Good Neighbours series explores how people-to-people activities advance regionalism in South Asia

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As development practitioners, we habitually analyze South Asia’s low levels of intraregional cooperation, trade, and connectivity. But what we overlook are the small but significant ways in which people come together, with innovation and fortitude overcoming significant barriers. For instance, about a hundred South Asian students gather annually at a one-of-its-kind event to present research papers on regional development issues.  Friendships and professional contacts blossom during the week. And the students are exposed to new points of view about managing transboundary rivers, air pollution, and other cross-border issues.

Research evidence guides our work with the World Bank’s South Asia Regional Integration, Cooperation and Engagement (RICE) approach. Today, we launch a Good Neighbours series that demonstrates how people-to-people activities advance regionalism in South Asia.  These unique case studies of cooperation have been identified through a long process of sifting through informal anecdotes, interviews, and documents, and meetings with a range of stakeholders – some supportive, many sceptical. Our research for this series helped establish links with diverse champions of regionalism including youth representatives, think tanks, academics, and journalists. 

Regional cooperation is not easy. It requires vision. It also demands innovation, and above all, perseverance, to bring together people, businesses, and nations.  The Good Neighbours case studies are as diverse as South Asia. We present them as inspiration and optimism about the spirit of #OneSouthAsia. 

South Asia Economic Students Meet (SAESM). Photo: Nikita Singla
South Asia Economic Students Meet (SAESM). Photo: Nikita Singla

The first case study examines the South Asia Economic Students Meet (SAESM) that annually brings together university economics students for one week to debate issues of regional economic development. For most participants, it is their first exposure to regional cooperation and often begins with a first-hand lesson about the challenges of neighbourhood travel. 

Another case study describes the successful cross-border collaboration of businesses between India and Nepal and argues that three pre-conditions matter - a deliberate policy effort by both countries to retain liberal trade regimes, the ability to capture quality-driven consumers across the border, and leveraging the domestic market to hedge against international trade instability.  

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) is another example of regional cooperation. ICIMOD is a unique institution with board members from eight Himalayan nations – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan. It leads a network of research organizations across the eight countries, coordinating and disseminating crucial scientific evidence on the region’s vulnerabilities to climate change. 

The unique clothing and textiles of South Asia are the basis of another Good Neighbours example. This case study describes how fashion has the ability to bring neighbours together. This is perhaps best summed up by the newspaper headline, ‘India goes nuts over Pakistani textile products’ when Pakistan held its first exhibition in New Delhi. The wide interest in fashion and textiles indicates the business potential if market forces could function unhindered. 

Taboos surrounding menstruation mean that it is rarely discussed in South Asia and poor women manage their monthly periods with rags and makeshift materials. Our fifth case study describes how an Indian entrepreneur sought to help his wife by building one of the world’s first low-cost machines to produce sanitary pads. The simple invention helps women manage their own periods and provides an income from selling surplus pads. This tool inspired an ongoing partnership between women’s empowerment groups in India and Sri Lanka and will soon expand to Nepal and Afghanistan. 

Orchestras and rock bands require diverse instruments to come together in harmonious unison. Our last case study examines how music builds bridges that overcome language, religious, and political differences. It describes two pioneering platforms, South Asian Symphony Orchestra and South Asian Band Festival that promote regional harmony through music.

There are undoubtedly many more examples of cross-border cooperation in South Asia. We invite you to share them with us on Twitter with the hashtag #OneSouthAsia or send an email to


Mandakini Kaul

Regional Coordinator, South Asia Regional Integration and Engagement

Nikita Singla

Consultant, South Asia Regional Integration

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