In the first half of 2004 I was commissioned by the Cambridge University to do a detailed mapping of the faction ridden Muslim community in Sri Lanka. The objective was to see whether there was any realistic possibility of having them becomes the third part to negotiating peace in the long troubled island. This was an eye-opening assignment as it forced me to examine some stereotypes that I seemed to have formed while turning a CNN-junkie.
In the second half of 2004 I was appointed as the Senior Advisor to UNICEF’s Representative to Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Ms. Gaye Phillips. I worked on supporting the Government of Malaysia in addressing HIV AIDS, Maternal and Child Health, Harm Reduction, Avian Influenza, Road Injuries. Credit for my success in Malaysia can be wholly attributed to the strong leadership provided by Ms. Gaye Philips, Representative of UNICEF and an unwavering activist for the Rights of the Child. Every day Gaye Philips walks the talk and inspires people to rise and shine. Gaye’s species will soon be extinct, I fear. The other person who was instrumental in helping me make the impossible possible is IndraNadchatram. Indra is the most effective, efficient and affectionate ‘relations person’ that I have ever met. A leading HIV AIDS activist and champion for the voice of young people, Indra has been a source of inspiration to me.
With whom ?
Connecting UNICEFâ€™s strategy on HIV AIDS with a communication strategy
HIV AIDS; Child Rights
Strategic Planning; Strategic Communication
For many years UNICEF had partnered with the Government of Malaysia to deliver numerous and effective grassroots initiatives. With the rapid strides Malaysia made in development and achieved a middle-income country status, it was felt that UNICEF could advance the well being of children in Malaysia more effectively by becoming an upstream partner of the government. UNICEF’s then executive director Carol Bellamy had hand picked the dynamic CEO of UNICEF Australia Gaye Phillips to set in a Malaysia a model of engagement with middle-income countries.
2004, 2005, 2006, 2007
In 2005, UNICEF’s Representative appointed me to link the organization’s HIV AIDS programs to a meaningful communication strategy.
In addition to developing a comprehensive strategy on up-streaming UNICEF’s HIV AIDS program in Malaysia, key Strategic Communication products were developed:
- Video documentary- “Women in AIDS”: Conceptualized this video documentary to celebrate and document the contribution of women from various walks of life in the fight against HIV AIDS in Malaysia. This video galvanized support from the Govt. of Malaysia and the donor community for UNICEF’s HIV AIDS program.
- Video documentaries- Conceptualized video documentaries on joint projects of UNICEF & Ministry of Health that reflect the impact of good partnerships. These included the video capsules on ProStar Youth Initiative (Peer counseling), Village Health Promoters and Youth & Drugs. Youth volunteers for UNICEF in Malaysia filmed the films.
- Launch of UNICEF’s global campaign- “Unite for Children Unite Against AIDS” in Malaysia: After the global campaign against polio in the 70s, this is UNICEF’s biggest global campaign. Sunoor Verma co-conceptualized the Malaysia launch of this campaign in partnership with the Ministry of Health.
- High Profile Events: Conceptualized the launch of UNICEF’s Annual Corporate Social Responsibility Award in Malaysia. A top-level corporate event, it brought in valuable support for UNICEF’s programs in Malaysia from the corporate sector.
Prime Minister’s Office,Economic Planning Unit, Malaysia
Minister of Health
Attorney General of Malaysia
Minister of Women and Community Development
UNICEF became the partner of choice of the Malaysian government on HIV AIDS
“ He has demonstrated his problem solving skills and emphasizes the need to back up words with action, and the need to engage in solutions that are forward-looking. ”
Expert, Civil Society Development
Bringing together political adversaries on policy
Minority issues; Inter-ethnic relations
Dialogue Management; Strategic partnerships; Capacity building;
Republic of Macedonia
The Ohrid Peace Agreement signed between the Republic of Macedonia and the Albanian armed groups in 2001 was meant to end the armed conflict in Macedonia. The peace negotiators felt that if the communities would not see rapid implementation of the agreement, it would have no meaning and violence would stage a comeback in the country.
I performed the needs assessment was to examine what intervention would lead to rapid results and de-escalation of ethnic tensions.This led to the design of a dialogue project in the Republic of Macedonia that provided politically influential persons with the opportunity to work together to create more sustainable and inclusive policies. A highly committed team led by Michael Szporluk implemented the project. I supervised the implementation and ensured support from all political parties and donors.
European Centre for Minority Issues, Germany
Ministry of External Affairs, Ireland
Policy recommendations generated by the multi-ethnic, multi party working groups were channeled to policy and decision makers. This led to emergence of new policies, which contributed to making the peace agreement work for the citizens of the Republic of Macedonia.
The dialogue process led to the formation of expertise based working groups, which demonstrated to all involved parties that concerns of all ethnic groups are very similar and need to be tackled with professionalism and seriousness.
Experts of the “minor minorities” were engaged in mainstream policy and advocacy work, which opened new channels for their respective communities to express their concerns.
“ Sunoor Verma makes ideals work in practice by focusing on issues that successfully bring together parties, which in another context might be on opposite sides of a conflict. In so doing, he brings about action, which brings concrete benefits to all while making the potential lines of conflict gradually less relevant. ”
Dr. Eben Friedman
European Centre for Minority Issues
Building and managing a 70 NGOs coalition in Macedonia
Inter-ethnic issues; Civil Society; Peace building
Dialogue management; Fundraising; NGO management; Track II diplomacy; Conflict resolution
The armed conflict of 2001 in Macedonia left a society divided along ethnic lines. The fragile Ohrid peace agreement required quick measures for building confidence in the communities.
2001, 2002, 2003, 2004
In the midst of the conflict I set out to establish an inter-ethnic network of NGOs along with the European Centre for Minority Issues.
I travelled around the country meeting with communities, citizens and villagers to find those NGOs that were truly committed to improving inter-ethnic relations in the country. The ECMI NGO Network for Improvement of Inter-ethnic Relations in Macedonia was launched with a core group of 17 NGOs from across the country and ethnic groups. Gradually the network grew to a 70 member strong group that engaged in joint design and implementation of grassroots projects. Sunoor headed an umbrella grants program, administering and monitoring 50–70 community projects each year. The project carried a strong capacity enhancement component with emphasis on ethics for the participating NGO Managers.
This project benefitted very much from the guidance and commitment of Farimah Daftary of the ECMI. When no international expert was willing to travel to Macedonia due to the armed conflict, Farimah headed to Macedonia to meet with stakeholders and do a direct assessment of the ground realities. Her research and reporting were instrumental in the project receiving its seed grant. Dr. Eben Friedman succeeded Farimah Daftary at the ECMI as the focal point for Macedonia and maintained the high standards set by Farimah.
Farimah and Eben have contributed to civil society development in Macedonia in the most low profiles yet most effective way. Both heroes!
European Centre for Minority Issues
Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Secretariat for Peace and Stability)
Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Established the first truly multi-ethnic network of NGOs in Macedonia consisting of 70 NGOs committed to improving inter-ethnic relations.
50–70 community projects generated and implemented each year jointly by NGOs members of the Network.
Network becomes reference point for good practices and NGO ethics in Macedonia.
External Evaluation of “ECMI NGO Network for the Improvement of Interethnic Relations in the Republic of Macedonia” 15-19 April 2003
“ In the words of Regional Representative Dr. Sunoor Verma, the Regional Office in Skopje aims to be a model office in terms of professional standards, transparency and accountability. The evaluator gained the impression that the office very much lives up to this goal. The Regional Representative, Dr. Verma is obviously a perfect choice: he is not only very committed to the success of the Network, but also very competent. His critical view of the donor-driven character of much of the NGO activities in Macedonia, especially in the realm of improvement of inter-ethnic relations, helps to make the ECMI Network genuinely innovative in that context. He maintains close contacts with relevant donor and other institutions, and is respected by the member organisations of the Network. ”
DR. ULF BRUNNBAUER
Department of Southeast European History, University of Graz
Romani expert groups for Romani integration in the Republic of Macedonia
Minority issues; Roma;
Capacity Building; Fundraising; Project development; Dialogue Management
Until the launch of this initiative most initiatives aimed at the Romani population of Macedonia were being implemented by non-Roms. This often led to poor participation of the Roms and virtually no transfer of skills or know-how. Through my work with Roms in Macedonia and many Roma NGOs I could see that there is availability of talent and experience in the Roma community. The lack of formal education was a barrier to the advancement of these potential experts. The Romani experts project was launched to prepare a pool of Roma experts who have the skills, knowledge and commitment to work on Roma issues.
I think I played a key role in conceptualizing this initiative, developing the project proposal and getting donors on board. Dr. Eben Friedman, a leading authority on Roma issues, led this project. I was also responsible for monitoring the implementation of the project and fundraising.
European Centre for Minority Issues ECMI
Four Expert Group organized around the core areas of education, health, civil rights, and employment were established.
The Expert Groups generated and compiled usable reports with the data necessary to provide a basis for the design of policy not only for Roms, but also by Roms.
The success of this initiative lies in three things that came together at the right time:
- Understanding through extensive fieldwork: for projects aimed at the Roma community to succeed, they need to be implemented by people who are part of the Roma community.
- Representatives of Sida Sweden who were committed to undertaking initiatives that other donor designate ‘risky’ if they saw long term value in them. Annika Palo and Peeter Kamaan of Sida Sweden were unique in their untiring quest for sustainable solutions for the people of Macedonia.
- Dr. Eben Friedman who led the project is not one of those first world experts for whom the Roma community is an exotic experiment from a distance. Eben has dear friends in the community with whom he has lived and has understood the challenges that they face. Eben’s commitment and dedication to the Roma cause ensured that the capacity of Roma experts in built to a level where they can take charge.
I salute the work done in Macedonia by Eben Friedman, Annika Palo and Peeter Kamaan.
I first met Dr. Verma in Skopje, Macedonia where he made an outstanding effort to bring together that country’s various ethnic groups by emphasizing common concerns, i.e., clean water, garbage collection and good education. Dr. Verma’s success in Macedonia is attributable not only to his practical approach to problems, but also to the fact that he concentrated on getting to know key individuals personally and he made an extraordinary effort to engage them in resolving the country’s ethnic tensions.
Dr. Gary F. Collins
Senior Adviser (Judicial Reform)
International conference on minorities
Dialogue management; Peace-building; Strategic partnerships; Fundraising
The Ohrid peace agreement signed in 2001 marked the end of the armed conflict in Macedonia. As part of confidence building measures it was important to highlight the position of minorities in democracies. South Eastern Europe had much experience to share and learn from each other.
2002, 2003, 2004
I negotiated a strategic partnership with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Germany to advance this conference jointly. Andreas Klein who was the Director of this foundation and was posted in Macedonia was that rare breed of expatriates who knew what was happening and what was hurting in the country. Equally comfortable with the grassroots as with the political elite, Andreas ensured that there is a strong buy-in from the office of the President of Macedonia for this initiative. Marc Weller, the Director of the ECMI was quick to see value in the initiative and as a global authority on this subject galvanized a star studded line up of international experts for the conference. Florian Bieber, Eben Friedman and Tom Trier all with affiliations to ECMI and a deep commitment to the region provided cutting edge content and moderation. The South East European university had collaborated in the past with the ECMI and was an excellent partner for this initiative. Among other things I was also responsible for raising funds for hosting this conference. The ECMI team in Macedonia led by the Office Manager Gordana Cvetkoska managed the invisible backend of this huge logistic challenge as always without any show of fatigue or stress.
Office of the President of the Republic of Macedonia
Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Germany
European Centre for Minority Issues
South East European University, Macedonia
An annual dialogue forum “Minorities in democracies” has been established which brings international and regional south-east European experts to debate on the position of minorities in democracies. The first two editions saw the late President of the Republic of Macedonia HE Boris Traijkovski deliver the opening speeches before his untimely death in an airplane crash.
“ Sunoor’s insatiable desire for critical and meaningful dialogue has profoundly influenced the format and content of the Geneva Health Forum, pushing us to consider new rules of engagements, and new ways to frame and debate global health topics. ”
Dr Slim Slama
Geneva Health Forum