Staff Reporter

In an attempt to transform civic engagement in the country, a project called ‘Voice for Green Change Partnership’ was launched in Thimphu yesterday. 

The project is one of four CSO-led projects that the European Union will support to foster increased civic engagement in governance and development in the country. 

The initiative aims to ensure that all key actors such as the government, parliament, civil society organisations (CSOs), and grassroots communities work in tandem towards propelling development. 

“This is of particular importance given Bhutan’s graduation from being a least developed country (LDC). The project is anticipated to have a tangible impact on Cottage and Small Industries and Small and Medium Enterprises and CSOs representing them,” a press release from the Handicrafts Association stated. 

In Bhutan, small businesses constitute a significant portion of the economy, representing approximately 90 percent of all enterprises. A 2022 report from the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Employment indicated that there are nearly 27,000 licensed CSIs in Bhutan, employing over 90,000 individuals. 

The project aims to bring positive change to the CSI/SME sector by catering to both formal and informal enterprises, totaling around 56,000 members. Notably, 66 percent of these enterprises are led by women, and 33 percent by men, collectively employing 167,000 individuals, constituting almost 23 percent of the country’s population. 

While small enterprises and CSOs play a pivotal role in Bhutan’s economic well-being, challenges such as limited understanding of policies and private sector engagement, along with weak structural linkages have stalled their growth, the press release stated. “The project will address these gaps and empower CSOs to become more involved in the country’s economic prosperity, self-sufficiency, and sustainability.”

The project advocates for stronger linkages between key stakeholders in order to bring insights from the community level, into policy development and implementation. Some of the work the project envisages includes empowering functioning platforms at the local level, promoting joint research, learning, coordination, knowledge building, business development, and leadership training opportunities to capacitate CSOs.

Head of Cooperation of the EU to India and Bhutan, Franck Viault said, “I’m delighted with the launch of a new CSO-led project which aims at forging linkages amongst producers, private companies and decision makers and where Bhutanese civil society will play a pivotal role in building capacity, collectively contributing to improving processes and policies.” 

Executive Director of the HAB, Chorten Dorji said that this project would strengthen participatory decision-making processes to bring about streamlined policies impacting the CSI/SME sector facilitated by the CSOs concerned. “These CSOs must play a vital role in creating an enabling environment to make CSI/SME grow towards a sustainable and resilient future.”

Project Manager Khampa said, “CSI/SME sector is the heart of innovation, pumping creativity through the veins of progress for the economy. We aim at bringing all actors within the line of decision-making processes together to propel the growth of this sector.” 

The project led by the Handicrafts Association of Bhutan (HAB) in collaboration with Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), Association of Bhutan Tour Operators (ABTO), Bhutan Association of Women Entrepreneurs (BAOWE), South Asian Business Association of Home-based Enterprises (SABAH), and Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan (HRAB).