Buying a pair of decent shoe is an expensive affair for Tashi Tshewang’s family, a class 12 student of Desi High School in Thimphu. He was shattered when he could not qualify for a government school two years ago.

Working hard to secure a scholarship for further studies and acquiring a seat in the civil service was his only dream. That, to him, is the only way he can repay his parents who work hard to pay his school expenses.

His parents separated when he was little. As a kid, he saw his stepfather repair shoes. Tashi Tshewang learned the art. “I like playing football but I couldn’t afford a pair of boots. So I made a boot out of torn shoes and proudly wore them,” he said.

Today, this idea of making shoes has earned him two years’ scholarship from His Majesty The King. He came second at the Student Business Seedling (SBS) programme initiated by the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) following a Royal Command.

His Majesty The King visited Desi High School on March 1 and commanded the RMA to organise a competition for business ideas with the objective of encouraging creativity and innovation and to introduce students to the idea of entrepreneurship and self-employment as viable alternative to limited public sector employment. The RMA on March 2 visited the school and came up with SBS programme.

A total of 154 students participated in the programme, out of which 23 were selected to undergo a four-month programme involving design thinking workshop, field visits to local entrepreneurs and businesses, interactions with mentors and boot camp on basic entrepreneurship and business proposal. The 23 students spent their summer vacation in July preparing their business proposals and prototypes.

“Students were confident. Most of them eloquently presented their pitches in Dzongkha,” the RMA governor, Dasho Penjore, said.

This was not the case four months ago, Ganga Sharma, a teacher at Desi High School said.

Karma Denkar, another class 12 student, was a silent girl.

“Sometimes I wondered whether she had a mouth,” the school’s vice principal, Bishnulal Dhimal, said. She came third in the SBS programme and won a two-year scholarship too. Her idea is to make perfumes using flowers that are locally available.

She broke down as she spoke about what this scholarship meant to her family. At the award ceremony held on August 17, their parents were invited and it was an emotional moment. All the winners are from humble background. Some of them are staying with far relatives in Thimphu.

The winner of the SBS programme, Dechen Yangzom, said she did not want to participate initially. But on the insistence of friends, she took part and the result, she said, was unexpected.

Artemisia plant, she said, was used in traditional hot spring baths; to stop bleeding and its juice were used for many purposes. This was her only clue. She wanted to turn the weed into something useful. The class 12 commerce student has developed a prototype in form of a soap. She took help of the exisitng soap  producers and learnt the chemical process from Youtube. She plans to institute a soap factory in the country in the future.

This programme, Ganga Sharma said, has not only honed the entrepreneurial skills but also developed confidence and courage among the students by bringing about a change in mindset.

“We had a notion that even selling doma or running a grocery story was business. Having undergone a four-month long programme, we came to know that this is not how a business is conducted,” said another class 12 student, Tshering Wangmo, who won the consolation prize of one-year scholarship.

“People look down if you run a small business. Now we know that everything you do contributes to nation building,” Tashi Tshewang said. “I was concerned that my education would end if I don’t earn a full scholarship to a government college. But now, even if I don’t qualify, I am ready to start my own business.”

For Phuntsho Wangdi, another class 12 student of Desi High School and winner of the consolation prize, said he valued the new things he got to learned during the course of four months.

Ganga Sharma said this  programme ought to be embedded in the mainstream curriculum in every high school in the country.

While two consolation prizes of one year scholarship were sponsored by RMA, the governor said that this kind of a structured model calls for replication in other schools. “This is not a normal entrepreneurial programme but business education,” Dasho Penjore said.

“Students are now able to translate ideas into business model, write proposals, and work with the financial instutions,” Dasho Penjore said. 

To ensure sustainability of this programme and to replicate in other schools, he said the support of education ministry is crucial.

This programme doesn’t end here for Tashi Tshewang. Even if he gets a scholarship to government college or abroad, he will continue to repair shoes and modify them to augment his pocket money. In future, he plans to gather shoes that are thrown as garbage and reutilise the components to produce a different brand and make.

“I have started this and I have to end it,” he said.


Tshering Dorji