‘We are in the midst of an intense global transition’, an interview with Zaynah Khanbhai, founder of South South Women

"South South Women is consistently innovating, rethinking and building for change," says Khanbhai.

South-South cooperation has been the talk of the town in the international development sector for some time. Generally speaking, South-South cooperation refers to the technical cooperation among developing countries in the Global South. According to the UN, South-South cooperation has been used as a tool by the states, international organizations, academics, civil society and the private sector in order to collaborate and share knowledge, skills and successful initiatives in specific areas such as agricultural development, human rights, urbanization, health, climate change, and so forth. 

Even though the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) was established already in 1974, promotion and coordination of South-South and triangular cooperation has been accelerating only recently.

Against this backdrop, Global South Development Magazine’s Achyut Gautam interviewed  Zaynah Khanbhai, founder of South South Women and Director of South-South and Triangular Cooperation, and discussed a wide range of issues, including her inspiration for starting South South Women, the group’s ongoing activities, and above all, the importance of South-South and triangular cooperation in today’s vastly globalised and deeply interdependent world. Excerpts from the interview: 

– Thank you Zaynah for talking to GSDM. Firstly, could you briefly tell us about yourself? 

Our programs have brought together over 700 participants from 40 countries around the world.

I am an African Woman, a strategic future-thinker for progress and a multilingual communicator leading conscious business, impact investment and international cooperation networks. In addition, I am a spiritual coach, too. 

My role in South South Women leads the positioning of women as key implementors of cooperation throughout the Global South in alignment with the principles and objectives of South-South and Triangular Cooperation. I am also responsible for building and strengthening alliances which advance the objectives and principles of South-South and Triangular Cooperation through South South Women. 

– What is South South Women?

A women-led company and international network with diverse Global South representation positioning women especially as key visionaries, strategists, voices and implementers of South-South and Triangular Cooperation. 

Photo credit: South South Women

– What were your inspirations and aspirations behind founding South South Women?

Our aspirations are to build a connection with like-minded people across cultures and continents, leverage resources to create and participate in impact initiatives (business, entrepreneurship, investment and impact) that provide solutions to influence positive change, provide access to role models, mentors, influencers and programs, amplify voices giving participants from the Global South and beyond a means to be heard, to influence change and drive priority agendas and foster an ongoing dialogue with respect to our vision and priorities for South-South and Triangular Cooperation.

In our passion to drive conscious, value-based business between Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa we noted a discrepancy of men to women participation of 65% to 35% respectively. The inspiration for South South Women emerged as a result of this observation, to position women as the key implementers of ethical impact between emerging economies.

– How’s the composition of your team? 

South South Women has a robust women-led and men supported direction team comprising sector influencers in business and development in the Global South and the Global North, including Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Argentina, Mexico and Canada. The influencers are people with a notable contribution within and beyond their sectors of influence, especially towards uplifting communities with a demonstrable commitment to conscious cooperation aligned with the South South Women Code of Honour.

– What are your main activities? And who’s your target groups and stakeholders? 

Currently, through the Impact Academy, we are providing lifelong learning for impact programs for individuals, teams and organisations. Our uniquely curated flagship series, Amplify Your Voice empowers leaders for and from the Global South and our Ethical Business series seeks to transform the Global South, one business and one entrepreneur at a time.

Since April 2020, as a response to the consequences of Covid-19, we have been hosting weekly online Wisdom Conversations, creating connections across cultures and providing solutions through sharing authentic personal and professional experiences.

Our audience is women in particular and men aged 20 and above, adults who are now influencing the future.

Pre-Covid we were hosting in-person networking Legacy Talks, in-person conversations planting seeds of purpose to cultivate through networking actions and results and reciprocal business missions for entrepreneurship, and business opportunities between countries of the Global South.

– Are there any upcoming or new projects of South South Women?

Our Wisdom Conversations are organised every Monday. In 2021, we are hosting business missions and marketplaces – online and in person, as well as a Global South Summit for entrepreneurship between countries of the Global South. We will also host Legacy Interviews and offer specific opportunities to invest with South South Women in our impact investment projects.   

– Do you collaborate with other organizations, too? 

We believe in collaboration for impact and in co-creating projects with companies, organisations and individuals aligned with advancing the objectives and principles of South-South and Triangular Cooperation through South South Women. The nature of the collaboration depends on the collective impact we are seeking and range from investment opportunities to spaces for networking and wisdom sharing. 

– How do you think you have been able to make an impact with this initiative?

South South Women is a daily ritual – it’s about choosing to live with consciousness and uplifting others through the wisdom we gain from our own challenges and experiences, it’s about acknowledging our unique growth and expressing that impactfully through causes which matter to us for profit and for social transformation, it’s about the legacy we are cultivating over a lifetime, it’s a transition into a future we are creating and assuming responsibility for.   

Our programs have brought together over 700 participants from 40 countries around the world. The true measure of impact for us is feedback. Here are some testimonials we have received from around the world:  

“South South Women is so helpful especially at this time because you help us network as well as gain knowledge from different people in various sectors. The sharing of ideas is priceless. Keep doing this.

It is a rare conversation in the business community. We honestly don’t have conscious conversations or deep discussions on inclusivity, honour and aligned business and personal values.”

You made us re-realize that we are all part of a larger movement and it’s not an individual making change and I see that in the work that we do it’s the collectives, foundations, local NGOs working together to bring about social change. Thank you.

I have spent the best part of my years during South South Women sessions.”

– How do you maintain welfare at work?

I live my life by three pillars, Care for Self, Care for Enterprise and Care for Community. I found that I can by taking at least one action daily in each of these areas to be fulfilled and that the pillars help me to draw and communicate my boundaries with others and to choose which collaborations to engage in. My values are love, peace and freedom.

I live my life by three pillars, Care for Self, Care for Enterprise and Care for Community.

I apply the three pillars and my values to my relationships at work. There is no distinction for me between who I am at work or anywhere else, including in nature. I believe we are all involved in a life-long process towards greater self-awareness and that the platforms I create facilitate this transition. I do not believe in any society-created definition about my own or anybody else’s worth and that freedom is at the core of I aspire, for the well-being of all. 

– What ethical guidelines (and legal) do you follow at South South Women?

South South Women is guided by our values for:

ACCEPTANCE: We cultivate safety and security for people to feel embraced; INCLUSION: We engage and involve people across a broad spectrum and; HONOUR: We do what is consciously right. 

Our Value for Honour, holding ourselves, others and nature in high esteem and treating all beings with respect inspired our Code of Honour which sets the standard for how we lead and expect to be treated is: We stand for (and never deride) one another; We respect and consider the other’s contribution, expertise, network and contacts; We respect the integrity of the creation of the network; We speak Truth; We seek to understand.

– What are the challenges and limitations of your work?

We recognise we are in the midst of an intense global transition, one generating more change than we have been accustomed to and asking us to reflect deeply on our role in establishing a new future for South-South Cooperation. South South Women is consistently innovating, rethinking and building for change. Several initiatives we have are currently on hold, new ones are emerging, and we understand they will all evolve prior to their implementation.

– What do you think of South-South cooperation in general? How does it differ from traditional North-South cooperation? 

South-South Cooperation is a meaningful opportunity for people, in what has been defined as developing countries, to identify the development and cooperation agendas important to us, to provide, drive and lead solutions to common problems that we deem important and to do so in collaboration with (not led by or with dependency on, or imposed by) developed countries.

– How can people be in touch or be part of your network?

People who are interested can follow us on social media @southsouthwomen, visit our website www.southsouthwomen.org and contact us by email at impact@southsouthwomen.org 

– Finally, do you have a message to our readers or anyone interested in South-South cooperation issues?  

Our approach to South-South cooperation is about generating mutually beneficial opportunities and results by cultivating values with one another and our counterparts in the North. In the process, we demystify stereotypes and create innovative standards for collaborations and measures for success. Our approach is about influencing acceptance and accelerate action in the Global South by helping to amplify the voices of inspiring and aspiring people, designing unique programs that are designed to build ethical entrepreneurs, to share wisdom, to create a meaningful legacy with awareness and strategically position women and men from developing countries as the key visionaries, leaders, voices and implementers of inclusive impact between and across developing countries.

South South Women contributes to the progress of South-South Cooperation through cultural awareness (knowledge of differences, especially differences in values and attitude), cultural acceptance (willingness to understand the differences), cultural inclusion (willingness to engage the differences), and cultural integration (willingness to award equal participation).