Although entrepreneurship is not a new concept in Bhutan, a recent labour ministry study has found that the social and economic conditions are still not conducive for new start-ups.
With societal and cultural norms dictating the lives of the Bhutanese, educational institutions were found to produce employees instead of employers. This is a significant finding for it calls on policy makers and educationists to inculcate the values of entrepreneurship in schools.
The study has come at a time when efforts are on to give entrepreneurship a boost. The REDCL schemes despite being mired in controversies were initiated to harness the entrepreneurial skills of the unemployed by giving them easy access to credit. The priority sector-lending (PSL) scheme was also launched to allow aspiring entrepreneurs to access credit and initiate start-ups.
These programmes are however, yet to gain pace. While some dzongkhags have started receiving business proposals and loans for a few have also been sanctioned, the PSL scheme has not gained momentum. It has been learnt that people prefer REDCL loan schemes to PSL because its interest rate is almost half of what banks are offering. There are also reports of some dzongkhags not receiving a single business proposal for PSL while some dzongkhag committees have been unable to meet, what with most of their officials on election duty.
What could compound this situation is the lack of support from the community to entrepreneurs. The study reports that most graduates believe that starting a business is an expensive affair and that one needs strong social connections. They are not wrong. Our children are growing up with this understanding of entrepreneurship and when such norms inform their career choice, getting them to venture into business would pose a challenge.
But despite challenges, there has been some progress, number wise, at least. The study reports that in the 10th and 11th Plan, a total of 444 new business start-ups were initiated. Civil society organisations are also engaged in supporting entrepreneurs and this has to be sustained and encouraged.
Entrepreneurs are hailed as agents of change because their innovations create jobs and boost economic development. Bhutan has just begun to see its potential. The recent schemes may have opened an avenue where a business idea is enough to begin a start-up. But if the perception of the youth, the schemes’ target, towards entrepreneurship remains shaky, we have much work to do.
The study recommends a business research center to enhance the youth’s knowledge on the labour market scenario and to have a business idea and opportunities inventory as a resource document. Our youth and policy makers must tap the power of technology in not only making these resources available but also in initiating start-ups.
Entrepreneurship is not a smooth process especially when funding and mentorship are scarce. But when there is political will and concerted efforts are made to encourage entrepreneurship among the youth, the society must work together. It must create a conducive business environment. It must start by redefining entrepreneurship.