The Programme for South-South Cooperation between Benin, Bhutan, Costa Rica and the Kingdom of the Netherlands (henceforth PSC) grew out of Bilateral Sustainable Development Agreements signed in 1994 between the Netherlands and each individual country. In 2005, based on the priorities agreed at the World Summit of Sustainable Development (Johannesburg) and the Millennium Development Goals, Costa Rica, Benin and Bhutan came under the umbrella of South-South Cooperation, with a US$13.2 million grant from the Kingdom of Netherlands. The PSC was meant to execute reciprocal projects of common interest between 2007 and 2011, focusing on four components of sustainable development: economic development, social development, environmental protection and gender equality. The objectives of PSC were to contribute toward the eradication of poverty, change in patterns of production and non-sustainable consumption, improvement of sustainable tourism, efficient use of energy and management and protection of natural resources. Gender equity was a crosscutting theme throughout all the projects, since this was a major concern in all partner countries. PSC strives to function as a political, administrative and financial framework to develop South-South Cooperation (SSC) with the intention of making this a replicable model.
The unique nature of this collaboration between countries in three different continents with vastly distinct languages, cultures and geographical settings has raised many eyebrows, but PSC has shown that with the right kind of planning, commitment, partners, and reciprocal respect this sort of South-South collaboration can produce impressive results on a very small budget. Language and cultural difference cease to matter when collaborators share their technology and knowledge in a reciprocal setting, and most beneficiaries have adapted the skills that they learned during PSC projects to improve their incomes in an environmentally sustainable manner.
While SSC is an innovative approach to development, the role of the North in this collaboration cannot be ignored. Traditional North-South cooperation, while commonly criticized for its problems, has developed essential tools of project management, organization and accounting that PSC has successfully applied in the SSC context. In other cases, many ideas being implemented in SSC were generated in the North and are not being adapted to the realities of the global South. PSC’s experience indicates that a trilateral North-South-South Cooperation based on mutual respect, reciprocity, participation and the willingness to teach and be taught can provide a new and improved path towards achieving global development goals.
The foreign policy and national plans of each partner countries incorporate SSC into their international relations agendas. This made possible the effective implementation of PSC on the development of each of the 36 reciprocal projects. However, it’s important to go further, this means that policy makers take into account the results and outcomes as a part of policy instruments.