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The Secret of South-South Cooperation

Posted By: julia

The man was driving only with his right hand. Sitting in the front passenger seat, holding tight on my securely fastened seat belt, I tried hard to look casual. To make matters worse, he was trying to answer his mobile phone also with his right hand, leaving the steering wheel free from any controlling hand. While I was trying to offer him a hand, I noticed that he is driving in bare foot. Still and all, he maneuvered his car so well, seamlessly moving forward through the chaotic streets of Colombo, which barely have traffic lights, but abundant in armed soldiers, policemen, and barricades.

I was on my way to a shellac factory in suburban Colombo, Sri Lanka. The secret behind the way people meet always amazes me. When it was decided that I was to go to Colombo to present eHomemakers case study at an UNDP regional conference on ‘good practice of localized poverty reduction programs’, Ching Ching gave me a name card of the factory’s business manager. She met him about a month ago at a global SME (small and medium sized enterprise) exhibition in Kuala Lumpur. After the four-day conference, I called him to get a sample of environmentally friendly lacquer, to use it for our eco-basket production. And I was in the car kindly offered by the manager to make it to his factory.

The manager, a very pleasant Sri Lankan, was very proud of his product, a high-quality water-based lacquer that meets even the stricter EU standard. He also told me how he first met Ching Ching at the exhibition, and how their company was actually planning to build a plant in Melaka, Malaysia soon. A rather curious combination of a Malaysian social enterprise in women’s development and a lacquer factory in Sri Lanka, but obviously it has a promising future ahead.

On my way back to the hotel, with a bottle of lacquer safely tucked in my bag, I thought how the needy can find the right help in one of the most unlikely places. Driving in the middle of a very busy road in Colombo, where a trishaw, a huge bus that probably dates back to 1950’s, a bicycle, a shabby tractor, and a Mercedes all move together. Everybody was driving in her own phase, some barefoot, some with only right hand, and some shouting at his passengers who are dangling at the doorless door of a bus. And it struck me that it looked so strangely natural, probably because they knew exactly what they were doing; and they were moving in their own phase.

And suddenly, all the interesting presentations during the past four days of the conference, talking about the localization of poverty reduction programs for MDG, seemed very far away. We talked about knowledge sharing and partnership among different governments and aid organizations, but a grassroots organization from Malaysia had just now started a new South-South cooperation with a Sri Lankan shellac factory. And the secrets of this ‘good practice’ were the moments of meeting the right people in a right place and of knowing that help may come from the most unexpected places, and of course, my right-handed driver who knew the way through.

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1 comment

Comment from: ashish [Visitor] Email · http://shellacatrediffmaildotcom
Hi julia, will u please give me the contact number of the buisness manager in Colombo mnaufacturing shellac lacquer. I m also in the same profession and would like to know more about this product in srilanka.
03/06/08 @ 07:27

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Julia Hanah Zoo is an Advocacy Project Peace Fellow, volunteering this summer with eHomemakers, AP’s partner organization in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She recently received her master’s degree in international public policy from New York University Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, where she focused on studying development policy for information communication technology for development (ICT4D).

She interned at the United Nations ICT Task Force in summer 2006, and this experience furthered her interest in this topic. Prior to graduate study, she worked as a computer programmer for an IT service company in Seoul, Korea. She received her BA with dual major in education and sociology from Yonsei University in Seoul, and attended Assumption University in Bangkok for two semesters as a transfer student in her sophomore year.

Julia is volunteering with eHomemakers, an innovative grassroots organization that uses ICT as a tool for improving the lives of women homemakers in Malaysia. In particular, she will help the organization prepare for the upcoming World Summit on Information Society (WSIS), drafting and editing position papers and assisting planning for panel sessions.

The work will highlight eHomemakers’ projects, including Salaam Wanita, which seek to empower disadvantaged women by providing them with opportunities for training, business and networking via the Internet.

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