Trilateral Cooperation Experiences and Challenges - Seminar Brasilia 2017
The Brazilian Co-operation Agency (ABC) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
(OECD) organised an international seminar on “Trilateral Co-operation – Experiences and Challenges” in Brasilia on 6 to
8 November 2017. Along with Brazil, the seminar brought together representatives from OECD, Canada, Chile,
European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, United
Kingdom, and the United States of America as well as the Islamic Development Bank. Ambassador João Almino,
Director of ABC, and Jorge Moreira da Silva, Director of the OECD’s Development Co-operation Directorate (DCD),
opened this dialogue.
The objectives of the seminar were to:
Discuss the concept of trilateral co-operation as a horizontal partnership in which all parties can take up different
roles and contribute according to their capacities.
Discuss the role of trilateral co-operation to forge new partnerships and mechanisms of development
Take stock of what has been learned in trilateral co-operation and assess how this knowledge can feed back into
different systems of development co-operation.
Link operational lessons and challenges to the strategic discussion on trilateral co-operation.
Three key messages emerged during the seminar:
Key message 1: Trilateral co-operation can contribute to achieving all Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in all
regions, yet this contribution is not widely recognised. More evidence and analyses are needed to raise awareness of
its contribution and to make full use of and mainstream trilateral co-operation as a means to achieve the SDGs.
Panelists presented their experiences of trilateral co-operation contributing to achieving the SDGs, for instance
the ‘green’ SDGs (Goals 7, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15) and addressing different SDGs through trilateral co-operation as a
component of larger development co-operation programmes, such as EU regional programmes, e.g. EUROsociAL, or
the Islamic Development Bank’s reverse linkage. In this regard, the panelists reminded that trilateral co-operation is a
modality to achieve the SDGs, not an end in itself, and should be used when it suits the demand of the partner
countries best. Participants and panelists agreed that a new narrative to make trilateral co-operation more attractive in
contributing to global challenges is needed. They emphasised that trilateral co-operation can contribute to harmonising
efforts of different providers, reducing fragmentation and making good use of complementary technical, financial and
Key message 2: Trilateral co-operation informs a strategic dialogue on all three (or more) partners’ development
co-operation strategies and foreign policy goals. Partnerships between developed and developing countries often
follow the objective of bringing in a different position in the international community and can be scaled-up by
involving representatives from international organisations, the private sector or civil society.
Participants discussed that trilateral co-operation projects have different starting points and motivations. Some
bilateral co-operation projects are scaled-up to include a third or more partner(s) from governments or international
organsations – and often the ‘plus’ element of a fourth partner provides stability to the project; other trilateral
co-operation projects are conceptualised as umbrella programmes. For instance, the UK established development co-
operation programmes that include trilateral co-operation with emerging economies, such as Brazil, China, India and
South Africa, to learn about their approaches to development, and the European Commission created a facility for
trilateral co-operation with countries that have been phased out from EU bilateral development co-operation. Through
the German regional Fund for Triangular Co-operation in Latin America and the Caribbean, co-operation with Cuba can
be built up through Mexico’s facilitation. USAID complements bilateral projects with trilateral initiatives and builds on
cultural proximity. Spain’s dialogue on trilateral co-operation with Latin American is reflected in several Memoranda of
Understanding. The Mexican Co-operation Agency (AMEXCID) is benefitting from the experience that DFID gained in
Brazil to build up trilateral initiatives between the UK and Mexico. With a view to leveraging partnerships in an efficient
way, the Islamic Development Bank initiated a model of matching funds, for instance with Morocco - each US$ that
Morocco puts into a reverse linkage project is matched by one US$ by the Bank. Brazil has started engaging with its key
partners in a dialogue on global development partnerships that goes beyond the ongoing trilateral relationship, with a
view of combining an integrated approach and contributions on different levels.
These examples of how trilateral co-operation can be used strategically also raised some questions:
Does trilateral co-operation provide a safer space for dealing with policy issues? Through three or more partners
working together and exchanging knowledge, a relationship built on trust is built and allows addressing sensitive
When one of the partners comes with an idea backed with a lot of money, how free is the other side to say “no” -
how can trilateral co-operation provide a way of moving beyond a “donor-recipient” relationship in development
co-operation? The role and ownership of the beneficiary of trilateral initiatives can thus be crucial for breaking up
old roles and encouraging new approaches where each partner has knowledge to give and each partner can
receive and learn in return.
Key message 3: More feedback loops are needed that systematically transfer lessons learned in trilateral
co-operation into the different co-operation systems. Evidence from monitoring and evaluations would be valuable
Participants discussed that there are many strategic benefits of trilateral co-operation, but there can also be
operational challenges, such as higher transaction costs and increased co-ordination efforts. In this regard, participants
emphasised the important role of country offices as co-ordinators on the ground. There is a challgenge between
effectiveness, efficiency and accountability – especially when it comes to different national legal requirements.
Learning and flexibility to adapt were identified as key values in managing trilateral co-operation – calling for good
systems of knowledge management and organisational learning. Partners in trilateral co-operation should work
towards simplyfying, co-ordinating and creating synergies among their approaches to trilateral co-operation. As a
concrete case, the participants were updated on the evolution of the Global Partnership Initiative on effective
triangular co-operation (GPI) and how it was set up to provide a global platform for this modality, covering its strategic
and operational aspects. It is expected that GPI may provide inputs to BAPA +40 in 2019.
Participants discussed ways of measuring trilateral co-operation by assessing all contributions (in-kind and
financial) in a fair way, at both national and international level. Since no internationally agreed definition of trilateral
co-operation exists, it is difficult to agree on what should be measured: financial flows, time of experts working in the
project (using which standards?), travel or overhead costs (such as co-ordination efforts of ABC in the Brazilian case)?
Do we measure input, output, or impact of the projects? Participants agreed that the SDG framework provides some
indicators, but generally we need new indicators to measure development and partnership results in trilateral
co-operation. Better linking measuring, monitoring and evaluating projects could strengthen the evidence on the
results of trilateral co-operation.
Finally, participants shared their experiences with evaluating trilateral co-operation, for instance Germany
conducts ex post external evaluations for all its projects and attributes 3% of the project budget to M&E. The IsDB hires
external experts to evaluate their projects; while for some others it is difficult to set aside a budget for M&E and to
conduct evaluations that serve more than accountability purposes of assessing how the money was spent. Participants
discussed that the five OECD DAC evaluation criteria (relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, sustainability, and impact) are
well suited, however, with the participation of other partners following South-South cooperation principles, additional
specific criteria and questions for trilateral co-operation are needed to fully capture the project results. Spain is
designing an evaluation of the Joint Fund with Chile for 2018, guided by the criteria and principles that are promoted
by the Ibero-American Programme for the Strengthening of South-South Co-operation (PIFCSS).
Further strengthening collaboration
Portugal offered to host a meeting on trilateral co-operation, organised with the OECD, in Lisbon in mid-April
2018, with a view to following-up on the discussions in Brasilia, presenting and discussing first outcomes of the Global
Partnership Initiative on effective triangular co-operation and strengthening ties with the Ibero-American Programme
for the Strengthening of South-South Co-operation (PIFCSS).