Sincere, Mindful, Astute, Resilient and Timeless (SMART) sums up the three-day Bhutan Economic Forum for Innovative Transformation (BEFIT).

These acronyms encapsulate His Majesty’s direction that Bhutan must make up by talents where it lacks in numbers.

Vice-president of the Royal Institute of Governance and Strategic Studies (RIGSS) and chairperson of the civil service commission, Karma Hamu Dorji said BEFIT is a result of His Majesty’s aspiration to address the pressing macroeconomic challenges through innovative solutions.

When the country celebrated the birth of HRH The Gyalsey, the financial sector made cash offerings to Their Majesties. His Majesty, however, commanded that the cash be used to institute BEFIT to initiate a discourse in creation of a resilient economy on the foundations of harmonious and just society.

The UN resident representative, Gerald Dally said economic development makes impact but it must be underplayed by cultural and social influence, which points to Bhutan’s uniqueness. He added that the country’s monarchs have been pivotal in doing so.

He explained that the dominant demography of young millennials, who think businesses should address the social problems and the country’s commitment to remain carbon negative, importance lensed towards its biodiversity are all worth the effort. This, he said sums up the sincerity aspect of His Majesty’s vision.

Self-reliance, he said is not a far-fetched dream if the mindset is strengthened. Over the last three days, he said opportunities in impact investing, avenues in food and agriculture, launch of Jab-Chor platform and commitments to ease access to finance are geared towards stirring mindfulness.

The sessions on technology, risk hedging, credit enhancement and reforms such as the revised CSI and FDI policies can be connected to astuteness.

“We should not be overwhelmed by risk; we should know the risk,” he said adding that some sessions from the BEFIT are directed towards moving beyond the trainings and developing the whole ecosystem, Priority Sector Lending being one. This, he said is being resilient.

The government assurance to move away from the hydro driven economy, interface between the happiness concept and SDGs and preparing for the future, he said is being timeless.

Reflecting on the core values of His Majesty, the RMA governor Dasho Penjore said that entrepreneurs, should embody humility and responsibility, and especially in the context of accessing financing, the importance of being responsible borrowers.

Why diversify into CSI?

There is a comparative advantage to small companies in a situation where it face competition with big companies. In Bhutan’s context, the World Bank’s chief economist for South Asia, Hans Timmer said that foundations for the CSI’s have been laid through germination of visions of good leadership.

For instance, one  entrepreneur said that His Majesty’s one comment on her business  that ‘she is doing a good job’ has compelled her to break the barriers of financial and social norms.

Bhutan, he said has invested in human capital through free education and it must continue. The country, he added has also started to think about unleashing the potential of its educated lot.

While high youth unemployment is a pertinent issue, he said this is one of the trends in developing countries. Initially, he said most countries employed the educated into civil service or corporate sector because these sectors created a conducive environment, provided incentives and benefits. “But with increasing people graduating from the universities, the government cannot absorb everyone,” he said.

Then comes the transition phase, where a common characteristic is mistrust in private sector.

But what drives the private sector growth Hans Timmer said is competition, both within and outside. “But the general theory doesn’t apply to Bhutan because of its uniqueness and this is why Bhutan has comparative advantage in small companies,” he said adding that improved investment, conducive regulations and technology can drive CSI as a catalyst to economic diversification for Bhutan.

Regionally, he said South Asia is under performing in terms of exports. “Exports determine the competitiveness,“he said.

The president and founder of Loden Foundation, Karma Phuntsho (PhD) said Bhutanese imbibe the values of social entrepreneurship from it tradition, culture and religion. He pointed out a compelling correlation between the four noble truths and eight fold paths of Buddha and a social entrepreneur.

Tshering Dorji