His Royal Highness Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck became Bhutan’s first digital citizen on February 21 by launching Bhutan’s national digital identity. Beyond the launch of a game-changing national priority, the gesture is deeply symbolic in the context of a nation in transformation.

Bhutan has been known for some historic firsts which have had a worldwide impact, both pragmatic and visionary. For example, the emphasis on the anthropological significance of national identity and the definition of happiness as a human goal are legacies. The preservation of a pristine ecology, in which Bhutan has been ahead of most nations, is more valued than ever.

Given its mystical past, what is particularly amazing is the emergence of Bhutan as a pioneer in digital technology. At a time when digitally advanced countries are experimenting with cutting-edge technology to upskill services and facilities, Bhutan is leapfrogging the entrepreneurial race by becoming the first nation to adopt the self-sovereign identity model to establish a nationwide digital identity.

The self-sovereign identity model is based on Decentralised Identity (DID) technology, which gives people more control over their personal information and who can access it. This is not just a departure from known practice. This is breaking new ground through bold innovation. While some countries are looking at versions of this technology, the government and Druk Holdings and Investments have responded to His Majesty the King’s inspiration to create a system instead of buying one off-the-shelf.

Such an innovation does not come without numerous inevitable questions, even doubts.

With global taglines like “reaching the unreached” and “leaving no one behind”, what happens to the already existing gap between the technology haves and have-nots? We have learnt that inequity is one of the most devastating causes of problems for any nation. The digital gap can be far more debilitating than previous challenges like the gender and generation gaps, as we live in an age when technology is a must for all aspects of life.

But it is encouraging that nearly every Bhutanese family is on Wechat or Facebook and Bhutan has achieved over 90 percent of coverage of households by smartphones. Digital payment is already a norm, from parking tickets to vegetables to all forms of online trade. And when beggars in parts of China hang their WeChat accounts around their necks instead of accepting cash, there is no question of avoiding technology.

The threat of cybercrime casts a large shadow – security is a real and immediate concern. We live in times when people are already getting conned and robbed in countless ways, and past experience has taught us that there’ll be no end to this trend.

The image of our seven-year-old Gyalsey punching the iPad to activate the new system, with amazing confidence, stirs many thoughts and emotions. Even as we question the risks of putting out our personal information out there, in a world of predators, this is a resounding message that our system, starting from His Majesty The King, trusts the initiative.

It also reveals a new mindset of a new generation. Future Bhutanese citizens will not be intimidated by technology and are willing to take calculated risks. The message? The future generation is moving in, not necessarily to replace the old but to expand the dimensions of our society.

As we watch and reflect on today’s revolutionary changes, we realise that these are complex pieces of a jigsaw coming together and the puzzle is becoming bigger and clearer. The final picture is a progressive and prosperous nation.

We do need the thinkers, the curious, and even the critics. Their thoughts, if honest and well-meaning, are welcome. Our people need to be aware of what is happening and we must all play our part in the nation-building.

This is transformation in action. A new Bhutan is not a static goal which you reach and stop. The process of transformation – the journey itself – is an end goal.  Every step is an achievement in a process that we do not want to miss.