At the very outset, I would like to put forth a disclaimer that the views expressed in this article are my own and do not in any way reflect that of my organisation.

Self-reliance is the ability, commitment, and effort to provide the spiritual and temporal including the economic necessities of life for self, family, and country.

However, for this discourse, I would like to limit only to the economic self-reliance. Self-reliance may be understood as self-sufficiency, self-support, self-sustenance, self-standing, independence, autarky and nation building.

Self-reliance can be also interpreted as – “to be able to stand on one’s own feet,” a literal translation of a common expression in Dzongkha. When someone is said to be unable to stand on one’s own feet, it implies a state of dependency. Dependency is a state of relying on other, and the other could be another person or an organization or a country or even a thing, as the case may be and invariably that “other” has the upper hand. Sometimes this dependent – patron relationship can be of a slave and a master model in the worst-case scenario. So, the importance of self-reliance cannot be emphasized enough, especially for strong nation building. Lack of self-reliance can even undermine the sovereignty and security of a nation.

It is ironic that the concept of self-reliance came along with the advent of modern development. We were self-reliant, including food except for salt, before we opened up to the world and began the development process. Today we are not self-reliant including rice, the staple food.

Consequently, self-reliance has been consistently one of the recurring national goals since the start of our first five-year development plans in the early sixties and I believe we have come a long way. But I am afraid that it may be also a fact that we still have a long way to go.

Under a dependency condition, a nation’s development can be driven by either or combination of donor grants and borrowings. So in a layman’s term, the dependency status can be considered void only, when the all necessary resources are met internally and the internal resources are sustainable and in surplus.

Sustainable is a more important condition than surplus because surplus can be for just one time, while sustainable is for all times. A surplus condition can also be achieved temporarily and artificially, but not sustainability. Self-reliance has to be sustainable. Therefore, I believe, self-reliance has to be approached more as astate of mindthan as a state of resources. More than anything, changing the mind-set would contribute more to the realization of self-reliance.

So far, we have focussed more on the state of resources. We pump in resources to remove the numerous development challenges associated with social, financial, infrastructure, markets, and accessibility. I believe we are doing very well on this front, in fact, sometimes even overdoing at the cost of debt. But on the other hand, we may be acutely lagging behind in the area of developing the necessary state of mind to attain sustainable self-reliance. The mind-sets that support sustainable self-reliance such as problem-solving, critical thinking, entrepreneurship, farsightedness, self-help, collaboration, responsibility, accountability and a higher degree of will and commitment to work hard, need to be aggressively advocated and inculcated in the citizenry in the interest of sustainable self-reliance.

I believe the state of mind of our citizenry related to sustainable self-reliance is not very healthy. It could be even on the verge of getting sick. In my work area, I have been observing increasing cases of minds dominated by dependency that I have named as “dependency syndrome.”  Today it is quite normal for the citizens to expect and get paid monetary compensation for attending a training programme to equip themselves with useful skills. Many a time, there would not be participants if they knew in advance that there would not be meals and monetary compensations. They expect almost everything free so much so that at times, it becomes difficult to get even minimum support in any government led public works. They are getting used to the freebies and charity.

If not checked, the dependency syndrome could possibly choke our goal of self-reliance. Dependency syndrome glaringly promotes complacency and charity driven state of mind. This syndrome promotes the belief that everything will be done by the Government and the Golden Throne. I am afraid this culture of citizenry complacency or charity driven culture is getting further deepened with the way we have conducted during the last decade.For instance, the elected officials of the local government are more conservative with no or minimal confrontation in their dealings with the citizenry (voters) with the hope to get continued support in future elections. Sometimes decisions are taken despite knowing that it is harmful to self-reliance but because it is something the citizenry wants simply for their short-term convenience.

This trend needs to be reversed and stopped to make the national objective of sustainable self-reliance real and achievable. Everyone, especially the civil and elected public servants may like to be more mindful of these emerging disease of dependency syndrome which is triggered by charity driven and freebie laden development approaches and take charge of a mission to get our citizens rather more responsible and accountable unconditionally. We would not have changed anything substantially if we have not changed the state of mind.

We may be inspired and guided by what our The Great Fourth has said in the Coronation address in 1974, “…As far as you, my people, are concerned, you should not adopt the attitude that whatever is required to be done for your welfare will be done entirely by the government. On the contrary, a little effort on your part will be as much more effective than a great deal of effort on the part of the government…”

Contributed by

Dorji Dhradhul