South-South Champions: Mr. Roy Trivedy United Nations Resident Coordinator for Timor Leste
08 October 2021
How South-South Cooperation matters for Timor Leste
“The challenge for all of us in development is to operationalize what we believe about South-South cooperation and transform this belief to make people’s lives better. Many of the older generations really understand what South-South cooperation is, we have to ensure that the younger generation understand and embrace this.” (Roy Trivedy, September 2021)
Mr. Roy Trivedy, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Timor-Leste, passionately expressed his view that South-South cooperation has a significant role to play in the support that the UN System provides to programme countries and recounted several occasions where he has facilitated low-cost, people-to-people driven solutions that have been transformational. He also offered suggestions on strengthening South-South cooperation under the UN system.
Please tell us about your prior engagement in South-South cooperation and why you think it matters for a country like Timor Leste.
The Resident Coordinator opined that the changes that include declining Official Development Assistance (ODA) require a different development paradigm such as South-South cooperation. He said that much more has to be done beyond the money, the aid resources and the normal development discourse. “For example, how do we enable and connect the countries with shared experiences, history and culture? How do we enable people to make connections with people from neighboring countries?” he asked. Mr. Trivedy added that ODA was and still is mostly government-to-government and pointed out that human ties, historical ties, and shared experiences matter a lot when countries go through similar experiences.
The UN Resident Coordinator expressed his strong belief in South-South cooperation (SSC) in the UN system. “In a country like Timor-Leste, South-South cooperation offers some of the best ways to transfer some of the development ideas in the “South Galaxy” to transform people’s lives.
Mr. Trivedy further elaborated on the changes he had mentioned earlier on. “In the post- COVID era, there are two major global trends to emerge. Firstly, many countries in the Global South are transiting from low-income, least developed countries to middle income countries. As a result, the level of the official aid is declining. The COVAX facility may be an example of what will replace the ODA gap. Secondly, countries in the Global South tend to rely more on learning from their neighbours who have similar development challenges and a shared culture and history. In the case of Timor-Leste, Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia as well as Portuguese speaking countries have supported practical solutions. There is a need to build up on this,” he said.
The Resident Coordinator explained how the UN facilitates South-South cooperation. He mentioned that last year (2020) a new UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF) for Timor-Leste was launched. Every single outcome includes the element of SSC and partnership. He further suggested that the consultation process in developing the UNSDCF was a wake-up call for some colleagues in the UN team members to make a bigger difference. The UNCT decided that SSC had to be integrated in the thinking to effectively implement the framework.
Mr. Trivedy said that the cooperation framework has six key areas, i.e., food security, the blue-green economy, lifelong learning, quality of health care, governance, climate change and disaster risk reduction. The UN country team has assessed how to strengthen people-to-people and South-South collaboration under each of the six areas.
Mr. Trivedy shared SSC examples from his work in the UN where he had facilitated transfer of knowledge. While working as the UN Resident Coordinator in Papua New Guinea (PNG) he engaged the business community in the work to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The PNG Prime Minister had consistently challenged business leaders to help the country make faster progress on food security, water & sanitation, health, etc. The Resident Coordinator reached out to the business council and suggested that focus on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) would help the business sector to respond to the challenge and frame the opportunities for their response. In 2015 with support from UNCDF and UNDP, “Intellecap”, a company based in India was engaged to support small and medium enterprises through the UN Capital Development Fund. The Indian company studied eight key economic sectors in Papua New Guinea to be aligned to the SDGs. The report prepared from that study was accepted as transformational and the business council embraced it. In 2017, UNRC set up the SDGs business platform with its business opportunities and prospects for contributing to the SDGs with support from another Southern group called Social Cops (India).
How has the UNCT in Timor Leste used South-South and triangular cooperation to respond and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic in the country?
The Resident Coordinator noted that while the level of vaccination in Timor-Leste has been increasing it is still low (40% vaccinated at the time of the interview). He expounded on how the Prime Minister has made a strong commitment to ensure vaccine access to every citizen who wants to get vaccinated by the end of 2021. The major source of vaccines has been the COVAX Facility. Additionally, Timor-Leste has received vaccines from Australia, China, Korea, New Zealand and Japan.
Mr. Trivedy suggested that sharing vaccines and dealing with the pandemic has to be a global effort. “It cannot just be the richer world reaching out every now and then and giving handouts to the poorer countries.” He noted that the poor countries and other developing countries also need to make sure that their people are prepared to get vaccinated. He explained how the UN country team in Timor-Leste has distilled, prepared and disseminated communication to ensure that people are well-informed and make intelligent choices on vaccination options. He added that this is based on best practices from the region and elsewhere.
The UN Resident Coordinator emphasized the role of SSC in supporting medical services and facilities which are highly appreciated by the Government. There are doctors and health professionals from the Asia-Pacific region (with the majority coming from South Asia and Southeast Asia) who have made a huge contribution in Timor Leste. The UN system is one of the development partners to deliver effective support throughout this period.
What would you like to see introduced or changed in the way we have been applying South-South cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region?
The UN Resident Coordinator highlighted that Timor-Leste is gradually making progress towards graduation from a Least Developed Country (LDC) status within the next two and half years, and that the level of official development assistance has been declining in in the country. He suggested that it is time for the UN to help the country link up with alternative partnerships and suggested a few recommendations.
The first recommendation is to build on the new UNSDCF which involves having a dedicated country-focused team that can help identify five or six transformational projects with high relevance for what Timor-Leste needs and will support for the partnership brokerage. Secondly, government-to-government collaboration, especially among the Global South, could be complemented by having a wider set of partnerships to engage with emerging non-governmental sectors, such as faith-based organizations, philanthropists and social business sectors, to bring added value from the Global South to support the work of the UNCT. The cooperative movement (agriculture) is an emerging and potential partner. He indicated that they are spearheading the use of digital finance with agricultural producers.
Mr. Trivedy shared a few examples of how some low-cost initiatives can be transformational. He mentioned the Women’s Barefoot Solar Engineering Initiative or “Solar Mama Project” under which solar engineers are trained at the Barefoot College in India. He related how PNG mothers and grandmothers benefitted from the initiative. “They chose 8 to 10 women, mothers and grandmothers who are fascinated by how the solar system works, for training in India. After the training, they came back to their home countries and become role models of solar engineers in their communities. They are using solar technology for water pumps and solar lighting in the remote villages,” he said.
Mr. Trivedy also mentioned that the digital structures and strong work forces are emerging in some of the Southern partners, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Bhutan. He suggested, “if we can learn from them, this will support us to achieve our operational framework and that would meet the aspirations of the government of Timor-Leste. This will help prop Timor-Leste into a solid middle-income country with happy, healthy citizens. In that way, people-to-people partnerships will flourish and create the massive transformation required in the future.”
As the UN Resident Coordinator in Timor-Leste, what have been the key achievements or past successes in applying South-South and triangular cooperation, how do you see South-South cooperation benefitting the country towards achieving SDGs?
The UN Resident Coordinator highlighted that since his arrival in Timor-Leste in 2018, he has been partnering with the government and the private sector in the country. He noted with appreciation the support of UNOSSC to frame a partnership with the Government of India in the education sector involving UNDP and UNICEF in using mobile technology to improve the standard of teaching and learning methods. “Although it started as a small project, the outcome has struck such a strong impact that the Minister of Education intends to expand this project to every municipality of Timor-Leste. The success also encouraged the Indian Government which has expressed its eagerness to be part of the scaling up.”
Further reflecting on this example, the Resident Coordinator noted, “this is an example of a small initiative which has grown and transformed the lives of people. It has given new opportunities to students, has created new bonds between these countries in the Global South”.
The Resident Coordinator reflected on how the previous engagement with UNOSSC had sown the seeds for the UNSDCF. Ideas from the intended collaboration had led to the compilation of a policy paper called, “Timor-Leste’s Drivers of Growth and Sectoral Transformation” in March 2021. The RC had briefed the Prime Minister on this policy paper. The Prime Minister wished for this growth strategy focusing on tourism, economy, fisheries, agro-forestry, and food processing to be taken forward, hence some of the themes were included in the UNSDCF.
Do you have any upcoming proposals/ ideas/ projects incorporating South-South cooperation in Timor-Leste in the next few years?
The Resident Coordinator proposed three ideas and initiatives that would be important for Timor-Leste. is the first is to support the circular economy and waste management, climate change and food security. He highlighted that a team of ministers from Timor-Leste would attend the COP 26 meeting in November 2021. The Secretary of the State for environment, a champion of environment and waste management, wishes to partner with Indonesia on circular economy and waste management. The second relates to following up on ideas from the UN Food Systems Summit 2021. A very positive food system dialogue in Timor-Leste is supported by the whole UN system and the Prime Minister’s Office. One of the focus areas is food fortification with the experiences from Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia and Thailand. The third idea is on strengthening the school feeding programme in Timor-Leste. Part of the value-addition from UNOSSC could be to set up the link between the countries to study how the school feeding programmes are operating in various countries in the region. After one or two years, for instance, the nutrition outcomes can be presented at a future Food Systems Summit.
The Resident Coordinator suggested that learning from the Southern experiences should be inclusive of the private sector, philanthropic and social enterprises. He reiterated that sometimes it is not about the number of resources but how they are applied to make a transformational change.
He also noted that waste management can be a trilateral partnership, supported by the UN between two countries or two sets of partners in different countries. In that sense, the UNCT in East Timor can work closely with UNOSSC to strengthen the capacity of the team (s) to identify one transformational project at least.
How can UNOSSC facilitate your Office’s work to help scale up South-South Cooperation?
In answering this question, the Resident Coordinator leaned on his passion and conviction that SSC can make a difference. “The challenge for all of us in development is to operationalize what we believe about South-South cooperation and transform this belief to make people’s lives better. The older generations often really understand what South-South cooperation is, we have to ensure that the younger generation understand and embrace this”.
The Resident Coordinator suggested enhancing cooperation with UN Country Teams, and that UNOSSC could identify focal points to work with them until tangible projects materialize. He also suggested that UNOSSC could look into engaging philanthropic organizations from the Global South. “Positioning the philanthropic organizations and social entrepreneurs can
Mr. Roy Trivedy is the United Nations Resident Coordinator for Timor Leste. He has been working in Timor Leste since March 2018. He was previously UN RC and UNDP Representative in Papua New Guinea from December 2013 to December 2017. Prior to that, he worked for DFID (UK). He was Head of Civil Society Department from 2009-13 and Team Leader for the UK Government’s ‘Building our Common Future’, White Paper on international development (2009). He also worked for DFID in Tanzania, Central Asia and the Caucasus, and on peace-building and conflict resolution in various parts of Africa from 2000. Roy joined DFID after 20 years of working for non-governmental organisations in the UK, Mozambique, India and Malawi. He studied at the Institute for Development Studies, Sussex.