Research Reports

Divya Jeevan Foundation,


India’s North Eastern states, and her immediate four eastern neighbours, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, and Myanmar, together comprise a geographically compact “geo space” in Eastern South Asia. History bears testimony to the fact that before the partition of the region, peoples, ideas and skills have travelled within the region seamlessly. Such people flows across “geo spaces” have really enriched the region as a confluence of cultures and peoples. However, in the more recent times, the region has been acknowledged widely to be the least integrated in terms of economic coordination and physical connectivity, and with time, the flow of people and ideas have also gradually tapered off, replaced by militarized borders and procedural hassles.

More recently, governments and multilateral agencies have pushed for integration and improved regional connectivity. India’s “Act East” policy is one such example, as is BIMSTEC, or the Asian Development Bank’s SASEC program. While the present efforts and its outcomes are welcome, the region needs to grapple with a long history of disconnect, which has made the region “psychologically divided” with mistrust posing as a substantial hurdle to any kind of integration. The larger vision of connectedness and its benefit have not found roots in the hearts and minds of people on the ground. While there are cooperation and collaboration dialogues at a higher or nation-state level, the ground level has not always known about such initiatives with the result that stakeholders closer to the ground, while themselves engaging in micro ecosystems of inter-dependence, have not always connected that to larger initiatives and vision of connect beyond the borders, maybe due to the security-driven paradigm of the borders that are visible to them. Beyond the two spaces of government and industry, the role of the “third space” of civil society, individual stakeholders, small entrepreneurs in forging an environment, conducive to growth, is a factor that has assumed great importance in recent times and one which cannot be overlooked.. The “third space”, as distinct from the government and commercial sector, given their relatively neutral stance and focus on Wider Economic Benefits (WEBs) covering a wider spectrum of stakeholders, can play the role of “matchmakers” and “primary level incubators” with particular focus on facilitating trans-boundary movement of peoples, skills and ideas across the borders.

It is with this backdrop, the Asian Confluence undertook a study  titled “Borders: Transforming Geo Spaces and Celebrating mobility of ideas, skills and people” supported by The Asia Foundation, aimed to put forth a theory of change, a distinctive approach moving away from the prevailing perspective.

This project was aimed towards providing an alternate to the traditional way of looking at connectivity through the prism of hard infrastructure, routes, etc., and provide a perspective that focuses on the peripheral voices, communities and discourses. It aimed to provide this alternative perspective for not only local and state government but also, drawing from the past practices, offer additional inputs for possibilities that can be explored in terms of specific project and business ideas. The study, based on its primary findings, proposes to strengthen the trade-transit-tourism connect through development of sub-regional hubs and smart co-prosperity zones, explores  ideas for the tourism sector and also towards creating cross-border value chains for specific agro products. It also aimed to provide inputs for cross border outreach of cultural heritage and tradition and contribute to a fuller understanding of the issue by academic and strategic community.



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