Conversations still matter: Reflections from the Global Shapers Thimphu Hub Davos Lab Dialogues

Every year, the most influential individuals or organisations in policy, business, academia and everything in between convene in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual meeting to discuss the trends that “shape global, regional and industry agendas,” as the Forum’s mission statement pronounces. This year, in August, this meeting will happen in Singapore.

It is certain that the Covid-19 will take the center place of all discussions. Recovery of the economy, nature and the way we organize our societies will be reexamined and reimagined. It also happens to be so that the young will inherit the consequences of the current crises and therefore, have a stake to determine what a better future will be like for them.

While already a famous adage in Bhutan that the future is in the hands of the youth, the “Davos Lab Dialogues”, an initiative of the Global Shapers Community aimed to operationalize this idea at a global scale. The result would be a youth-driven recovery plan to be presented at the WEF’s special meeting in Singapore.

It was to be achieved by aggregating insights, ideas and concerns of citizens, especially young ones and stakeholders through a ten-week undertaking of global dialogues and surveys held around the world. The vessel: approximately 430 Global Shapers Hubs exist in over 150 countries.

Global Shapers Thimphu Hub began in April 2020. It voluntarily brings together motivated and committed young people from various professional backgrounds to discuss and act for positive impact their community. The Hub organised four Dialogues, supported by Bhutan Foundation, Bhutan Ecological Society, the World Wildlife Fund, the National Environment Commission, and the Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy.

Themes of the Dialogues were determined after reflecting on the most pressing problems our generation currently faces. It was also an opportunity to get voices and insights from Bhutanese youth to a global platform. Its design and approach was youth-focused and youth-driven (with 75% of panel of speakers who were under 30 years). The Dialogues occurred with a mix of in-person and virtual audience.

What ensued was the semblance of a new vision for collective action led by youth for the current decade and beyond that focused on self-inquiry, systems leadership and intergenerational ally-ship. Here are some key takeaways from the Dialogues.

 

Future of Politics: Youth Engagement and Policy Making

Forty-six percent of the total populace in Bhutan is below the age of 25. This represents a positive force with enormous potential to contribute to the socioeconomic, cultural, and political environment. But how do we create platforms to discuss politics without politicizing it, but rather, by understanding the importance of participation in governance and systems? How can young people be included in the policymaking space through thought leadership, solution building, and inclusive participation?

While a fundamental misunderstanding of policymaking as only the job of the government officials was diagnosed to be creating apathy towards action by the young, the need for a new sort of politician/policymaker who is open-minded, innovative and well-versed in the discourses of the digital realm as well as the ground realities were also envisioned. The concept of “GNH activism” emerged to be of great interest: it would be characterised not by protesting as a single interest group against another, but rather, by the willingness to listen to the other side.

Net Zero: Humanizing Climate Change: People, Planet, and Prosperity  

Around the world, countries, cities, and businesses are committing to climate action. At the grassroots level, millions of young people are raising their voices in concern and giving pressure and momentum to decisions at different levels. But how are Bhutanese youth engaging with climate change? The Dialogue re-contextualised climate change within the Bhutanese development pathway wherein key themes of idealism versus reality, moral responsibility and action (or inaction) of the youth came into light. This was grounded in the speakers sharing their personal narratives, value systems and interactions with the (changing) environment. The pressing need for reforms and partnerships that support knowledge-sharing and solution-building towards climate action and fostering collaborations were also emphasized.

 

Digital Literacy: Technology and Digital Media; Ethics and Moral Responsibility; Consumption; and Behaviour

Digital tools afford users the chance to connect and create with others in the country and beyond, bringing entrepreneurial, technological, and socially beneficial opportunities. While individual responsibility was emphasized as the most relevant aspect of digital literacy, the speakers also highlighted that those who need it the most often do not receive instruction. Case in point: significant proportion of people are illiterate or semi-literate and would need content on digital literacy in their dialect. However, another speaker contended that literate, urban population overwhelmingly fall prey to the pitfalls of scams or hacks simply because of increased consumption. Here then, matters the resilience of our digital systems that are modern, user-friendly and safe. However, the participants contended with the fact that legislation is far behind to provide recourse for the ills or the innovations brought about by the digital sector.

 

Conscious Consumerism: Food Security and Food Systems in Bhutan

There is not a want of discussion on food security in the country. By talking about conscious consumerism, which is the awareness of how we engage in the economy and how our consumption impacts society at large, this Dialogue discussed how the consumption side of food impacts Bhutan’s environment, economy and society. Panellists reflected on the cultural and economic developments that have caused the evolution of people’s diet, nutrition and eating habits in Bhutan. It was clear that there was a fundamental need to question if our consumption is reflective of our lifestyles and values. Furthermore, to reframe the agriculture sector that is exciting, filled with opportunities and innovation especially for youth, the mitigation of risk and creation of certainty in the form of social safety nets (healthcare, pension, steady income, etc.) which are usually available in an office job for instance, was pointed out as important.

Contributed by 

Global shapers Thimphu Hub 

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