“South-South Cooperation”- in the field of international development, this concept gets talked about and thrown around a lot, but what does it really mean?

The United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation defines it as a ‘broad framework for collaboration among countries in the South in the political, economic, social, cultural, environmental and technical domains’. The idea makes a lot of sense: it recognises that countries in the Global South are best placed to address the particular challenges they face and that they have a significant capacity to share their learning and experience with each other.

This is not a new concept, it’s been recognised for a while and has been happening for even longer. Despite this, it’s sometimes hard to understand what it means in practice.

I recently had the privilege of participating in a learning exchange visit of our colleagues in Bangladesh to our partner, Lepra in India. The purpose of this visit was for the team from Bangladesh to see and learn from the work happening in India, especially the lymphatic filariasis (LF) work, an area Bangladesh will be focusing more on in the future.

Over the course of a week the team from Bangladesh was hosted by staff in India and visited two referral centres and the head office for the Bihar and Jharkhand State programmes. The Bangladesh staff included physiotherapists, shoe technicians and project managers. At each place the physiotherapists worked with their Indian counterparts, learning from the way they work, especially how they work with people with LF. Likewise the shoe technicians sat together with the Indian shoe technicians discussing new materials and making new models of specialised LF shoes. The Project Managers met with their counterparts and stakeholders, discussing similarities, differences with their own approaches and the strengths and challenges of the Lepra in India way of working. The team from Bangladesh was also able to provide feedback and suggestions to their Indian partners, drawing from their own expertise and experience not far across the border.

The visit was invaluable. Why? I believe its success can be put down to the South-South nature of the knowledge exchange. The learning shared by the Indian team was in a context not vastly different from that in Bangladesh and the transfer of knowledge from Indians to Bangladeshis only had to cross a relatively small cultural gap. This enabled an extremely fertile environment for learning, understanding and ultimately applying lessons learnt to the work in Bangladesh. As the team in Bangladesh begin to work with people affected by LF they will be drawing on the rich experience of India, enabling them to begin building their own expertise on a strong foundation.

Hannah Ireland, Programmes Officer