The Benefits of South-South Knowledge Sharing for Asia-Pacific

Technicians working at an LED lighting factory in Guangdong, PRC.
Technicians working at an LED lighting factory in Guangdong, PRC.

By Fei Yu

The joint ADB-PRC Regional Knowledge Sharing Initiative is launching a website to serve as a platform for sharing the PRC’s experiences, methods, ideas and opinions on what works and what doesn’t in development.

ADB’s 50th anniversary is an appropriate time to acknowledge and celebrate the extraordinary progress throughout the Asia Pacific Region, the bank’s mandated focus for development assistance. When ADB was founded in 1966, most countries in Asia and the Pacific were impoverished, among them the People’s Republic of China (PRC) which today is the world’s second largest economy.

Fifty years ago, Asia-Pacific countries needed all the basics for development – roads, potable water, power generation, schools, medical facilities, modern farming tools, and much else. Like other development agencies, ADB faced the daunting task of marshaling sufficient financial and human resources to help lift these countries out of severe poverty and to chart a course of sustainable and inclusive growth. In these circumstances, the knowledge transfer was predominately North-South.

Gradually, however, South-South knowledge transfer has strengthened, competing with in some cases and but largely complimenting the north-south transfer.  This reflects a shift of the economic center of gravity and greater trade integration within the developing world, and between developing and high-income countries. Since 2000 or even much earlier, we have witnessed many developing countries converging toward OECD income levels, with per capita growth rates double or higher than those of high-income countries.

In terms of trade, the developing country share of world exports has been increasing sharply since the turn of the century. In 2014, low- and middle-income economies accounted for about 30% of world exports, up from about 20% in 2000. Furthermore, one-third of their share of world exports is destined to developing economies, a dramatic increase compared to also 20% in 2000. Most of the export growth in emerging markets is driven by greater integration among them, rather than by increasing exports to the traditional economic powers. 

Developing countries are moving up the technology ladder. The PRC spends more than $200 billion annually on R&D—second only to the United States—and leads the world in patent applications. A recent report on the world’s 1,000 leading public corporations found that more R&D is now conducted in Asia than in North America or Europe, and that the PRC and India are increasing corporate R&D faster than other countries.

Now that the sources of knowledge are more diffuse and diversified, developing countries are increasingly interested in considering alternative approaches to the ‘turn-key’ solutions often proposed by international donors. Developing countries face different policy challenges for achieving growth than those of developed countries operating on the global technological frontier. Successful lessons from developing countries are often more relevant for other developing countries, reflecting the similarity of their opportunities and challenges. As a result, South-South cooperation has become an important source of knowledge, highly relevant to sustainable economic development.   

As a regional development bank, ADB has deep practical knowledge drawing from its experience and operations in its developing member countries. This knowledge is embedded in the design and implementation of development projects, and its diversified nature reflects the complex relationship between growth and poverty and country specific factors. Knowledge sharing and innovation have become important priorities for ADB’s operations in the PRC and beyond. 

Building on a well-established and successful partnership between ADB and the PRC, the Regional Knowledge Sharing Initiative (RSKI) is designed to share with other development member countries the PRC’s development knowledge generated over 30 years of extraordinary growth. Over the past three years, the RKSI has built an extensive network of ADB-PRC knowledge partners, including government departments, universities, think tanks, centers of excellence, and institutions for promoting regional cooperation. These partners have been instrumental in the successful organization of more than 20 knowledge sharing events, reaching more than 2,000 policy makers and practitioners in Asia and the Pacific. 

In 2016, workshops and trainings are scheduled on structural transformation, special economic zones and low-carbon technology, and the RSKI will launch a website to serve as a platform for sharing the PRC’s experiences, methods, ideas and opinions on what works and what doesn’t. The website will be targeted to policymakers, policy implementers and project designers.

Regional knowledge sharing is challenging. It is often difficult to identify the specific needs and match them to providers. Replication of successful cases is difficult, given various financial and other constraints.

These and other challenges will be addressed in a consultation meeting on the RKSI strategy scheduled for 14 July in Beijing. The meeting will review progress to date and confirm the medium-term strategy for more effective South-South knowledge cooperation. Just as there is not a single path to development, knowledge solutions to development problems may be diffuse. We look forward to hearing recommendations for moving forward on the RKSI initiative, which has a lot of potential to make a tangible contribution to South-South knowledge sharing and development outcomes.