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How developing countries can empower themselves to navigate the challenges of global cooperation

Developing countries must work together to find the positives amidst the challenges.

Developing countries must work together to find the positives amidst the challenges. Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Ginelle Greene-Dewasmes
Community Specialist, Global Shapers Community, World Economic Forum Geneva
Keren Wilson
Institutional Research Analyst and Planning Officer, University of the West Indies St. Augustine
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  • Developing countries face disadvantages in global cooperation due to limited resources and historical imbalances.
  • Embracing strategies, such as alliances, technology transfer, diversifying partnerships, advocacy and cultural diplomacy, can and have helped developing countries overcome challenges and enhance their global participation.
  • Through proactive measures, developing countries can ensure that their unique perspectives and needs are recognized and integrated into global solutions.

Spurred by similar goals of inspiring and driving multi-stakeholder action on the world’s most pressing issues, a number of global summits have or are taking place this year. These gatherings range from topics such as politics, business and the economy (APEC, BRICS Summit, CHOGM, G7 Summit, G20 Summit, and the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting); finance (IMF and World Bank Annual Meetings); regional cooperation (APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, ASEAN Summit, Conference of Heads of Government CARICOM and Euro Summit); sustainable development, peace and security (SDIM 23, Munich Security Conference, UNGA); environment and climate change (Climate Week, COP); and health (World Health Assembly).

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Global cooperation via platforms, such as the Forum's SDIM 23, UNGA and Climate Week, play a pivotal role in addressing complex challenges that transcend national boundaries. However, developing countries often face disadvantages within these cooperative frameworks. This is often due to factors such as limited resources, unequal power dynamics and historical imbalances. Despite these challenges, developing nations can adopt several strategies to overcome these disadvantages and actively participate in and benefit from global cooperation.

Overcoming global cooperation disadvantages

1. South-South cooperation

Developing countries can foster alliances among themselves to share experiences, knowledge and resources. The Climate Vulnerable Forum’s collective voice, for example, has compelled larger economies to acknowledge the disproportionate impact of climate change on vulnerable nations and played a pivotal role in pushing for the inclusion of the 1.5°C temperature limit in the Paris Agreement.

Similarly, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), enables nations to address shared challenges through mutual support. This can include, the exchange of knowledge, resources and expertise, enabling countries to leverage their shared experiences and address common challenges. With minimal resources, AOSIS member states helped to establish the Green Climate Fund and secure a review process to strengthen the goal of limiting global warming to the 1.5°C limit.

And, this year, four regional Climate Weeks will be held across Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia-Pacific. The plan is to build momentum ahead of COP28 and the conclusion of the first global stocktake towards fulfilling the Paris Agreement’s key goals. Also momentous was the joining of the African Union to the G20 facilitated by the 2023 host country India. This powerfully demonstrates the continued recognition of how mutual support between developing countries can significantly impact the international stage.

2. Specialized alliances

Forming specialized alliances allows developing nations to focus on specific issues that directly affect them. These alliances enable countries to pool their resources and knowledge for targeted solutions. India’s localisation of the sustainable development goals provides a valuable example. The state of Telangana partnered with international actors, such as the UNDP and UNICEF, in its engagement of bottom-up participatory planning, implementation and evaluation of SDG achievement based on localised goals and indicators.


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3. Technology transfer and capacity building

Access to technology and capacity building are crucial for equitable participation in global cooperation. Developing countries can engage in cooperative efforts and share technical expertise and knowledge with nations facing similar challenges. Organizations, such as the UN Environment Programme, for example, through its Climate Technology Centre and Network, has supported a number of developing countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean through its Technology Transfer Projects that encourage and support adapting to and mitigating climate change through technical assistance, such as workshops and training programmes.

4. Public-private-partnerships (PPPs)

Public-private engagement through PPPs can help bridge funding gaps and bring innovative solutions for targeted development projects. For example, India and Singapore, alongside 11 other government partners representing more than 50% of global gross domestic product, have joined the World Economic Forum’s First Movers Coalition (FMC). Through the FMC’s work programme, India and Singapore benefit from activities supporting their national heavy industry decarbonization goals. This is done via the support of fellow government partners, such as the United States and Sweden; knowledge and implementation partners, such as Boston Consulting Group and South Pole; and industry input and sector commitments, such as in aviation and steel made by the FMC and major global corporation members.

5. Diversification of partnerships

Developing countries can enhance their global cooperation by expanding their partnerships beyond traditional allies. Collaborating with a diverse set of nations and organizations can provide a broader range of opportunities and resources. For instance, the COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery Partnership is an inter-agency partnership that works to accelerate vaccination coverage with a keen focus on countries that were at or below 10% coverage in January 2022. This initiative facilitated increased vaccination coverage in 34 countries across Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Caribbean.

6. Advocacy and cultural diplomacy

Effective advocacy and diplomacy are key to levelling the playing field in global cooperation. Developing countries can form alliances, participate in international forums and engage in diplomatic efforts to raise their concerns and priorities. The Group of 77 (G77) has successfully negotiated for fair trade practices, debt relief and increased development assistance. And, its diplomacy has led to important agreements, such as the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on financing for development. Coalitions such as the G77 exemplify how strategic advocacy and diplomacy can empower developing nations to influence global discourse and policies.

Through sharing cultural heritage, such as arts, literature and events, nations can foster mutual understanding and strengthen diplomatic ties that could be further leveraged for national interest. The Korean Wave, or Hallyu, for example, has contributed to South Korea's soft power and increased its global influence via K-pop music, K-drama and other cultural exports that have captivated global audiences, leading to improved international cooperation. The widespread appeal of K-pop has led to cultural exchanges, joint ventures and collaborations between South Korea and other countries.

Global cooperation is essential for addressing the complex challenges that transcend national borders. While developing countries may face unique disadvantages as a result, they can overcome these challenges by adopting innovative strategies that leverage their strengths, build partnerships and amplify their voices on the global stage. By embracing South-South cooperation, technology transfer, PPPs, regional integration, diverse partnerships, advocacy, cultural diplomacy and localised SDGs, these nations can ensure that their unique perspectives and needs are recognized and integrated into global solutions and, in doing so, contribute to shaping a better future for all.

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World Economic Forum

May 21, 2024

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