One of the positive aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic has been that it has given us the opportunity to introspect. More than six decades after we set ourselves on the road to planned development, the crisis brought on by the pandemic has jolted us out of our reverie and ask the oft repeated questions: Are we self-sufficient? Do we grow enough to feed ourselves?

It is time we invested in human resource development—country’s youth. The country has done more than enough in creating the necessary physical infrastructures such as a vast network of roads, irrigation channels, infrastructure in health and education sector, etc. But after all that, there is no visible increase in production. This means that one of the most vital spokes in the wheel of our endeavors is missing.

I believe that it is time to enlist the help of our disengaged youth who have everything going for them, except the lack of leadership, motivation and direction to help them harness their abundant energy that remains untapped. We can begin by instilling in them a sense of self-confidence and competence that is inherent in them by directing them on the path of self-discovery by giving them an opportunity to discover the latent talent.

We need to train the youth in entrepreneurial skills through training and opportunity by awakening in them a spirit of “can-do” confidence that has so far remained subdued due to lack of opportunity to prove their mettle. In addition, we also have the returnee from overseas who needs to find a new income source.

Loan Schemes, Proposal Copy-Pasting and NPLs

At the National Day Royal Address in Trongsa in 2016, His Majesty The King commanded: “…If our financial institutions are able to extend unstinted support to young entrepreneurs and farmers, and help in creating numerous opportunities for them, we will derive countless benefits”. Many financial schemes and loan initiatives have since been instituted, such as Priority Sector Lending (PSL), the revamped REDCL loan, the creation of the National CSI Development Bank, and the National Credit Guarantee Schemes, all of which are geared towards enabling an atmosphere for a vibrant commercial and entrepreneurial buoyancy. All of these opportunities, I believe, are designed to offer our youth a leeway to turn themselves into useful and productive citizens of the country. Daring schemes such as collateral-fee loans at lower interest rates offer an opportunity to the youth to avail capital at lending terms that each and every one of them can access and afford.

The country saw an unprecedented proliferation of business proposals for funding by the financial institutions. Anyone with an idea and a polished proposal was provided financing. The number of individuals seeking proposal-writing services have increased. Some individuals with the skills to draft and prepare convincing proposals earned millions. As the number of applications increased, the short-staffed financial institutions faced difficulty in monitoring their clients and their activities.

As was expected, the financial institutions experienced a surge in non-performing loans. It became clear that the unbounded enthusiasm to provide finance to all and sundry was fraught with danger that could result in their own undoing. Beyond the well-presented business proposals, the financial institutions overlooked to gauge the person behind the business plan. They failed to understand that a plan is so much hot air if the person behind the plan does not have the needed expertise and business acumen that can only be acquired through training and experience.

Clearly the financial institutions failed in their need for due diligence, to look beyond the gloss. Recently, it was also floated that one does not even need project proposal to start a business. It was even put out that one does not need a business plan if the financing need of a business is under Nu 0.5 million.

Basic Entrepreneurship Course (BEC) in Chhukha Dzongkhag and Knowing Who Matters in Business

Chhukha Dzongkhag is taking the grass-roots initiative to take entrepreneurship development at the door steps of our entrepreneurs. In the past, such programmes have been held at the national level, lead by the Entrepreneurship and Self-Employment Division under the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR). Through this programme, youths are trained on how to conceive a business idea – how, as an entrepreneur, you try to identify problems of societies and turn that into business opportunities and how one needs to plan businesses to know the costs and ensure proper marketing and sustainability. The aim is to conduct one entrepreneurship course for each gewog in Chhukha. So far, three have been completed and one is currently under way.

One important feature of the programme is inviting all development-related sectors from the dzongkhag and gewog like agriculture, land record, livestock, forestry and CSI banks as resource persons to speak to the trainees during the course. It offers opportunities for the prospective entrepreneurs to learn about roles of each of the sectors and to know the officials in person so that they could contact them and seek their stewardship during their eventual entrepreneurial journey.

The 15-days training is intense and follows the Competency-based Economies through Formation of Enterprises (CEFE) methodology. It is an entrepreneurship-training concept for small and medium scale enterprise promotion, developed and promoted by the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ). The trainers have been trained by MoLHR to take the participants through all the activities which primarily include making a business plan, resource mapping, digital marketing, idea pitching and others. Networking among the participants is promoted to establish business linkages within them in the future.

Mentorship and End-to-End Support for Entrepreneurs

In the past, one of the key reasons prospective entrepreneurs were not able to take their ideas forward was cited as lack of access to finance and a lack of hand-holding by prospective mentors and supporters in their entrepreneurial pursuits. But now that all financial schemes are in place, the entrepreneurs have been provided further support in terms of ‘end-to-end’ or all-round support which includes startup financial grants and mentorship, and guidance by the gewog and dzongkhag administrations. Mentorship is provided in terms of bridging the gaps between the youths and the gewog and dzongkhag officials. The financial grants are small but it is to help them kick-start their ideas. Once they feel confident enough to take their ideas forward, loans can be availed.

Role of NGOs, INGOs & Mentorship Network

When such activities take place at the grass-roots, it often goes unnoticed by the offices in Thimphu, especially NGOs and INGOs who we feel the need to support and acknowledge the grass root efforts. The support may be to see areas of development in which youth can be involved and how they can become part of this local level efforts. Programmes to align and impact rural youths should be prioritized and efforts of the World Bank, like that of Youth Employment and Rural Entrepreneurship (YERE) project  deserve applause for specifically targeting rural youths. The least that we can expect from other NGOs & INGOs is to facilitate mentorship programmes for our rural youth.  A Mentorship Network is desirable at this juncture.

If there is one activity to build the entrepreneurial spirit in the youth of rural Bhutan and live upto the aspirations of our King and the government to establish CSIs, generate self-employment and build confidence and capacity of the rural youth, Basic Entrepreneurship Course is seen as a way forward. Numerous financial schemes from the Financial Institutions, and even from NGOs and INGOs, are provided to our youth and the rural people every year. But without the training in rudiments of business principles and ethics, and building capacity of our youth and rural population who are the principal targets of such schemes, we risk such financial schemes going to waste and increasing number of loan non-performers.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has caused untold misery across the globe, it has also made people reinvent themselves, discover in themselves talents and latent capabilities they did not know they possessed.

Contributed by

Sangay Thinley

Sr. Economic Development Officer, Chhukha Dzongkhag

(Disclaimer: The views presented in this article are that of the Author and not that of Chhukha Dzongkhag)