International participants leave inspired but local ones seem less impressed

Conference: The sixth international conference on Gross National Happiness, which was attended by hundreds of participants, ended yesterday.

The conference saw speakers from almost every region in the world share their interpretations, suggestions, and experiences on GNH, and network with others who believe that the world needs a new development model.

Many participants, particularly international ones, not only return home equipped with new networks and ideas, but also with the knowledge that Bhutan, where GNH was conceived by His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, is a country attempting to realize this alternative developmental model.

“I think most people would go away with a similar feeling to what I have, which is that it’s one of the more hopeful things in the world,” James Chalmers (Phd), an Australian university professor, said. “Bhutan is an example for the world,” he said.

Chalmers and his wife, Linda, also a university teacher, plan to introduce a course on GNH in their university curriculum.

“I really believe GNH is the formula to transform human existence and the current model that’s obviously not working,” Jorge Lopez Duriga, who is attempting to adapt the GNH model to the company he works for, said.

Wolfgang Kessler, a journalist from Germany, said that the conference had provided many good examples of people trying to change the world for the better, and that many of them had ended up in Bhutan as a result of the concept of GNH.

Centre for Bhutan Studies President, Dasho Karma Ura, said that the conference had achieved the goal of triggering action in other countries.  A second major achievement, he said, was the display of leadership in Bhutan by His Majesty the King, who attended during the second day of the conference.  His Majesty The King spent two hours conversing with participants.

Dasho Karma Ura revealed that it was His Majesty The King’s idea to have the conference on the grounds of the Ugyen Pelri palace and housed in mega-tents.  Dasho said that the venue had played a significant role in opening the minds of the participants.

Many Bhutanese, who attended the conference, aware that Bhutan is setting an example for the world, said that it was time for action, and not just words.

On the very first day of the session, Dasho Neten Zangmo, the former chairperson of the Anti Corruption Commission, during her session, pointed out to the audience that soft drinks in plastic bottles were being served during breaks, while inside, participants discussed GNH.  She said that GNH would not work if there was no consciousness about the development philosophy.

The soft drinks were not served the next day.

Dasho Neten Zangmo said that it was time for GNH values to be manifesting individually. “I think now enough of talking,” she said, adding that Bhutanese needed to begin understanding what it really meant, instead of simply just referring to the four pillars.

She said that the world was looking at Bhutan as an example and that it must succeed for the world to follow.

She also referred to another session by Kent Schroeder (Phd) who researched the implementation of GNH in Bhutan.  Schroeder found three shortcomings in implementing GNH policies in Bhutan at the policy level.  He found that implementation is a politicised affair and based on the interest of the ministry or agency implementing it.  He also found that the GNH policy screening tool was not used as often and, at times, was even viewed as redundant.  His third finding was that many of the people tasked with implementing GNH do not understand what it means in the first place.

Dasho Neten Zangmo said that Bhutanese civil servants and policy makers must accept such criticism with an open mind and not take offence.  She said that such feedback is required for Bhutan so that it can succeed.

“We’ve entered a new phase, unless we put GNH into action, too much talk starts sounding hollow,” Tashi Colman, who works for the Samdrupjongkhar Initiative said.  He pointed out that Bhutan has defined it, and shown how to measure it, and that all that is left is for it to be translated into practical actions on the ground.

He also pointed out that some are cynical about GNH. “It’s such an extraordinary vision for the world, we can’t afford people to become cynical about it, it’s too important to risk losing this,” he said.  He added that it is hoped that more such initiatives like the one is Samdrupjongkhar start appearing in other parts of the country.

Social worker Phuntso Rabten said there are gaps in GNH discourse and implementation.  He pointed out that, while Bhutan has GNH policies, sometimes moves made in the opposite direction are made, such as the lack of green spaces in Thimphu city and the move to open a meat-processing farm in Bhutan.  He said that Bhutan is instructing the world on GNH, but that it is time to demonstrate it instead.

One Bhutanese participant, who wished not be named, bemoaned the lack of policy makers attending the conference.  Except for a session on how the civil service is attempting to inculcate GNH practices at the workplace, the lack of government officials attending the conference was evident.

Another participant hoped that policy makers would at least access the conference’s materials that are scheduled to be uploaded to the website of the Centre for Bhutan Studies.

However, international participants were more accommodating of limitations in practice.

Martin Lohmann (Phd), who has been in the country for three weeks, said he did not expect a paradise.  He pointed out that every country has its own problems, but that Bhutan is still in a good situation as it has made much progress and achievement when compared regionally and globally.

Gyalsten K Dorji