When His Majesty The King spoke to 700 graduates this week, he spoke to them as citizens and builders of a new era. It was a command to the entire generation of Bhutanese youth that theirs is not a mandate to just grow up and find a job; it is to help transform a nation.
The foundation for this task, the roots to anchor the vision for nation building, comes from within. His Majesty asks youth – in fact all Bhutanese – to contemplate on what is unique about Bhutan? How are we different from other countries? In many ways, the world has interpreted Bhutan’s own heritage and achievements into a future vision. This is the image of a spiritual, mystical, happy country that does everything right and of proud and compassionate people living clean organic lives.
The game plan is to translate this somewhat magical dream into a pragmatic vision for nation building. His Majesty outlined the brand of a “dependable and trustworthy” country. At a time when talent and skills have become globally widespread this is a focus on values. Being dependable and trustworthy is to make “our word our bond” – a society functioning on clear principles, validated by codified laws. The government has estimated that Bhutan needs to amend 45 laws to strengthen the regulatory environment and ensure that our children, and their children, will inherit the legacy of being the most dependable country in the world.
His Majesty emphasises the importance of understanding the enormity of this formidable undertaking. The magnitude of such a task cannot be undermined because it is of an unprecedented scale. There are no shortcuts and quick fixes towards the national vision. The only solution is to adapt to change with agility, resolve, and stamina, knowing that there is no achievement without effort, without sacrifice.
The current situation in Bhutan is riddled with limitations. Good jobs are scarce and wages are low. His Majesty has personally seen young Bhutanese struggle with inadequate incomes, conscious of higher wages and opportunities in other countries. But proposing a blind salary hike for all would be a naïve solution; it would be ignoring the laws of economics. Bhutan is a net importer with a drastic negative balance of trade. The capacity for exports is currently minimal and the ambitions for trade are limited to importing container loads of clothing and household items or some vegetable farming, retail shops, and restaurants.
His Majesty The King shares with Bhutanese youth a strategy already in motion. The past year has been a period of diagnostics. Bhutan needs to know, with surgical precision, the root cause of the problem. The country is following a changed vision – changed trajectory. To move forward Bhutan needs to call a spade, a spade. Pretending that things are going well will be a disaster.
The foundation on which Bhutan needs to build a future is infrastructure and education. Infrastructure means roads and bridges, electricity, internet, policy and laws, that supports the vision. His Majesty points out that Bhutanese engineers can’t even align roads, or build drainage systems. The digital culture is disabled by low bandwidth and no Internet redundancy. With regular power blackouts, ideas like data centres and medical hubs are out of the question.
How can Bhutan reform the education system – with 9,000 teachers, nearly 200,000 students, 600 schools as well as legacy issues? The Royal advice is, to start with, be grounded and humble enough to say that Bhutan is not in a good place.
While the government has always counted on hydro power, there are enormous setbacks. At this rate, electricity will become too expensive to be used domestically or to be exported. Another major concern for Bhutan is operating efficiency. The cost of delivering services is extremely high. We have institutions, workers, and intelligent people, but our policy and management system has gone wrong – is not working. If Bhutan remains static, it will be a race to the bottom.
There will be many challenges, setbacks, and disappointments, but His Majesty assured the youth that Bhutan will succeed. The Bhutanese system has been rejuvenated. The Prime Minister and the government leadership are not resorting to populist decisions. They truly understand where Bhutan is, where we need to go, and will brave unpopular decisions to go there. They are thinking about it and working hard – round the clock.
His Majesty notes that some people believe we cannot manage this rate of transformation. They are alarmed, in panic, that things will go wrong. Are we suffering from institutional inertia, ossification, or resisting change? His Majesty also shared the Royal view that it is good people to worry… We must not stop being concerned. Rather than being too entitled and expecting everything to be done free Bhutanese have to have confidence that we can get it done.
After studying the situation from every angle, His Majesty said that he is optimistic. Bhutanese people are intelligent and are fighters. They want a better future and are willing to work. The people are united, courageous, and have tremendous love and devotion for the dharma and for the country. Now is the time to bring out the spirit and fire and, in one or two years, reshape, redefine, recalibrate, upgrade, and strengthen the country.
To Bhutanese public servants, His Majesty said that Bhutan cannot miss this window of opportunity. There are no alternatives – if the country fails, the children will suffer for the current complacency and lack of courage – lack of intelligence. Would the Bhutanese people understand, at this juncture, where it it is heading? This is the epitome of compassion.
People need strategic direction, a clear path. One preferable scenario is that Bhutanese professionals – architects, lawyers, IT engineers, travel agents, expand business outside the country. With Internet 3.0 everything is possible. We can even tap into talent from everywhere in a networked economy, anyone from everywhere. In this day and age – talent and skills are becoming easily affordable on a planet of eight billion people. Bhutanese can sit here and work and earn on a global scale. Today’s professionals need to pave the way.
His Majesty talked to Bhutanese youth, many with their lives and careers ahead of them. The Royal advice was to discover and follow their passion. Choose career paths that do not suppress or underestimate life-long learning and they would grow exponentially. Chase values that are helpful to others. Keep learning, up-skilling, investing in themselves and don’t underestimate magnitude of the challenge … the vicious cycle of finding their careers monotonous, repetitive, not challenging would stunt their growth.
“I have a lot of faith,” His Majesty told the 2022 graduates. “I’m counting on you all.”
Dasho Kinley Dorji