Compelling Reasons Why I Should Appreciate Being Part of Other Countries’ Development Experiences

FROM: Zenebe B. Uraguchi - 20. July 2019

My job takes me to different places. In addition to the opportunity to contribute to ideas, it offers me new perspectives and experiences. Ups, downs and sideways, my job brings me closer to people.

Development cooperation has increasingly been described as “global partnership” between different countries, not just between those with resources (human, financial etc.) to support and those that seek to get the support. Building a better world will require all us to be “empathetic, inventive, passionate, and above all, cooperative.”

Yet, effective global partnership in a messy world needs the recognition that solutions mainly (if not all) come from people within the countries that aspire to have better lives – through determining their dignity and security and through the use of their resources in a sustainable manner. This isn’t naïve but realistic and justifiable.

In hindsight, what has been compelling for me is the opportunity to be part of the development pathways of different countries which I (and you as well) shouldn’t take for granted.

But what does this mean? How does such experience happen and what does it signify regarding the changing nature of international development cooperation?

From “tyranny of experts” to genuine collaborators

In a highly interdependent world, I think seeking durable development solutions by just sending experts to help others in the “South” is no longer a workable option.

Let me start with one simple example: as Saleemul Huq argues, “when it comes to climate adaptation, [developing countries] have the greatest expertise and other countries may benefit from learning from what they have done.”

It isn’t just contextual knowledge that “locals in the South” are capable of and ready to contribute. The knowledge in these countries constitutes understanding the complexity of development challenges and proposing and carrying out durable solutions. In this case, their knowledge forms part of the global knowledge.

Here’s an example from Helvetas’ experience in Kyrgyzstan on the topic of decentralization. When Helvetas wanted to enter into partnership, national Kyrgyz organizations asked proof of expertise of Helvetas in the area before they decided to work together. This implies not simply the question of either the lack or availability of expertise, but also the genuine desire to collaborate and add values in which national actors seek to hold the steering wheel and decide with whom they want to enter into partnerships.

It’s also interesting to learn from the example of Grameen Bank of Bangladesh – how developed countries are adapting the microfinance model. With increasing inequality, people in developed countries are also falling into poverty. The establishment of Grameen Nippon in Japan demonstrated the importance of learning from others to address increasing inequality, especially among low-income earners and single-parent families.

There is no denying that development actors from the “North” have been important players within the international development architecture. In a rapidly changing and complex development landscape, their roles have evolved, which requires a renewed and strengthened collaboration with their partners in the Global South.

I believe the search for durable solutions through development partnership is shifting from the “we will help you” approach to “we contribute” and “we learn” from your experience. However, I don’t take this as an act of rebalancing the unequal relationships between Northern and Southern actors of development initiatives. Rather it’s about being part of this shift – in Kosovo, Moldova, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Jordan, etc. – and understanding how local systems and regional contexts operate.

This, for me, is witnessing and experiencing an important course of development cooperation. This’s where more opportunities exist to participate in, contribute to and learn from such evolving development paths. Without the intention of playing with words (i.e. semantics aside), the shift is characterized not just by “transfer” but by “exchange” of knowledge, resources, technology, etc.  

“South-South” and Triangular partnership  

Part of the learning from the development experiences of other countries is also how the North-South collaboration is broadening. South-South cooperation is an important case, which has been experimented for many decades. It’s about when two or more developing countries engage in individual and/or shared development objectives through exchanges of knowledge, skills, resources and technical know-how, and through regional and inter-regional collective actions.

Triangular partnership is the facilitation role that Norther Partners can take in South–South cooperation. This fits in well with one of the key principles of systemic approach – taking a facilitative role! As we go along, perhaps Northern development actors may need to relinquish a command-and-control approach – that is, not doing things by themselves and/or avoiding the temptation to tell others what to do.

Here’s a remarkable example that shows a clear leap from rhetoric to action. Through more than 40 years of collaboration with Switzerland, Nepalese engineers have become world experts in trail bridge construction. Since 2008, Nepalese engineers have been collaborating with their counterparts in Burundi, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Laos, Vietnam and elsewhere.

South-South collaboration isn’t a substitute to other forms of partnerships, nor is it a political and economic patronage. It’s a recognition of the growing expertise among developing countries and the need to facilitate peer-to-peer exchanges. It isn’t also new, but part of efforts that strengthen the different paths that development cooperation should and will take.

From mere appreciation to documenting and sharing

While I’m grateful for being part of the development experiences of different countries, it’s also important to document and share such a wonderful experience.

There’re a lot of people in the development community, including Helvetas, who have rich experience of being part of the development trajectories of different counties. Such experience, I believe, provides answers to the critical challenges that different countries face. But what bothers me is that most of our knowledge or experience is tacit. It’s only available to us and perhaps to a narrow circle of our colleagues.

Knowledge must be accessible. It’s our responsibility to tell the story of our shared experiences of working and exchanging with different countries and regions of the world.

I’ll be in Ethiopia in August and September 2019. I plan to see and document the collaboration between Nepalese and Ethiopian engineers. I hope this will deepen my experience of being part of others’ development paths and increase my understanding of development as a complex process.         

Additional Sources


Cover picture: @Pixabay

Programme Manager, East Europe, South Caucuses & Western Balkans; Senior Advisor, Sustainable & Inclusive Economies