Using examples from different sectors—energy, global health, food security—this report illustrates the importance of knowledge and innovation in finding solutions to the complex problems of development.

Virtuous Circles is a concept formulated jointly by the Innovation and Technology for Development Centre at the Technical University of Madrid (itdUPM) and ISGlobal inspired by the considerable experience accumulated by Spanish development aid in dozens of communities all over the world.

In the midst of a technological revolution and guided by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the 2030 Agenda, international cooperation strategies are no longer determined by the past.

The direct transfer of financial resources to alleviate deficits in essential services and provide humanitarian aid are still indispensable components of international cooperation, but the new model of development aid is demonstrating added value by functioning as a driver of innovation in the work being done by state and non-state actors in the world’s poorest regions.

For this new model to succeed, creativity must be accompanied by political will, appropriate financial tools and a new leadership capable of marshalling the complementary capacities of public and private institutions for the benefit of the common interest.

A good example of a Virtuous Circle can be found in the energy sector. In several countries—Mexico, Peru, Brazil and Ethiopia—Spanish companies work with development cooperation and local actors to provide poor populations with access to clean, reliable and affordable energy that will help to guarantee their rights and opportunities.

And the use of new technologies, such as the latest generation of home photovoltaic systems, is not the only innovative aspect in some of these projects. The configuration of the partnerships, the operational models used, the way the infrastructures are maintained, the business models used, and the regulation of the sector have all been designed to ensure the impact and continuity of the programme and its ongoing expansion through open learning processes.

Even in complex settings, such as refugee camps, an innovative alliance of diverse actors, supported by Spanish Cooperation, has been able to offer solutions adapted to the setting that are more efficient and—most encouragingly—more sustainable.

In the health sector, Spanish Cooperation has made decisive contributions to the international effort to fight diseases associated with poverty. Millions of people have benefited from research carried out jointly with local teams.

This work has yielded tangible results, including the first prototype of a malaria vaccine and some of the most promising breakthroughs in recent decades in the fight against Chagas disease, a parasitic disease prevalent in Latin America that also affects some 87,000 people in Spain.

Innovation can play an important role in the fight to improve global health, creating fertile ground for a strategy that offers advantages to the most vulnerable countries while, at the same time, helping to build the research capacity of the donors.

These examples—and others involving water and food security, which we have also studied—show that it is possible to design and implement strategies based on creativity, collaboration, a systemic approach, flexibility and continued learning.

Moreover, they have the potential to attract financial support from third parties, such as multilateral development banks and private donors. After seven years of cuts, the ability to attract foreign resources has become an essential survival strategy in Spanish Cooperation.

During the coming months, Spanish Cooperation will be reconsidering its policy and budgetary strategy. This process will provide an ideal opportunity for it to update its policies and strategies and take advantage of the lessons learned from past actions.

There are two possible outcomes. The process can result in an old style Master Plan, based, as before, on the dreary table of traditional sectors, countries and actors. Or, the discussion can give rise to a truly transformative vision, in line with the SDG, based on new kinds of instruments and a broad spectrum of actors who know that cooperation which is good for the planet is also good for their own future interests.

Several Spanish companies, universities and social organisations have begun to act on their own initiative. Now public agencies can choose to take advantage of this momentum, get on board and increase the impact of their policies.

Articles published in El País about the concept of Virtuous Circles of cooperation


Cooperación + conocimiento: correcto e inteligente

Por Gonzalo Fanjul y Carlos Mataix

Cooperación: inmolarse para sobrevivir

Por Iliana Olivié

Cómo contribuyó España a la edad de oro de la salud global

Por Gonzalo Fanjul

Una cooperación inteligente para lograr el acceso universal a la energía

Por Carlos Mataix y Julio Eisman

Innovar para comer

Por Teresa Cavero