10 July 2024
Future of Sustainable Development Cooperation
Photo by IISD/ENB | Sean Wu
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The discussions at the 2024 Development Leaders Conference in Bali this June revealed changing mindsets of both the emerging development partners and traditional donors.

Middle-income countries no longer accept to be mere recipients but see themselves as partners on an equal footing.

By Zeynep Orhun Girard, ESCAP

Development cooperation is no longer what it used to be, even a decade ago. Budgets of traditional donors are coming under more and more strain, geopolitical changes are increasingly influencing how Official Development Assistance (ODA) is delivered and defined, and even after decades of practice, ODA effectiveness is still a challenge, in turn hampering the case for more resources to go to international development cooperation. This is the case even in areas where there is clear global convergence and shared high stakes like climate change mitigation and adaptation.

In addition to this changing context, the discussions at the 2024 Development Leaders Conference, organized by the Center for Global Development, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), and the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bali, Indonesia, this June, also revealed changing mindsets of both the emerging development partners and traditional donors.

In the case of emerging development partners, a more assertive set of middle-income countries (MICs) claim their seat at the table and say louder and louder that they, too, have good practices, expertise, and even financial resources to contribute for advancing sustainable development. They particularly emphasize their commitment to learning from each other and to supporting today’s low-income countries (LICs) and finding development solutions that may be of lower cost and more sustainable. This comes with the realization that the achievement of the SDGs is a collective responsibility, and MICs no longer accept to be mere recipients but see themselves as partners on an equal footing. These ideas were also central to the Emerging Development Partners meeting, which was co-chaired by Indonesia and Türkiye and held back-to-back with the conference.

In the case of traditional donors, the shift in mindset manifests itself in openness and willingness to learn from emerging development partners. “We are not the only game in town,” one traditional donor representative observed. “What are some platforms where we can get more information on South-South Cooperation?” asked another. They may be surprised by these new perspectives coming from countries that once were just beneficiaries but pleasantly so.

The shift in mindset is also happening among multilateral development banks (MDBs), especially in how they relate to one another. There is more cooperation and harmony than ever among MDBs, as demonstrated by the first retreat of MDB heads held in April 2024 and emerging country-level partnerships with pooled finances.

The discussions in Indonesia may not have answered all questions about the future of sustainable development cooperation but they definitely generated valuable takeaways for reshaping how we cooperate and adapt to our non-dichotomous world:

  • Facilitate more dialogue among traditional and emerging development partners, including in how to redefine ODA;
  • Consider various models of partnership and financing in different contexts, keeping in mind that bilateral government-to-government development cooperation is one way among many;
  • Go beyond financial metrics and focus on achieving and communicating results; and
  • Expand the evidence base and statistics, especially for South-South Cooperation (SSC).

As a UN Regional Commission, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) mainstreams South-South and Triangular Cooperation in its programme of work. ESCAP also organizes the annual Asia-Pacific Directors General Forum, which was inaugurated in 2018, in the lead up to BAPA+40. The discussions in Indonesia will no doubt feed into the sixth Asia-Pacific Directors General Forum on South-South and Triangular Cooperation, which will take place at the end of November 2024 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Almost 70 years after the Bandung Conference, hosted by a recently independent Indonesia, international development cooperation appears ready for a reconfiguration. Indonesia, now an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) candidate country, is once again playing a key role in setting ideas in motion for expanding development partnerships in solidarity and in trust.

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