People walk past the BRICS Business Council sign prior the 11th BRICS summit in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday. Photo: IC

Brazil is hosting the 11th BRICS summit in its capital Brasilia for the third time, signifying the coming of age of an organization that brings together emerging economies playing a vital role in a globalized world. 

The first time Brazil hosted the summit in 2010, Lula da Silva was the president; in 2014, it was under the leadership of president Dilma Rousseff. This year, Brazil is hosting BRICS under the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro. 

Leadership in Brazil has changed hands thrice, prompting questions about its future BRICS membership. Many critics have raised questions about why some nations like Brazil, India and South Africa concentrate more on domestic leadership and economic challenges than focus on issues in the grouping. Such concerns seem to be fading over time as the world focuses on other imminent challenges like Brexit.

An important development was an earlier realization by BRICS that establishing partnership institutions was central to the sustenance of its agenda. The BRICS Bank (New Development Bank, or NDB) has been operational since 2015.

The NDB today boasts a portfolio of 30 projects worth $8 billion. These are highly innovative and large scale developmental programs in the countries of the Global South with a focus on infrastructure and the green economy. These programs breathe life into the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda. 

Countries of the Global South would surely look toward these alternative development-friendly loans which offset historic perversions that nearly crippled most economies of the “third world.”

Many more cooperative institutions like the BRICS credit system, Academic Forum and university cooperation programs are operational or in the pipeline. 

With just over 3 billion people and counting, BRICS accounts for 40 percent of the global population. Other important indicators like life expectancy, trade balance, GDP per capita and foreign exchange reserve also look positive. Yes, BRICS has become too important to be ignored.

South Africa plays a very strategic role in BRICS. It represents the African region. When the BRICS nations speak, they do not speak only for themselves. They speak for the region in which they belong. South Africa has good element of legitimacy within the African Union and within the continent to represent the region. 

The inclusion of South Africa into BRICS will definitely raise Africa’s voice in the world. If you look at the loan terms that come from the NDB, other countries in the region will be able to borrow with surety from the member country of that particular region. Let’s assume a country like Kenya or Zimbabwe wants to borrow from the NDB, it means that it has to raise proposals to South Africa. This will advance the general ideology behind development for the small nations.

The theme and focus of the 11th BRICS Summit, “Economic growth for an innovative future,” is in keeping with the times.

The aggressive move in the realm of IR4 and innovations like 5th generation cellular networking technologies (5G) will continue to have disruptive influences on industries and economies. 

The new ecosystems under formation blur what we know historically as national versus international economies and economic role players.

The need for cooperation in science, technology, innovation and digital economic cooperation becomes the new normal.

Important questions that the BRICS formation has to unravel are: Where are these ecosystems emerging and what will be their implications on the Global South and the economies of the BRICS formation itself? 

How can learning and technological advancement, policy and cooperation frameworks put the Global South in the position of a pioneer and a frontrunner in digital economic development?

We can hope that the 11th BRICS summit will grapple with these challenges efficiently and heads of states will offer guidance that will enable the economic and innovation space to thrive and position member nations as well as countries of the Global South in an advantageous position.

The author is director of the NWU Business School in South Africa.