Showcasing the contributions made to date, the third Civil Society Organisation (CSO) fair opened in Thimphu yesterday.

The presence of CSOs has grown over the years.  A recent pilot research done on the presence of CSOs showed that most CSOs are regarded as part of the government. However, with the National Order of Merit, Gold being conferred to 23 CSOs by His Majesty The King in 2016, their presence is growing.

A diverse group of CSOs are operating for health, women, gender, youth, livelihood improvement, shelter, entrepreneurs, and media, preserving culture, nature and animals.

Executive Director of Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) Sonam Dorji, said such fairs showcase a positive image of the CSO fraternity, which encourages them to be more proactive and beneficial.

Although CSOs were formally registered with the Civil Society Organisations Authority (CSOA) only in 2010, there did already exist CSOs such as the National Youth Association of Bhutan (NYAB), Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN), Loden Foundation, and Tarayana Foundation.

Sensing the important role CSOs played in implementing government activities, the Civil Society Organisations Act of Bhutan was legislated in 2007 and to implement the Act, CSOA was formed two years later.  “Now the CSOs have a legal basis of functioning, and a legal parameter within which they could function,” Sonam Dorji said.

Executive Professional Director of Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy (BCMD) Siok Sian Pek-Dorji, said that when the country has a strong civil society, it means that democracy is stronger. “It shows that people are not just sitting and waiting for government to do something but are trying to do something on their own.”

The group started coming together as a fraternity with few CSOs meeting informally once a month to discuss issues and opportunities related to the sector. Currently, the meetings are held once every three months.

Executive director of Bhutan Kidney Foundation, Tashi Namgay, said that with all the CSOs coming together under the umbrella of CSO fraternity, the CSOs can avoid duplication and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses for better collaboration to bring better outcome.

Director (Programmes) with Tarayana Foundation, Sonam Pem said that the CSOs are all serving the same purpose of helping the government in nation building.  “We are a facilitating bridge between the people and national programmes. We work on how best to take government services to the communities.”

For better functioning of the fraternity, a core committee of nine members were nominated and selected among the CSOs in 2015.  For easier communication, each member of the committee is responsible for four to five other CSOs.

During their annual retreats, the members came up with a vision and mission for the CSO sector. “With the mission and a vision we are trying to envision a future for ourselves and we want to strengthen the civil society’s presence,” Siok Sian Pek-Dorji said. “It helps the CSOs guide and gives a stronger sense of who we are and where we should be heading.”

To be able to collaborate and be more effective, the CSOs first aim to strengthen civil society as a credible, compassionate and an inclusive agent of change guided by GNH values, create a collaborative, inclusive and enabling environment to address the diverse needs of people and promote, advocate and strengthen active citizen engagement in democratic governance, and development of communities.

Sonam Pem said that the CSOs also contribute to different national goals. However, if the projects do not involve government agencies, it goes unreported in national reports. “If the government includes all the contributions made by CSOs, the development picture of the country would be more inclusive,” she said. “We are happy that the government is considering engagement of CSOs in the 12th Plan.”

Karma Cheki