The ‘Digital Platforms as Tools for Enhancing South-South and Triangular Cooperation Towards the SDGs’ webinar, organised by the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG), took place on 13 February 2020. The session discussed the importance of digital platforms for strengthening South-South knowledge sharing and collaboration among development practitioners, and for increasing the cohesiveness of UN agencies’ support in this area of work. Experiences in using digital platforms for knowledge exchange and South-South and triangular cooperation were shared. Two existing global platforms, the South-South Galaxy and socialprotection.org, were presented, and speakers discussed opportunities, challenges and some lessons learned in managing these platforms.
Speakers were Ian Thorpe (chief of Learning and Knowledge Exchange Section at UNICEF), Xiaojun Grace Wang (deputy director for Programme and Operations at the UNOSSC), and Mariana Balboni (senior project officer at the IPC-IG). The session was moderated by Martha Santos (programme manager for South-South and triangular cooperation at UNICEF).
The potential of digital platforms in supporting SSC
A large part of South-South cooperation (SSC) exchange activities still consists of face-to-face conferences, study visits, training courses, among others. These types of interaction are very costly and demand the allocation of a large amount of human resources to prepare and attend these events. In this context, there is a lot of potential to the use of technology to lower the costs and make the knowledge and expertise exchange process simpler.
Ian Thorpe began his presentation emphasising that despite the advances made in the last few years, there are still many gaps to be filled by digital platforms in supporting SSC. Online platforms can facilitate the interaction between individuals and institutions from Southern countries willing to learn and share their expertise. These platforms can also offer solutions for institutions from the global South, allowing them to gather documents and resources that capture their experiences and best practices in a virtual and accessible place.
Another key potential area for digital platforms is to promote the connection of experts and professionals engaged with institutions and organisations focused on SSC. Practitioners from different locations also have the need to engage with fellow specialists and researchers to exchange experiences and learn from different examples in a more organic way. To address these demands and facilitate interaction, digital platforms can build communities of practice.
Even though there is a lot of potential for digital platforms in SSC, it is important to consider that there is already a range of platforms offering similar services and tools and many more are being developed. For those willing to enter the competition, the speaker highlighted some key points that must be taken into consideration:
- to have a clear purpose and targeted audience;
- to design tools and resources that meet users’ needs;
- to offer exclusive features and instruments, that do not replicate those already provided by other platforms;
- to complement the online resources with more direct interaction, through webinars, online meetings and conferences;
- to have dedicated and trained human resources to keep the platform updated and working.
The South-South Galaxy platform
The South-South Galaxy was designed to be a reliable space for knowledge-sharing and interaction between South-South cooperation partners. Its search function links existing platforms developed by UN agencies with other southern actors, and the platform’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) learns about users’ behaviors and interests to provide relevant content.
The presenter Xiaojun Grace Wang highlighted that the South-South Galaxy aims at following the SSC principle of horizontality, by presenting every partner in an equal manner. In addition to publications, research papers, news and a space for e-discussions, the Platform offers more than 250 examples of “solutions” from all regions in the global South and provides a direct link to connect to their owners/organisations.
In terms of partnership brokering, the users can access information on available funding mechanisms, capacity building initiatives and leverage partnerships to strengthen human and institutional resources. The users can also count on South-South Galaxy to connect with consultants that offer high-quality advisory services on the application of knowledge to bolster their capacities.
South-South Galaxy can be used at three different levels: global, regional and country. At a global level, the platform serves as a centralised node for the dissemination of knowledge, as well as a follow-up mechanism for events and a tool for taking stock of global actors. For UN regional teams, partners and commissions, South-South Galaxy facilitates the identification and sharing of good practices within and across regions, enabling the creation of regional networks of technical experts. At a country level, it helps national governments and other partners access and disseminate information, easing engagement of national practitioners and promoting exchanges and partnerships.
For the future, South-South Galaxy will be embedded into the forthcoming UN Strategy on SSC. The platform pretends to continue enhancing their engagement modalities and searching for more ways to collaborate with existing partners. They will continue expanding partnerships and userbase within the UN system and beyond, engaging governments, businesses and other social entrepreneurs to facilitate access markets and engage in the global e-value chain.
The socialprotection.org platform
The socialprotection.org platform is an unbranded and member-based network of practitioners and institutions focused on South-South cooperation. Mariana Balboni provided an overview of the platform, which was created in 2015, and today has more than 4,800 members and 1,300 stakeholders. Through its digital tools and features, socialprotection.org promotes knowledge-sharing and capacity building on effective social protection policies and programmes and has established a global community that promotes synergies and collaboration among institutions, policymakers and individual consultants and researchers.
One of the most prominent tools of socialprotection.org is the webinar feature. The platform hosts weekly webinars in collaboration with organisations and social protection experts from all over the world. It also hosts livestreams of international conferences and events, and e-courses on social protection topics following different methodologies. Until now, it has offered more than 110 webinars, 13 livestreams and nine completed e-courses.
Along with a database of publications, news, job opportunities, events and programme profiles, socialprotection.org publishes blogs from both enthusiasts and recognised authors on relevant social protection topics and themes. Aiming to promote expert debates and encourage interactions among social protection practitioners, the platform also hosts more than 50 online communities managed by a range of organisations and institutions. The speaker also pointed out the ways socialprotection.org is supporting SSC, specifically through knowledge sharing and capacity building.
With more than 4 years of experience supporting SSC, socialprotection.org has plenty of lessons to share. Working with constantly evolving technologies, it is essential to keep up-to-date with tools that improve performance and strengthen capacity, always having in mind that connectivity is still a challenge for low-income countries. It is also very important to develop a range of clear, concise and user-friendly guidelines to inform and assist users, and to incorporate developments smoothly to ensure that users understand the improvements.
When catering to a global audience, adaptability and flexibility to national and regional specificities are key, as well as translation and provision of content in multiple languages, since socialprotection.org is used by policymakers from all over the world. As a member-based platform, socialprotection.org encourages its members to upload content which is carefully revised by socialprotection.org team to ensure quality of material. Moreover, the platform delivers tailored communications to members to boost user engagement.
For 2020, the socialprotection.org’s team is working on the development of self-paced online courses, podcasts and a direct system of messages among its members. Social protection country profiles and information on academic courses regarding social protection and related-themes will also be incorporated into the platform.
This webinar was concluded with an interactive Q&A session, which can be accessed here.