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World Bank – Investing in South-South knowledge exchange


World Bank

Country (ies):



The South-South Experience Exchange Trust Fund (SEETF) is a flexible funding mechanism to facilitate just-in-time knowledge and experience exchanges among development practitioners. The Facility is designed to respond to specific demands from low-income countries that want to learn from their counterparts in other developing countries.


The incubation of the Facility was based on a real story where a need for a mechanism to facilitate cross-regional South-South exchange was apparent. As Nigeria's Minister of Finance (2003-06), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala approached the World Bank to learn from other countries on pension system reform. At the time, the World Bank had no ready way of accommodating Dr. Okonjo-Iweala's request. Only through her own personal network with the WB, was Dr. Okonjo-Iweala finally connected to the right counterparts in Chile who were able to quickly provide the knowledge needed for action.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala's experience is shared by many of her former colleagues in developing-country governments around the world. Greater access to information coupled with the rise of countries like Korea to the OECD, and the BRICS as emerging donors is fueling the demand for successful development experiences and horizontal learning. Increasingly both Low Income Countries (LICs) and Middle Income Countries (MICs) are looking to development institutions to broker supply and demand for successful development experiences.

When Dr. Okonjo-Iweala rejoined the World Bank Group as Managing Director in 2007, one of her first initiatives was to develop and launch the multi-donor South-South Experience Trust Fund (SEETF)—a demand-driven, flexible, just-in-time funding mechanism for low-income countries to learn and share their knowledge and experience across regions. Unlike traditional technical support mechanisms, the SEETF supports the realization that solutions can be shared horizontally—across countries and regions that experience common development issues.

Launched just over a year ago, the SEETF has transitioned from being a stand-alone trust fund to being a mainstay in the World Bank's new South-South Platform – a dedicated unit geared towards supporting the regions with the brokering, design, delivery and M&E of South-South exchanges.

While the title of the Trust Fund stresses South-South exchanges, it is important to note that the term "South-South Exchange" refers to the idea of peer/ horizontal learning between developing countries. "South-South" should not be literally interpreted as a geographical reference and, in the context of the trust fund, includes exchange between countries within the same region, as well as East-West, South-East, North-South, South-North, etc…


The trust fund addresses an array of development challenges. Grant proposals are prepared based on written letters of demand from country governments and in line with established country-sector priorities. Examples of successful and completed grants include projects ranging from a multinational conference and marketplace addressing the issue of at-risk youth in the Caribbean to a study tour involving an African delegation of policy makers and business leaders to India to learn about business process outsourcing and Information and Communication Technology services. All proposals are cleared with the acknowledgement that exchanges are to contribute to concrete actions, such as policy decisions or the enactment of new legislation.

At start up, six donors including Mexico, China, UK, Denmark, Spain, and The Netherlands – two of which are Middle Income Countries (MICs), contributed a total of $4.35M, which is fully committed to 30 grants, of which 22 are currently under implementation and 8 have been completed. A funding target of $10-15M per year has been set to respond to expected demand through FY13. India has recently joined as a new donor. Together with renewed contributions from Denmark and UK, funding projections are expected to increase by another $2 million in the next 3 months.

The demand for grant funding has generally been distributed equally across regions and sectors. However, supply comes predominantly (58%) from MICS in the LAC and EAP regions. Of the learning instruments planned/ used, 94% of the grants include some sort of study tour, though 58% of all the projects include other instruments such as workshops, training modules, video conferencing, and round table discussions.

In an effort to minimize transaction costs of project preparation and better meet the objective of in-time responsiveness, SEETF has now developed a leaner proposal and approval process and offers support services throughout the project lifecycle. Activities under the SEETF are demand-driven and approved on a rolling basis - on a first-come, first serve timeline. Applicants in collaboration with their World Bank Country Offices generate a request to send to the respective Regional South-South Learning Coordinators (RSSC) for project feasibility. To ensure a smooth and quick approval process, the Regional South-South Coordinator of the requesting country coordinates with other RSSCs to discuss specifics of the Idea Brief (IB) to capture and highlight the learning exchange well before the proposal submission. Once the relevant RSSCs of the exchange have cleared the proposed project, a TTL is appointed to write an IB, which is then sent to the Oversight Committee (OC) for approval on a 3-day no-objection process. If approved, applicants are required to complete the learning exchange in 6 months.

Upon completion, World Bank Task Team Leads (TTLs) submit completion reports and other materials for an online Learning Library (still under construction). The Secretariat supports this process ensuring that the South-South community can gain access to relevant knowledge and sector practitioners.

SEETF is a Bank Executed Trust Fund, as opposed to the Recipient Trust Fund. The difference lies in that money from the trust fund is distributed directly to the TTL to expedite and oversee projects.


The SEETF is a fast and light instrument that complements the Bank's institutional lending approach and lends itself to being implemented on a much larger scale. During the SEETF's initial pilot phase, demand for the program far outweighed available funding. This has led to an increased funding target from about $US4 million/year to US$10-15 million/year over a three-year mainstreaming period.

New institutional mechanisms have been put in place to support this scale-up effort. Under its new strategy, the World Bank Institute—the World Bank's principal provider of learning activities—has dedicated a special unit for South-South Exchange which serves as a One-Stop Shop supporting regions with the brokering, design, delivery and M&E of South-South exchanges.

At the same time, innovative mechanisms are emerging to facilitate South-South exchanges, including, 1) a new South-South Working Group in the Latin American and Caribbean Region; 2) conversations amongst the BRICS WB Country; and 3) an axis focused on the South-South dimension of the Aid Effectiveness agenda consisting of WBI and the World Bank's Operations Policy and Country Services (OPCS) unit. Amidst these efforts, the SEETF Oversight Committee, consisting of Regional Coordinators, WBI and WB's Concessional Finance and Global Partnerships unit (CFP), has emerged as a very useful Bank-wide coordination mechanism on South-South Cooperation and Exchange.

The SEETF has helped the World Bank realize the important and unique role it can play as a 'global connector' by responding to countries' demands to learn from one another – especially when countries span multiple regions. This is especially appealing to more developed MICs. The World Bank intends to significantly scale up existing mechanisms for LIC exchanges and to introduce new instruments to respond to MIC demands.

Aid Effectiveness:

The SEETF is set up based on key aid effectiveness principles. First and foremost, it is country and demand-driven. SEETF support is initiated only upon receipt of a letter from the relevant Ministry in the requesting partner country. The assessment criteria for approval places weight on alignment with the country's sector priorities and looks to achieving concrete outputs. Based on the limited implementation experience to date, SEETF has been instrumental in matching country's demand for knowledge and experience in specific and specialized areas.

The SEETF support is mainly catalytic, with the requesting partner taking ownership, sharing accountability and assuming responsibility for managing for results. However, as SEETF is set up as a Bank Executed Trust Fund to expedite and oversee projects following established World Bank rules, Bank TTLs and WBI's South-South Knowledge Exchange team provide technical support to ensure that project choice meets the needs of requesting country and supports its policy priorities.

Outreach is being made to multilateral and bilateral development partners who are engaged in South-South knowledge exchange and capacity building. At the same time, efforts are underway to harmonize with partners in the facilitation of exchanges, M&E, and expanding the South-South knowledge platform. This effort will continue as a key component of World Bank operations.

SEETF has been instrumental in matching demand for country defined knowledge and experience in specific and specialized areas such as new economy skills for information and communication technologies and technical exchanges on special economic zones, with supply from a range of developing countries such as India, China, Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam, which are in the best position to provide it. In a sense, the SEETF has facilitated a brokering function that draws upon the World Bank Group's regional and cross regional knowledge base.

To achieve broader development impact, the SEETF's catalytic function can be followed up by projects with better defined and more detailed development objectives. These impacts should be tracked in supervision and assessed at evaluation.

Capacity Development:

The SEETF emphasizes demand-driven, just-in-time knowledge and experience exchange. The focus of SEETF funded projects is on learning and capacity building. Early results in capacity development include:
  • • Following the Africa-China exchange on Special Economic Zones, the leading Chinese telecom provider Huawei has committed to participate in the development of the Abuja Technology Village in Nigeria. As a result of the same grant, the Ghanaian government has shown interest to work with firms like Jurong International to develop a petrochemical hub in Western Ghana.
  • • As a result of the study tour to India by representatives from the 8 African countries that are part of the Bank's New Economy Skills for Africa Program for Information and Communication Skills (NESAP ICT), Kenya and Nigeria are implementing Software Developer Certification programs, while Tanzania has drafted a strategy on the role of ICTs in the national economy.
  • • As a result of the Boys Out Of Risk knowledge exchange in the Caribbean, a "Common Platform for Action" was established that has identified priorities at the individual and the country level and has achieved several commitments from individual country delegations to undertake concrete steps to keep boys out of risk during their education as well as the school-to-work transition.
To date, only 8 of the 30 grants have been completed. Documentation and dissemination of lessons learned varies. The SEETF secretariat has recently made changes to standardize documentation, consolidation and dissemination of knowledge gained with the objective of contributing to capacity development and good practice in thematic sectors as well as in the area of South-South Exchange as a practice in itself.

Encouraging as these follow up results are, it is recognized that more is needed to meet the challenge of improving the underlying conditions for capacity development. But SEETF can only play a part in this. The TF can be most effective at the front end, facilitating and supporting the processes of learning, absorption and integration of new knowledge and experiences in recipient partner country institutional processes and systems. The SEETF must be used in tandem with other mechanisms to engender changes that result in better service delivery through reforms, change management, and strengthening of government administrative structures.


Ongoing initiative; Launched October, 2008

Budget (Optional):

US$4.35 Million

Name of Primary Contact Person:

Gudrun Kochendorfer-Lucius

Title of Primary Contact Person:

Director, World Bank Institute Capacity Development and Partnerships Department


Washington, DC