RLS is not only working in Vietnam. In 2013 the representative office of Vietnam in Hanoi was upgraded to a regional office serving the Southeast Asian region as a whole. Now RLS is working in four countries within the region and is able to successively broaden its networks. With its working approach RLS is able to address the very needs of the four countries and in the long run, overcome any existing problems. One of RLS’s major advantages is that it is an organisation that is working above boundaries and therefore can establish networks amongst people sharing the same vision and ideals. During the last few years RLS has become an important contact in the region and more and more organisations have developed an interest and would like to cooperate with RLS.
Already in 2010 RLS has started cooperation with a Cambodian NGO, the Women’s Media Centre of Cambodia (WMC). The project aims to promote social and legal support, also aiming to build harmony in the community. This project has contributed to a better understanding of legal procedures and the social service provision for Cambodian citizens as well as for local authorities. With the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media (CCIM), another local NGO, RLS is working on a project addressing the health, safety and security problems of Cambodia’s garment workers. As the garment industry is Cambodia’s biggest formal sector with about 400.000 workers directly connected and a further 500.000 employees in the supporting industry – most of them women – it is a project working on the very needs of the Cambodian people. Cambodia’s development during recent years has shown that there is a great demand to promote these basic human rights. Both projects can contribute to better law enforcement by the authorities to protect their people. Still, Cambodia’s way out of poverty will take time and only if civil society organisations, businesses and the government are acting in concert, the poor socio-economic standards can be overcome. RLS is aiming to establish networks of trust among these stakeholders so that the people will eventually benefit.
In Laos RLS has started a partnership with the Lao National Assembly and is conducting capacity building workshops for Members of Parliament. Currently the Laotian MPs are lacking information about new developments and the latest research. Therefore RLS is trying to strengthen the capacity of the National Assembly to provide their parliamentarians with better working facilities to eventually help serve the country’s needs to the best of their abilities. But, RLS work in Laos is still very basic as infrastructure and technology development is still in its infancy. In the future RLS hopes to broaden its network within the National Assembly and also to extend the working fields to the remote areas of this poor nation.
Within its frame as a regional office, RLS has also been successful in integrating the latest transformation country of the region, Myanmar to the core program. RLS work in Myanmar is basically aiming to integrate the once isolated country back into the international community. Therefore, RLS is organizing information exchanges for parliamentarians within the program region along with international workshops. Another focus group for RLS are the young people as they building the backbone of Myanmar’s society. RLS is also supporting the formation of a youth network within the Southeast Asian region. Myanmar’s current development is dominated by neo-liberal discourses. Due to its history and its amount of natural resources it has become an attractive place for foreign investment. RLS is trying to raise the awareness that economic development has to come along with social justice and has to benefit the whole nation and not only a few. A further integration of Myanmar into the word economy can only be successful if the Burmese government is able to protect its citizen’s by establishing imperative binding regulations.
In the next few years RLS will not only focus on strengthening its already existing networks, but also on extending them. Moreover, RLS will also have to work on establishing structures inside the project countries, to inform about latest developments and to adjust its operational methods to accommodate local customs. Eventually this will improve the way needs and demands are addressed, which hopefully will help projects run more efficiently. RLS Southeast Asia’s role in the region will be defined through its continuous commitment to social justice, critical dialogue and sustainable development on its current path.