The Development Cooperation concept has not a single and wide definition and has been discussed since the end of the Second World War.
Its definition was following the evolution of the international context, shaped by changing political values and thinking.
Following the Portuguese NGDO Platform definition, we may refer to Development Cooperation as the support to countries and communities that are struggling and featured by imbalance in resources and opportunities distribution. Development Cooperation consists of the joint effort, undertaken by both developed and developing countries, to fight economic and social issues in a sustainable and lasting way.
Development is the result of people participation in the definition, planning and creation of their own future and their empowerment - a process by which people and communities reduce their vulnerability and increase their capacity for intervention, in an increasingly and interdependent globalized world.
In this process, NGDOs emerge not as "development agents" but as "development partners".
Their role is being "facilitators" who cooperate with local communities in strengthening the associative network, in promoting participation, in supporting the most vulnerable sectors of the population, in improving access to financial and technical resources and in strengthening strategies to preserve the environment. Those are key elements to the sustainability of development processes.
The Development Cooperation covers several areas, including: Sustainable Development; Community Development; Capacity Building; Micro-credit; Rural Development; Food Safety; Health; Development Education; Formal education; Technical training; Sanitation and habitat improvement and rehabilitation; Decentralized Cooperation; Gender Equality; Human Rights; Environment and Development; Participation and Citizenship; Political Influence (Lobbying and Advocacy) on development cooperation and development education policies; Corporate Social Responsibility; Studies and Research, among others.
Cooperation may be bilateral or multilateral. Through Bilateral Cooperation, donor governments mobilize their development cooperation funds directly to aid “recipients” (country governments and organizations).
In Multilateral Cooperation donors send the funds to multilateral organizations (European Commission, UN, Development Banks, etc.) for them to fund their activities and operations. Those international organizations are in charge of the funds management. According to the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), multilateral organizations are institutions consisting of country governments that act in favor of development.
Also a reference to decentralized cooperation that, in strict sense, consists of cooperation carried out by state governments, but not the central government (e.g.: municipalities, self-governing regions). In a broader sense, it consists of a new approach to cooperation, characterized by decentralization initiatives, the incorporation of new actors from civil society and greater participation of the local civil society in development processes.
Decentralized Cooperation intends to strengthen democracy, people's participation in development activities and civil society, promoting the role of different actors in fighting poverty, with self-organizing and management skills.
Decentralization and democratization processes are being implemented in many developed and developing countries, meaning the emergence of new actors from the civil society, who are active and aware of their responsibilities and committed to create a fairer world and progressively assuming an increasingly important role in Development Cooperation. Among these actors are unions, associations, community organizations, Non-Governmental Organization for Environment and Development, among others.
Economic, social and political evolution is increasingly faster and more intense. That evolution has great potential to contribute to improve the living conditions of the most disadvantaged populations, but challenges for sustainable development and equal opportunities are also increasing.
To face this changing context, development actors have been adjusting to new realities but keeping their commitment to achieve common goals.