Programme of South-South Cooperation for Sustainable Development between Benin, Bhutan and Costa Rica

Mar 17, 2019 | Solution

Challenge There is little doubt that countries across the globe face similar development challenges whether they are based on geography, demographics, language, culture or other connections. Many people, however, remain sceptical of the benefits that Southern countries can gain from collaboration among themselves. They mention overhead and management costs, lack of resources, limited funding, absence of political commitment or the improbability of vastly different Southern countries on different continents actually being successful in a Southern-owned initiative. ( Towards a Solution Between 2007 and 2012, Costa Rica, Benin and Bhutan created and implemented the Programme of South-South Cooperation for Sustainable Development that focused on reciprocal projects of common interest and mutual benefit. Its success demonstrates the real potential of South-South cooperation. Building on a $13.2 million grant from the Netherlands, the partners focused on four components of sustainable development: economic development, social development, environmental protection and gender equality. The programme aimed to develop projects that would generate knowledge and empower stakeholders, including national governments, civil society, and the academic and private sectors. It also sought to contribute to sustainable development and poverty reduction in partner countries by taking into account environmental, economic and cultural dynamics. The programme had 36 projects that promoted the exchange of knowledge and experiences among countries, communities and beneficiaries. For example, experts of the National Mushroom Centre of Bhutan provided technical support and monitored the progress of mushroom microenterprises in Costa Rica. Experts at the University of Costa Rica in turn shared skills in marketing mushrooms and mushroom products while the country’s National Biodiversity Institute gave technical assistance to Bhutan on how to turn traditional knowledge into scientific knowledge (and develop a biodiversity information system). Farmers from Benin learned from their Costa Rican counterparts how to grow organic pineapples three times larger and to market them. Benin ensured local community involvement in the project, in particular women. The joint efforts of farmers and experts in both countries benefited small-scale producers in Costa Rica and Benin. Each of the activities emphasized mutual needs and interests, reciprocity, equality between members and participation not only of government but also of civil society, academia and the private sector. Replication to achieve success depends on a specific methodological approach:
  • Policy consultation and dialogue between partner- country stakeholders: the main thematic areas, strategic approaches to thematic areas, and preliminary ideas for projects emerged from regular consultations, usually a series of workshops. In addition to stakeholder meetings, they also held videoconferences and electronic conferences (via e-mail);
  • A participative open call for proposals: through an open call for proposals, 36 reciprocal projects were selected for implementation at the local level. Once a year, a call for proposals was issued for projects from local communities;
  • Promotion of exchanges of knowledge and experience among projects: reciprocal projects, guidelines, workshops, feedback seminars, and training workshops between Benin, Bhutan and Costa Rica were systematized;
  • Management arrangements among countries: the nucleus of the programme was formed by the national mechanisms designated by the Governments of Benin, Bhutan and Costa Rica, which were responsible for the programme’s daily management in their respective countries. Each national mechanism had its own administrative implementation budget. Overall administration was the responsibility of the secretariat, whose main roles included implementing management board decisions, monitoring progress, administering funds, preparing and storing official documents (multi-year plans, annual reports, annual audits), and promoting programme results and impact. At the top, the Joint Committee, comprised of high-level government and civil society representatives from each partner country, provided political support and policy direction to enhance implementation, viability, sustainability and, eventually, the enlargement of the South-South partnership and concept; and
  • Triangular cooperation: the Embassy of the Netherlands in Costa Rica was kept informed of programme activities and decisions and was free to offer suggestions or express reservations at any point in the process. The Embassy received financial and technical reports and was often consulted by the programme’s staff in Costa Rica.
The value of allowing the Southern partners to take ownership was reflected in the impressive results achieved. The programme involved over 180 organizations, and more than 200 community- based organizations benefited. It recognized that the participation of local and community organizations ensured project continuation in the medium and long terms by creating a strong sense of ownership among the stakeholders. Sustainable Development Goal targets: 5.a, 5.b, 5.c, 5.5, 7.a, 7.b, 12.a, 12.2, 12.8, 13.b, 13.1, 13.3, 15.a, 15.1, 15.4, 15.9, 17.14, 17.15, 17.17, 17.18 Countries / territories involved: Benin, Bhutan, Costa Rica Supported by: Netherlands Implementing entities: Benin: Centre de partenariat et d’expertise pour le développement durable; Bhutan: Sustainable Development Secretariat; Costa Rica: Fundecooperación para el Desarrollo Sostenible (FUNDECOOPERACIÓN) (the Programme secretariat) Project status: Completed Project period: 2007 to 2012 URL of the practice: Related resources: Contact: Name: Ms. Marianella Feoli, Executive Director, Fundecooperación para el Desarrollo Sostenible Email: