summit in 2015. The commitments that followed, including but not limited to the US$3 billion SSCAF, the US$3.1 billion fund to support other developing countries to tackle climate change, the US$60 billion investment in Africa during 2016-2018, among others, all represent opportunities to generate positive survival and development outcomes for vulnerable children, including in the adolescent years.

Over the past 40 years, China has achieved extraordinary successes – including raising over 700 million people out of poverty. China has a lot of experience to share: in poverty reduction; improving health outcomes; and other child-related issues. SSC has a long history, including in China. Through many global and regional platforms and mechanisms, China’s experiences are being shared with many other developing countries, as well as China learning from others’ good practices, and UNICEF very much looks forward to continuing to play a role in this exchange.