South-South Cooperation and Volunteering

South-South cooperation and volunteering

What is the issue and why is it relevant to volunteering?

Volunteering and South-South cooperation (SSC) share the “common principles of ‘mutuality, reciprocity, respect and equality’ and […] have the potential to promote participatory and needs-based approaches to development, while cultivating global citizens and strengthening people to people ties.” (UNV, 2020)

Based on the 2016 ‘Framework of Operational Guidelines on United Nations Support to South-South and Triangular Cooperation’ (SSC/19/3), SSC refers to the technical cooperation among two or more developing countries through exchanging knowledge, skills, resources and technical know-how and through regional and interregional collective actions, including partnerships involving governments, regional organizations, civil society, academia, the private sector and other relevant actors.

As an international cooperation modality that strengthens SSC, triangular cooperation (TrC) is “collaboration in which traditional donor countries and multilateral organizations facilitate South-South initiatives through the provision of funding, training, management and technological systems as well as other forms of support” (United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation – UNOSSC).

South-South and triangular cooperation (SSTC) and volunteerism are mutually reinforcing concepts. Experienced volunteers with transferable skills enable people-oriented knowledge exchange among countries of the Global South. Close interaction between international volunteers from the Global South and local communities also helps localize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

For more information on SSC, please visit South-South Galaxy (UNOSSC): South-South Galaxy is a global knowledge-sharing and partnership-brokering platform, supported by UNOSSC, United Nations organizations and development partners. It serves as a consolidated South-South solutions platform for Southern partners and the United Nations system, and acts as a one-stop-shop for all partners to utilize.

What are the challenges and opportunities?

Challenges and opportunities around South-South and triangular cooperation (SSTC) and volunteering include:


  • Top-down power dynamics between sending and receiving countries may limit the effectiveness of SSTC.
  • There is insufficient recognition of volunteering’s contribution to promoting SSTC.
  • The policy frameworks to create an enabling environment for SSC through volunteering in countries of the Global South need to be established.



  • Support the development of strong volunteering modalities and infrastructure to promote SSC in the Global South.
  • Promote research on South-South volunteering and its added value in supporting the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs.
  • Encourage countries of the Global South to engage volunteers in SSC initiatives.
  • Strengthen knowledge exchanges between South-South volunteers to build the network and gain practical experience to tackle local development issues.


What is UNV doing?

UNV is a strong advocate of South-South cooperation (SSC). Since its creation, UNV has promoted international volunteer exchanges to foster knowledge-sharing and capacity-building across countries in the Global South.

In 2020, UNV deployed 2,570 international UN Volunteers from countries of the Global South to support peace and development worldwide. Currently, UNV is partnering with United Nations organizations, such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UN Women, to promote South-South volunteering and support special initiatives in the priority areas of development, such as COVID-19 response and recovery, digital transformation and capacity-building of youth.

UNV is also promoting SSC by working with UNOSSC as the group member of the United Nations Inter-Agency Mechanism for South-South and Triangular Cooperation to support the development of SSC strategies, including the ‘United Nations System-Wide Strategy on South-South and Triangular Cooperation for Sustainable Development’.

What does the evidence say?

“South-South cooperation and volunteerism can drive forward sustainable development at a time when solidarity between people and communities is more important than ever.” (UNV, 2020)

South-South volunteering and inclusive development

  • Increased collaboration between neighbouring countries and interregionally – with volunteerism at its root – will help reap the greatest development benefits.
  • Southern countries have their own development approaches and volunteer cultures. Volunteer exchanges in the Global South promote the sharing and extension of common development pathways.
  • The ideal of reciprocity embedded in volunteers’ relationships with communities is a defining feature that makes international volunteering different from other forms of international aid. Diverse international volunteer partnerships offer meaningful alternatives over less equitable forms of aid.
  • The South-South exchange programmes produced the following benefits for partner organizations: institutional strengthening, adoption of good practices, closer interaction among partner organizations, acquisition of physical resources, creation of new partnerships and strengthening of weak partners.
  • Southern understandings of volunteerism and homegrown Southern volunteering solutions provide transferrable and replicable good practices among countries of the Global South.

Youth development

  • The youthful energy and ‘green’ enthusiasm of informal volunteers may greatly enhance otherwise mundane and routine services typically administered by full-time staff or long-term professional volunteers.
  • While international volunteers with varying capacities can contribute to organizations and communities in the Global South, they must nevertheless have sufficient and specific knowledge, skills and capacities to meet the development needs of Southern partners.
  • Youth volunteerism under SSC projects or programmes fulfilled the dual goals of contributing to community and national development and building volunteers’ skills. Volunteers were also able to develop networks that helped secure employment.

Gender and inclusion

  • South-South volunteers note that delivering a quality service depends on the recruitment and retention of volunteers, as well as learning and gender sensitivity.
  • One concern is that the hope that South-South volunteering would be a more equal or independent mode of cooperation is challenged by signs of that the racialized and gendered imaginaries of mainstream, Northern-led development persist.
  • Local volunteers can support inclusive, participatory approaches to South-South projects, gathering data and mobilizing grass-roots communities to ensure that all needs are assessed and met. International volunteers can channel the unique experiences and technical expertise from one developing country to another.
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