Capacity Development: A Transformative Approach from Triangular Cooperation


PhD Candidate in International Studies at Universidad Torcuato Di Tella

Much has been written in the last year about the problems and consequences generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, many of these problems already existed in Latin America and we usually include them in the structural issues that need to be resolved: lack of development, inequality, high rates of poverty, low productivity, corruption, deficiencies in access to health and education. Just to visualize: the region experienced in 2020 the largest economic contraction of the last 100 years with a reduction of 8%, unemployment rate was close to 10% and there are more than 200 million people in a situation of poverty. Latin America is the most indebted region in the world -79% of GDP- and the most affected by COVID-19 with almost 30% of global deaths1.

We are facing a two-sided scenario: the pandemic has magnified the challenges and problems in the region; at the same time, we are witnessing a unique moment that offers us a window of opportunity for improvement. But, what does this opportunity means for the development of international cooperation? We know the answer: the focus must be in the implementation of new approaches that allow us to transform cooperation and consolidate the transition towards a more transversal and inclusive model.

None of these ideas or concepts are new. The paradigm shift in international cooperation, particularly promoted by the global south, has many followers and is mainly driven by the idea of optimizing the benefits it generates and the sustainable results according to the context of each case. New tools are needed to make cooperation a more efficient instrument of international development.

Triangular cooperation is one of these instruments and has a strong relationship with capacity development. We need to work for an effective triangular cooperation that allows us to reduce capacity gaps. Therefore, it is necessary to understand that the approach should not be the one we have had so far; it is time to complete the transition.

According to SEGIB, triangular cooperation is a modality in which a set of actors share the exercise of the roles of provider -first and second- and recipient. At the same time, all are capable of making different types of contributions (technical, financial or other)2.So, is it possible to say that triangular cooperation favors process and dynamics that generate capacity development? Definitely, yes. Triangular cooperation implies capacity development because it builds on existing knowledge and skills, being flexible, comprehensive and seeking sustainable results.

It is necessary to think about diversifying the actors involved, expanding the levels at which cooperation works and including multiple sectors to guarantee capacity development. Triangular cooperation means giving multidimensional answers to complex problems while seeking ambitious results.

Regardless of income level, all countries face development challenges. The UNOSSC was very clear on this: “no country is too economically poor to provide assistance and share experiences, and no country is too rich to learn from others”3. The focus is less on financing and more on the possibilities offered by cooperation for the exchange of good practices and capacity development.

In this way, capacity development is closely linked to the expansion of South-South cooperation -including triangular modality- and its broader, cross-cutting and comprehensive approach. Within this framework, initiatives and strategies are adapted to the challenges and opportunities of each region. Obviously, this approach doesn´t ignore the fact that many of the problems respond to global issues.

This opportunity of change, improve and consolidate new cooperation models that arises during the pandemic allows us to link the emergency requirements with medium and long-term commitments, testing cooperation instruments that facilitate capacity development.

The reduction of the capacity gap implies promoting less asymmetric cooperation mechanisms that include horizontal processes and tools that favor appropriation by recipient actors. Triangular cooperation helps to increase shared sense of responsibility and deepen partnership. This is only possible when there is capacity development and, as a result, the capacity gap is reduced.

The differential feature of triangular cooperation is determined by the role of the first provider, who acts as the main responsible for strengthening capacities. According to the latest data presented on iberoamerican South-South and triangular cooperation, 15 of the 18 countries involved have participated in initiatives as the first supplier. At the same time, analyzing sectors, 23% of the initiatives focus on institutional strengthening and capacity development.

The response capacity and success of public institutions - first actors questioned by the pandemic - is being tested. For Latin America, the challenge of the post-pandemic will be focused on understanding and adopting new dynamics that guarantee capacity development to generate efficient programs and partnerships that improve indicators related to structural problems. The new consensus on triangular cooperation exists, it is time to deepen the articulation and implementation.

1CEPAL, 2021.
2SEGIB, 2020
3UNOSSC, 2020.