Promoting urban equity in South-South and triangular cooperation: 'How do we do that?'

Tuesday's extremely rich special session on "Promoting Urban Equity in South-South and Triangular Cooperation" was a cornucopia of insights, both strategic and practical. One especially useful moment came during the panelists' introductory remarks, when Ford Foundation Vice President Xavier de Souza Briggs replied to the deceptively simple question "How do we do that?" with a survey of various mechanisms of cooperation — in effect, a typology of networks — and what functions each of them serves. His reply deserves close consideration; we provide it below.

Xavier de Souza Briggs: We were asked to think about what mechanisms are needed [in South-South and triangular cooperation] and what is emerging, what is developing that is noteworthy, with a focus on the equity agenda — or, as we would put it, a justice lens on the world's future and the future of cities. But before we get to mechanisms, we need an honest and hopefully creative conversation about what mechanisms are for, what exactly we're trying to accomplish.

Typically, we can provide a set of outcomes: we can reduce carbon footprint, we can reduce poverty, we can reduce inequalities. Those are vitally important, of course. But at another level, in any conversation about South-South and triangular cooperation, we need to talk about functions: what these mechanisms of cooperation exist to do, as a way of promoting equity.

In this regard, from our perspective, three things need to to be highlighted.

One is knowledge. It includes imagination, and a willingness to entertain unconventional ideas — truly bold and transformational ideas.

Two is commitment. It's different from knowledge; knowledge does not guarantee commitment. Commitment is vitally important. In our experience, both South-South and triangular cooperation can be hugely advantageous to building commitment.

Three is capability. You can be knowledgable and imaginative and even committed, but not yet capable.

Now, cooperation turns out to be crucial, or at least very helpful, for building capability. I'll very briefly illustrate.

On one hand, we have seen the emergence of a new generation of learning networks. These include government-to-government relationships; some of them are city-to-city; some of them are, of course, still nation-to-nation. It's more unusual for them to span those different levels — which introduces all sorts of new possibilities, but also introduces complexity in terms of managing the networks. These are learning-and-doing networks. There are many examples — some more focused on the climate crisis, some more focused on models of urban development that emphasize inclusion and equity — and they are getting smarter. But there is a question in my mind about whether we are yet able to distinguish networks that stop at exchanging practices from those that take another forward-leading step with building capability in a deep way, for doing challenging work on the ground. Not all networks have yet achieved that, for a variety of reasons.

Another kind of network is an influence network. Sometimes this means civil society organizations, precisely because they're not government, and they are leading. We're proud to work with and support a number of networks of this kind. They're helping to lead on their post-2015 development rules. They're helping to maintain a focus on the issue of justice, and what rights-based development means in a world of growing inequality.

Influence networks are different than some of the learning-and-doing networks. They're not typically focused on delivery. They don't deliver services, or necessarily build the financial models of tomorrow's cities. But they are helping to keep the conversation honest. They are exerting pressure on multilateral institutions. They're movement-builders.

And then you have some networks, such as Slum and Shack Dwellers International (SDI) — which is transnational: Latin America, Africa, and Asia — that is, I would say, multipurpose. [SDI] is an extremely important South-South network. It's a mechanism of cooperation. And it is deeply engaged in both the influence work (or advocacy, if you prefer) and in the learning-and-doing: co-creating solutions on the ground, tapping local knowledge, engaging slum dwellers themselves in producing solutions, and not merely exerting pressure on governments.

Finally, there are the multilateral institutions. We would be remiss not to articulate some of the agenda items, some of the high-stakes issues where the multilaterals are concerned. It seems to me we have a set of institutions invented literally in another century, the last one, for a somewhat different time. The purposes for which they were created are still vital: the larger cause of cooperation, including peer pressure, frankly, across national and other boundaries — toward higher standards, toward justice.

But we also see new players, and we need to take stock together of their presence, of their rise, and of what they are doing, of how they are practicing. I'm thinking, for example, of the rapidly growing portfolios and footprints of some of the newer bilateral development banks — the Chinese, the Brazilian development banks — that are neither governments, nor do they operate in quite the ways that the World Bank or the Inter-American Development Bank or some of the older development banks operate.

A conversation needs to be had about that. These are really critical actors. China is important in Africa, as I think everyone in this audience knows — and in Latin America, of course, and other parts of the world. The rise of China as a global power, the influence of its development finance institution, its agenda overall — all these things demand cooperation, because they're part of the changing context for both South-South and triangular cooperation.

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