Re-thinking entrepreneurship through the lens of culture: Implications for sustainable entrepreneurship education in Bhutan

Kent Schroeder, Executive Director, Bhutan Canada Foundation

* This Think Piece is an adaptation of a paper presented by the author at the Seventh International Conference on Gross National Happiness in Thimphu, Bhutan.

Introduction

Promoting entrepreneurship is a key vehicle to foster diversified economic growth. This is particularly important for Bhutan given its small and nascent private sector. Yet certain characteristics of national cultures, including that of Bhutan’s culture, have been identified as barriers to effectively promoting entrepreneurship. This Think Piece argues, in contrast, that thinking differently about the role of Bhutan’s culture in promoting entrepreneurship can provide a more meaningful perspective on Bhutanese business and entrepreneurship education. It suggests that alternative understandings of entrepreneurship among Bhutanese entrepreneurs themselves redefine the nature of entrepreneurship based on local cultural values. This redefinition, in turn, lends itself to more sustainable form of entrepreneurship. The article concludes with a discussion of the implications of this cultural rethinking for entrepreneurship education in the country.

Culture and entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is broadly defined as new business creation that provides self-employment, is focused on growth and usually creates jobs.[1] The level of entrepreneurial activity, however, differs across countries. Previous research points to a number of factors that explain these differences. One factor is culture.[2] According to this research, cultural values that emphasize risk-taking, individualism and competition are associated with entrepreneurial behavior. In contrast, cultural values that emphasize collectivity and conformity are less likely to promote entrepreneurship. Cultural values can therefore influence, positively or negatively, individuals’ attitudes towards entrepreneurship, society’s demand for entrepreneurs and the attraction of entrepreneurship as a vehicle for self-employment.

Culture is defined as “the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one human group from another and includes systems and values.”[3] Geert Hofstede has developed a set of six dimensions that characterize culture. The dimensions include:

i) Power distance: the degree to which people in a society accept hierarchy and unequal distributions of power as normal.

ii) Individualism versus collectivism: the degree to which people in a society prefer a framework of loosely knit individuals who take care of themselves versus a tightly knit collective that is interconnected.

iii) Masculinity versus femininity: the degree to which people in a society are motivated by achievement, competition, assertiveness and quantity versus cooperation, caring and quality.

iv) Uncertainty avoidance: the degree to which people in a society are comfortable with uncertain or ambiguous situations.

v) Long-term versus short-term orientation: how members of a society prioritize maintaining links to their past while preparing for the challenges of the future.

vi) Indulgence versus restraint: the degree to which members of a society prioritize the gratification of human desires versus the suppression of these desires.

According to Hofstede, each national culture is characterized by where it falls on an index of 100 points for each of these six dimensions.[4] Past research has hypothesized that low power distance, high individualism, high masculinity and low uncertainty avoidance contribute to a more entrepreneurial culture.[5] While these relationships do not always hold across all levels of economic development or over time[6] they generally are consistent with a national culture that promotes entrepreneurial motivation and activity. What, then, are the implications of these dimensions for an entrepreneurial culture in Bhutan?

Bhutanese entrepreneurship through the lens of culture

The private sector in Bhutan has historically been small. The government of Bhutan has, in response, made significant efforts to promote private sector development and entrepreneurship. Indeed, the Bhutanese private sector has been identified as a key player to help drive the country’s national development strategy known as Gross National Happiness (GNH). GNH strives for a more holistic and integrated approach to development that moves beyond a sole focus on economic growth. It places economic growth as one of multiple pillars of development that include nine social, cultural, ecological and governance related domains. All of these domains are meant to work together in an integrated and mutually reinforcing way to promote the conditions for happiness in the country. In this sense, entrepreneurship is not just about economic growth; it interacts with other GNH domains to contribute to a broader, more holistic, realization of people’s development.

Given the need for entrepreneurship to contribute to GNH, Bhutan’s Economic Development Policy of 2016 explicitly outlines the importance of developing the culture and institutions required to foster entrepreneurship in the country. Similarly, the Cottage, Small and Medium Industry Policy of 2012 prioritizes the development of an entrepreneurial culture as one of its six strategic areas of focus. A look at where Bhutan falls on Hofstede’s dimensions of culture, however, suggests there may be challenges for developing an entrepreneurial spirit to expand the private sector. Again, low power distance (rejection of hierarchy), high individualism, high masculinity (competitiveness and assertiveness) and low uncertainty avoidance (comfort with ambiguity) are generally hypothesized within past research as contributing to a more entrepreneurial culture. Bhutan’s national culture, in contrast, is characterized by extremely high power distance, medium individualism, low masculinity and low uncertainty avoidance (figure 1). In other words, Bhutan’s culture is characterized by high levels of hierarchy, medium levels individualism, low levels of competitiveness and a general comfort with ambiguity. While the latter bodes well for an entrepreneurial culture in Bhutan, the other three are significant barriers.

FIGURE 1

Note:       Bhutanese data not available for Long-term orientation and Indulgence

Source:    https://www.hofstede-insights.com/country-comparison/bhutan/

Additional research confirms this conclusion. While this research uses a number of additional dimensions beyond Hofstede’s, its points to a similar finding, particularly as it relates to entrepreneurship and Bhutanese youth: “The development of effective national entrepreneurship programs in Bhutan will face significant challenges from adverse cultural factors.” [7]

So where does this leave Bhutan? Do adverse cultural factors make the promotion of entrepreneurship as envisioned in the Economic Development Policy a pipe dream? Bhutanese cultural characteristics indeed appear to act as a barrier to the pursuit of economic growth through entrepreneurship. Yet this is only the case if entrepreneurship is understood in terms of a western cultural framework of non-hierarchical competitiveness for individual gain. A more positive picture emerges for Bhutan if the concept of entrepreneurship itself is re-framed in Bhutanese cultural terms. Evidence of this comes from a study by the author that included, in part, an exploration of the role of Bhutanese entrepreneurs in promoting GNH.[8] This included an analysis of Bhutanese entrepreneurs’ own understanding of the concept of entrepreneurship. Their insights are revealing. Bhutanese entrepreneurs re-defined the concept of entrepreneurship beyond economics. Their understanding of the term was rooted in the notion of interdependence. For them, a tight and inherent interdependence exists across economic, cultural and environmental systems. Entrepreneurship may create economic growth, but it must also be a vehicle to preserve culture and conserve the environment. It is about a holistic interlinkage across all of them. In essence, whether they knew it or not, these entrepreneurs were re-defining entrepreneurship in GNH terms. Profit is not absent in this equation but it is inextricably linked to cultural and ecological concerns. According to one Bhutanese business owner in the tourism industry: “Profit is not everything. Our philosophy and belief is if we are profitable as a society, as a community, as a tour company, we need to take care of [cultural and ecological] things. If not we’ll kill the golden goose.” According to another: “we feel so much for preservation of culture and identity.” Similarly, another entrepreneur spoke of his worry of placing too much emphasis on the economic aspect of the tourism industry. “My worry,” he said, “is that we don’t have a viable system to handle 250,000 tourists… [increasing] tourist numbers is not just buying two new aircrafts and having 600 licensed operators and hotels. There are so many other things to it like how we look after our garbage and cultural things.”

The notion of interdependence is at the heart of these statements. The relationship between economic, cultural and ecological concerns is not viewed as a zero sum struggle between profit and ecological sustainability, or profit and cultural preservation; they are an integrated whole, where each should be balanced in order to be mutually beneficial to the others. Addressed interdependently, they exist in a virtuous circle. In contrast, killing cultural or ecological integrity also kills the golden economic goose. A western understanding of entrepreneurship as individualistic competition for economic gain is re-defined as a Bhutanese understanding of collective interdependence across economic, ecological and cultural concerns.

This was perhaps most strikingly demonstrated in a series of events within the tourism industry where many Bhutanese entrepreneurs pushed back at an attempt by the government to place more emphasis on the economic aspect of the industry. Tourism policy in Bhutan has historically made it expensive for international tourists to visit the country in order to protect the country’s environment and culture from large numbers of tourists. At the heart of this policy is the recognition of the importance of balance across economic, ecological and cultural concerns even if this limits economic returns. Low numbers of high paying tourists attempted to create this balance. The counterpoint for many Bhutanese is the case of Nepal, where mass tourism has brought in large numbers of tourists and huge revenue at the expense of the country’s environment and cultural heritage.[9] Bhutan’s tourism policy was initially termed high value; low volume to reflect the balance sought by the government and to do so through low numbers of tourists. Nonetheless, the growing economic potential of the tourism industry, combined with a changing Bhutanese economy with new challenges rooted in rural/urban migration and youth unemployment, led to tourism being viewed in a new light. The policy of high value; low volume was replaced with high value; low impact. The difference in wording was subtle but significant. It illustrated a shift away from minimizing the volume of tourist arrivals to a new emphasis on increasing them to promote greater economic growth, while continuing to mitigate negative impacts on culture and the environment low. According to government officials, this was not an abandonment of the balance of GNH domains. It was a re-balancing of the domains given the evolution in the economy that needed to be addressed.[10]

Part of the revised tourism policy proposed dramatically increasing the number of international tourists by making it much less expensive to visit the country. From the perspective of a westerner, this would seem to be a boon to the Bhutanese private sector. Yet, many Bhutanese tourism entrepreneurs pushed back, arguing that the proposed increase in tourist numbers would overwhelm the needed balance between economic, cultural and ecological concerns, with negative implications for the latter two. In response, the government abandoned its proposal to decrease the cost of visiting the country as a way to increase tourist numbers and actually increased the cost.

To the western mind, this might all sound counter-intuitive coming from the private sector. From the Bhutanese perspective, it is not. While notions of corporate social responsibility, sustainable business and social entrepreneurship exist within the private sector in the west, they historically are not central to how entrepreneurship is conceptualized. In contrast, for these Bhutanese entrepreneurs, the notion of economic-cultural-ecological interdependence was the very bedrock upon which entrepreneurship is understood. Non-economic aspects are not add-ons; they are foundational.

Bhutanese cultural values underlie this re-framed understanding of entrepreneurship. Bhutanese entrepreneurs spoke about their values as the engine that drives how they pursue their interdependent understanding of business. Values such as balance, harmony among all living things, and interconnectedness across the past and present were central. The entrepreneurs referred to these as Bhutanese values, GNH values, Buddhist values or Buddhist-Hindu values. As the foundation of a Bhutanese understanding of entrepreneurship, these cultural values are not a barrier to entrepreneurship as some research suggests. Rather, they are a facilitator of a distinctly Bhutanese kind of entrepreneurship where profit is more finely balanced with ecological conservation and cultural preservation. A cultural lens is therefore critical for understanding an appropriate conceptualization of entrepreneurship in Bhutan.

To make the point from a different angle, a similar study was undertaken with young entrepreneurs in Indonesia.[11] Similar to the Bhutanese case, Indonesian entrepreneurs also re-defined the nature of entrepreneurship based on their own cultural values, which are characterized by an even greater collectivist character than Bhutan’s culture.[12] The result: an distinctly Indonesian conceptualization of entrepreneurship that is not only different from western understandings of the term, but different from Bhutan’s as well. While Bhutanese emphasized economic-cultural-ecological interdependence as the foundation of entrepreneurship, Indonesian entrepreneurs understood entrepreneurship as collective social good. Entrepreneurship for these Indonesians is about two parallel aspects: generating wealth and using this wealth to improve the social conditions, bonds and harmony of one’s own community. The two are mutually important and foundational. In practice, this means, for example, that these Indonesian entrepreneurs were often creating jobs for family or community members even if it inhibited their ability to make greater profit. Like the Bhutanese case, using a cultural lens yields a more appropriate understanding of how entrepreneurship is understood and practiced in Indonesia. Dismissing entrepreneurial potential based on western values is replaced by understanding the specific role entrepreneurship can play within its cultural context.

Using a cultural lens, and its application to Bhutan in particular, is significant for the larger concept of sustainability. While Bhutanese cultural values may inhibit entrepreneurship when defined solely as an economic phenomenon, those same values contribute positively to fostering a more holistic and sustainable form of entrepreneurship relevant to the Bhutanese context specifically. They promote an understanding and practice of a balanced conceptualization of entrepreneurship more closely connected to maintaining cultural and ecological integrity. Sustainability is therefore the very core of entrepreneurship. Bhutanese cultural values in this sense are not barriers to fostering an entrepreneurial culture; they are in fact part of the answer. They push the practice of entrepreneurship in a more integrated and holistic direction where profit is pursued hand-in-hand with environmental conservation and cultural preservation. Bhutanese cultural values become the springboard upon which to build a more sustainable and holistic private sector.

Implications for entrepreneurship education

What practical applications emerge from this discussion? How can a more sustainable notion of entrepreneurship be fostered that is rooted to cultural values in Bhutan? Appropriate entrepreneurship education is the starting point. Entrepreneurship curriculum and teaching methods need to reflect their cultural and social environments.[13] Nonetheless, many entrepreneurship education programs across the world are primarily located in Business Schools and take a one-size-fits all approach rooted in western experience.[14] The perspective of Bhutanese entrepreneurs demonstrates that this is a mistake. Grounding entrepreneurship education in local cultural values means not simply replicating western curriculum. Doing so will miss the richness of culturally appropriate conceptualizations of entrepreneurship that may, as the case of Bhutan suggests, potentially foster a more sustainable approach to business closely connected to local culture. Bhutanese entrepreneurship education should therefore ensure the country’s cultural values are the foundation of curriculum, particularly at the curriculum design stage. It should ensure that a culturally appropriate understanding of entrepreneurship as economic-cultural-ecological interdependence is the core of how entrepreneurship is taught. This is no mere focus on corporate social responsibility or social entrepreneurship as sub-themes within a larger, economic-centric entrepreneurship curriculum. In essence, this means Bhutan should ensure to “GNH” entrepreneurship curriculum both within formal public education programs and short-term private sector training. Bhutan has a history of attempting to infuse GNH into curriculum.[15] Ensuring this extends to both public and private entrepreneurship education and training will help foster a distinctly ‘Bhutanese’ entrepreneurial spirit, a spirit that is culturally relevant in its connection to the interdependence at the core of meaningful sustainability.

Endnotes

[1] Hayton, George & Zahra 2002, 33

[2] Hayton, George & Zahra 2002; Herbig 1994; Liñàn & Fernandez-Serrano 2014; Mueller & Thomas 2000; Shane 1992; 1993; Valliere 2014; Wennekers et al. 2001

[3] Hofstede 1980: 25

[4] Hofstede & Minkov 2013

[5] Hayton, George and Zahra 2002

[6] Baum et al. 1993; Pinillos & Reyes 2011; Tiessen 1997

[7] Vallier 2014, 141

[8] Schroeder 2018. The overall study focused more broadly on governance and the implementation of GNH policies, but included an analysis of the role of the private sector.

[9] Schroeder and Sproule-Jones 2012

[10] Schroeder 2015

[11] Schroeder 2017

[12] For a comparison of Indonesia and Bhutan based on Hofstede’s six characteristics of culture, please see https://www.hofstede-insights.com/country-comparison/bhutan,indonesia/

[13] Jones & Iredale 2014

[14] Lourenҫo, Taylor & Taylor 2013

[15] Gyamtso, Sherab & Maxwell 2017

Works Cited

Baum, J.R., Olian, J.D., Erez, M., Schnell, E.R., Smith, K.G., Sims, H.P., Scully, J.S. and Smith, K.A. (1993). Nationality and work role interactions: a cultural contrast of Israeli and U.S. entrepreneurs’ versus managers’ needs. Journal of Business Venturing 8, 499–512.

Gyamtso, D.C., Sherab, K. and Maxwell, T.W. (2017). Teacher learning in changing professional contexts: Bhutanese teacher educators and the Educating for GNH initiative. Cogent Education 4.

Hayton, J.C., George, G. and Zahra, S.A. (2002). National culture and entrepreneurship: A Review of behavioral research. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice (Summer), 33-2.

Herbig, P. (1994). The innovation matrix: Culture and structure prerequisites to innovation. Westport, CT: Quorum.

Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture’s consequences: International differences in work-related values. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Hofstede, G. and Minkov, M. (2013). Values survey module 2013 manual.

Jones, B. and Iredale, N. (2014). Enterprise and entrepreneurship education: towards a comparative analysis. Journal of Enterprising Communities 8(1), 34-50.

Liñàn, F. and Fernandez-Serrano, J. (2014). National culture, entrepreneurship and economic development: Different patterns across the European Union. Small Business Economics 42, 685– 701.

Lourenҫo, F., Taylor, T. and Taylor, D. (2013). Integrating “education for entrepreneurship” in multiple faculties in “half-the-time” to enhance graduate entrepreneurship. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development 20(3), 503-525.

Mueller, S.L. and Thomas, A.S. (2000). Culture and entrepreneurial potential: A nine country study of locus of control and innovativeness. Journal of Business Venturing 16, 51–75.

Pinillos, M. J. & Reyes, L. (2011). Relationship between individualist–collectivist culture and entrepreneurial activity: Evidence from Global Entrepreneurship Monitor data. Small Business Economics 37(1), 23–37.

Schroeder, K. (2018). Politics of Gross National Happiness: Governance and development in Bhutan. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Schroeder, K. (2017). Re-thinking entrepreneurship through the lens of culture: Two snapshots from Indonesia and Bhutan. Paper presented at the 7th International GNH Conference, Thimphu, Bhutan.

Schroeder, K. (2015). Cultural values and sustainable tourism governance in Bhutan. Sustainability 7(12), 16616-16630.

Schroeder, K. and Sproule-Jones, M. (2012). Culture and policies for sustainable tourism: A South Asian comparison. Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis 14(4), 330-351.

Shane, S.A. (1993). Cultural influences on national rates of innovation. Journal of Business Venturing 8, 59–73.

Shane, S.A. (1992). Why do some societies invent more than others? Journal of Business Venturing 7, 29–46.

Tiessen, J.H. (1997). Individualism, collectivism, and entrepreneurship: A framework for international comparative research. Journal of Business Venturing 12(5), 367-384.

Valliere, D. (2014). Culture, values and entrepreneurial motivation in Bhutan. Journal of Enterprising Communities: People and Places in the Global Economy 8(2), 126-146.

Wennekers, A.R.M., Noorderhaven, N.G., Hofstede, G. and Thurik, A.R. (2001). Cultural and economic determinants of business ownership across countries in W.D. Bygrave et al. (Eds.), Frontiers of Entrepreneurship Research 2001, (pp. 179–90). Wellesley, MA: Babson College.

Bhutan and New Zealand: Leading the way on wellbeing

New Zealand made international news recently with its plan to introduce a “wellbeing budget.” Based on the notion that people’s wellbeing rests on much more than just economic growth, New Zealand’s new budget will frame public spending around addressing mental health challenges, reducing child poverty and family violence, transitioning to a low-emissions economy, expanding the opportunities for indigenous peoples, and supporting a thriving nation in the digital age. According to Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, “We're embedding that notion of making decisions that aren't just about growth for growth's sake, but how are our people faring?”


“We're embedding that notion of making decisions that aren't just about growth for growth's sake, but how are our people faring?”
- Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister

New Zealand’s budget represents an important step in implementing a government planning tool centred on people’s wellbeing. For Bhutan watchers, it’s also rather familiar. While New Zealand’s budget initiative received well deserved international fanfare, over the past 10 years Bhutan has been quietly developing and using its own series of policy instruments that put wellbeing at the forefront of public policy and planning. Bhutan’s national development approach, known as Gross National Happiness (GNH), incorporates multiple social, cultural, ecological, economic and governance dimensions of wellbeing. The GNH framework includes a number of policy tools as well. Perhaps most well-known is the Gross National Happiness Index (GNHI). The GNHI measures policy outcomes not just in terms of their contribution to GDP and economic growth, but how they impact nine wellbeing ‘domains’ of GNH. These domains range from people’s psychological wellbeing to cultural resilience to time use. The result: a measurement tool that provides a much broader and deeper understanding of people’s happiness and wellbeing, and the policies that help promote or hinder them.

The GNHI might be the most well-known wellbeing policy instrument in Bhutan, but the country has developed several other unique policy tools as well. For example, the GNH policy screening tool represents an interesting experiment that requires a proposed policy to be successfully assessed against the nine wellbeing domains of GNH before it can be introduced to parliament. What does that mean? Suppose the government of Bhutan wanted to introduce a policy on mining. The GNH screening tool would assess the mining policy for its potential economic effects. It would also move much further. The screening tool would require answers to questions such as how will the proposed mining policy affect local culture? What will be its impact on the ability of people to spend time with their families? Will the policy have negative ecological effects? Will it increase levels of stress in the population? What impacts will it have on people’s ability to spend time in spiritual pursuits? If a proposed policy leads to negative consequences on these kinds of issues, it cannot proceed to parliament for a vote. Ultimately, the screening tool ensures that policies consider the full range of human wellbeing beyond economics and in areas one might not immediately associate with the specific policy.

Bhutan’s most recent tool extends its GNH focus beyond government policy and into the private sector. While still a proposal that has not yet been implemented, the GNH of Business tool represents an exciting advance in bringing wellbeing into the private sector. Similar to the GNH policy screening tool, the GNH of Business tool will enable businesses to evaluate their operations against the nine wellbeing domains of GNH. Doing so will move Bhutan’s business model beyond the corporate world’s common overemphasis on shareholder value and profit to better incorporate ecological, cultural and community concerns.

Ultimately, countries like Bhutan and New Zealand are demonstrating to the world that there is a better, more sustainable way to approach both public policy and the business world. New Zealand’s wellbeing budget and Bhutan’s GNH-based suite of wellbeing policy tools illustrate that it is possible for meaningful action on people’s wellbeing to occur on a national level.

Digital media and Gross National Happiness: Where to from here?

Photo credit: Cameron Brown

March 20 is the International Day of Happiness. It is also the day that the annual World Happiness Report is released. The Report, edited by renowned academics John Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey Sachs, ranks the world’s countries by the level of subjective happiness among their citizens (the 2019 Report can be accessed here). This year’s Report also analyzes the ways in which interactions within communities are changing, and the implications of this change for happiness. Central to the Report’s analysis is an exploration of the influence of digital media use on happiness.

“An ICT-enabled, knowledge-based society as a foundation for Gross National Happiness” E-Government Master Plan, 2014

The evolution of the role of information and communications technology (ICT) in Bhutan, and digital media in particular, is an interesting one. It is best viewed through the lens of Gross National Happiness (GNH). Gross National Happiness was initiated by Bhutan’s fourth King several decades ago and is the country’s national development strategy. It is a strategy that recognizes there is more to people’s wellbeing than simply increasing wealth. It articulates an understanding of development that incorporates cultural, environmental, socio-economic and governance pillars. As such, GNH is an attempt to construct development in a holistic manner that addresses the multiple dimensions of being human.

The nature of GNH, and its pillar focused on protecting Bhutan’s traditional culture in particular, meant that technology that brought global influences into the country was initially not allowed. Only in 1999 did the government allow the introduction of television and, soon after, the internet. Technological evolution, however, ultimately led to a shift in focus. Digital technology’s growing reach and pervasiveness represented an opportunity to pursue Gross National Happiness more effectively. Effective use of digital technology can enhance education, increase knowledge within a democratic citizenry, improve access to social services and generally expand opportunities, all components of GNH. By 2014, the Bhutanese government’s E-Government Master Plan recognized ICT as the key to GNH, outlining the country’s technological vision as “An ICT-enabled, knowledge-based society as a foundation for Gross National Happiness.” Bhutan’s embrace of ICT and digital technology has since been significant. According to the World Bank, mobile phone use in Bhutan has grown from 0.4% in 2003 to 87% in 2015. Internet use also grew from 0.1% to 40% between 1999 and 2015, with all of Bhutan’s districts now connected through fiber optic cable. Bhutan is rapidly becoming a digital society.

Photo credit: Cameron Brown

Back to the 2019 World Happiness Report: What has this increasing Bhutanese embrace of digital technology meant in practice for a society pursuing Gross National Happiness? There are some very positive impacts. For example, a Government to Citizen Services (G2C) online initiative has contributed to good governance, one of the pillars of GNH, through more effective and transparent government services. The expansion of digital media, however, raises some concerns for a GNH society. The World Happiness Report analyzes the impact of digital screen time – social media, gaming and internet surfing – on American youth. The findings, while perhaps not surprising, are notable. The amount of screen time has increased dramatically among American youth since 2012. Face-to-face interactions, religious or spiritual practices and sleeping time, in contrast, have decreased. This change has implications for happiness. According to the Report: “In short, adolescents who spend more time on electronic devices are less happy, and adolescents who spend more time on most other activities are happier” (p. 92).

“Adolescents who spend more time on electronic devices are less happy, and adolescents who spend more time on most other activities are happier” World Happiness Report

The average screen time in Bhutan may not yet be the same as in the USA, but the rapid expansion of digital media, and the increasing use by Bhutanese of social media in particular, may contribute to a future situation similar to the one outlined in the World Happiness Report. As anonymous screen time increases, so too may less respectful interactions among people and growing unhappiness, all further paralleled by a decrease in those factors the Report outlines as increasing happiness: time spent in face-to-face interactions, spiritual or religious practices, and adequate sleeping. Significantly, each of these happiness factors from the Report are also key indicators in how Bhutan actually measures GNH (see here for more information on the GNH Index).

This concern is nothing new for the Bhutanese public. There are already significant concerns within the country on social media’s potentially corrosive effects on people’s increasingly anonymous interactions and subsequent unhappiness (for some examples, see here, here, here and here). The findings of the 2019 World Happiness Report therefore suggest Bhutan needs to remain vigilant in how it harnesses the clear benefits of digital media while proactively addressing the potentially negative influence on happiness. Fostering respectful digital media literacy will be critical for a successful GNH society.

International Women’s Day 2019: CSOs for gender equality and women’s rights

Photo credit: Andrea Williams

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of women and acknowledge the ongoing challenges to reach gender equality. The celebration of International Women’s Day also brings attention to the work of civil society organizations who play a fundamental role in supporting women’s rights. Below is a brief glimpse at three unique Bhutanese CSOs that focus on women’s empowerment and use educational programs to achieve their objectives.

RENEW (Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women)1 was founded in 2004 by Her Majesty the Queen Mother Sangay Choden Wangchuck to empower survivors of domestic violence as well as sexual and gender based violence. Their services include counselling, legal aid, shelter, emergency medical aid, educational scholarships, and capacity building for entrepreneurs. RENEW has worked in schools and youth to increase consciousness and build dialogues on gender based violence, gender equality, and sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Established in 2012, Bhutan Network for Empowering Women (BNEW)2 promotes and facilitates the leadership of women, particularly in community and local government. BENEW aims to achieve gender equality in Bhutan by providing a networking platform for women, building leadership capabilities, and advocating to transform societal mindsets and attitudes. Recently BNEW ran a series of educational workshops for journalists to promote gender sensitive reporting and encourage female perspectives that challenge gender stereotypes.

Bhutan Association of Women Entrepreneurs (BAWE)3 supports the needs and aspirations of women entrepreneurs and uses a GNH perspective to achieve female economic empowerment. Established in 2010, BAWE’s programs include BAOWE-Pelzing: Microfinance Institute, capacity building for rural and urban women, and networking opportunities with both regional and international entrepreneurs. In 2018, BAWE organized training sessions for farmers to strengthen their economic opportunities.

Visit RENEW, BNEW, and BAWE to learn more about how they promote gender equality and women’s rights in Bhutan.

1 Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women (RENEW). 2019, http://renew.org.bt/.

2 Bhutan Network for Empowering Women (BENEW). 2019, https://bnew.bt/.

3 Bhutan Association of Women Entrepreneurs (BAWE). 2017, http://www.baowe.org/.

Happy International Development Week! Celebrating Canada’s history of partnering with Bhutan

Canadians are celebrating International Development Week (IDW) across the country from February 3-9, 2019. The week recognizes the work of Canada and its partners in the Global South as they strive to improve wellbeing and reduce poverty. IDW has been held in Canada every first week of February since 1991.

The week marks a good time to reflect on Canada’s role in working together with Bhutan to promote education and wellbeing in the country. Going all the way back to the early 1960s, Canadian Jesuit Father William Mackey established the first secular school in the east of Bhutan. Since then, Canadian organizations like WUSC, the University of New Brunswick, Humber College and the Bhutan Canada Foundation have continued the tradition of supporting Bhutan’s education efforts.

This year’s IDW theme is “Together for gender equality.” Bhutan’s education system has made significant strides in providing both girls and boys with equal access to education. Recent statistics from the Ministry of Education1 show that girls now have a slightly higher net school enrollment rate (93%) than boys (92%) as they represent 51% of total enrollment up to class XII. Yet gender challenges remain. Women still lag behind men, for example, in adult literacy rates at 57% to 75%. Girls also underperform when compared to boys in areas such as math. As Bhutan moves forward to address these kinds of challenges, Canada will continue its history of working with Bhutanese partners to strengthen the education sector and build networks between Bhutanese and Canadian education institutions. International Development Week is a good time to both celebrate the history of Canadian- Bhutanese collaboration in education and look toward to the future.

For more information on IDW, please visit the Global Affairs Canada website here. And don’t forget to check out and tweet #IDW2019

1 Ministry of Education (MoE). (2018). Annual Education Statistics 2018. Thimphu: MoE. http://www.education.gov.bt/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Annual-Education-Statistics-Book-2018.pdf

Bringing Bhutanese research to life: The International Society for Bhutan Studies inaugural conference

Photo copyright: ISBS

The International Society for Bhutan Studies (ISBS) held its inaugural conference in January 2019 at Magdalen College, Oxford University. Attended by Dr. Kent Schroeder, Executive Director of the Bhutan Canada Foundation, the conference brought together a diverse range of researchers and scholars from around the world. Presentations focused on all things Bhutan: education, Buddhism, linguistics, culture, the environment, anthropology and Gross National Happiness.

A keynote address delivered by the former prime minister of Bhutan, His Excellency Dasho Tshering Tobgay, highlighted the conference. The address asked “Does Bhutan matter?” and explored the progress and challenges the country has experienced since democratization. The keynote address can be viewed online here.

The intent of ISBS is to strengthen existing areas of research on Bhutan and inspire exploration of new ones. The Bhutan Canada Foundation hopes to continue to engage with ISBS, particularly around how to better link scholarly research to practical and policy concerns in Bhutan. The inaugural conference was organized by ISBS in partnership with the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, the Samuel Centre of Social Connectedness, the Bhutan Society of the United Kingdom, Magdalen College and the University of Oxford.

Student Story: Bhutanese Students Write Their First Book

This September, the students at Jakar Higher Secondary School in central Bhutan wrote their first book. It was a collection of stories and poems called We Are Bhutan

Book Launch Party: Students are signing books and celebrating with pizzaThe book was first published on Amazon, where it currently ranks as the #43 best-selling book in its category. Students used these profits to pay for printing the book here in Bhutan. They printed 1,000 copies and have already sold almost half of them.

The project was organized by BCF teacher Mr. Evan, who collected the stories, helped the student editors, and sold the book to its American publisher. “This was a really cool project,” Mr. Evan said, “but the students did most of the work. I just got them started.”

To celebrate the book’s release, all student writers gathered on 5 October for a book signing and pizza party. Over 80 students were in attendance, along with the school’s vice principal. The party was hosted by Mr. Evan, who helped the eight tables of students autograph as many books as possible.

“I think it will really inspire others to write for our next book” 

-Tshering Wangmo, grade 9 student

“I felt very happy to attend this party, and I think it will really inspire others to write for our next book,” said Tshering Wangmo, a student from Grade 9 who contributed two poems.

Also among the guests were the four students who won international awards with their writing: Dorji Wangchuk (Grade 10), Tila Rupa Chhetri (11), Amandika Thapa (9), and Tandin Tshering (10). Their stories and poems received special recognition, each winning an award in America.

“I was really surprised when I saw my poem in a magazine,” said Tandin Tshering, the most recent winner. “The publisher didn’t even tell me I won. They just sent me a copy of the magazine.”

As for We Are Bhutan, the students hope to sell the remaining copies within the next two months. They plan to set up a booth during next week’s tshechu (festival) and sell to all the visiting tourists.

“Once we raise enough money,” Mr. Evan said, “we will use it to print our second book in January.”

This story was written by Choki Om. Choki is a grade 9 student in Evan Purcell’s class. Congratulations to the students at Jakar Higher Secondary School for publishing We Are Bhutan – this is an incredible accomplishment! And thank you Choki for taking the time outside of publishing a book to share this story!

You can purchase We Are Bhutan here

Newsletter from Jakar Higher Secondary School

Ever wonder what goes on in schools in Bhutan? Take a peak at the student made newsletter to learn more about their reading week “Wall Magazine” contest and their new School Museum!

 

Jakar Higher Secondary School Newsletter

 

This newsletter was made by the English Literary Club at Jakar Higher Secondary School. Thank you BCF teacher, Evan Purcell, for sharing all the great work your students are doing!

 

Three Published Authors in Central Bhutan

When I first volunteered to teach in Bhutan, I did not expect to see my students become published writers. I thought I’d teach some classes and maybe do a few school-wide projects. I didn’t expect my students to be so ambition… and so talented.

Now, during my second year at Jakar High School in central Bhutan, I have three students who just sold their writing to publishers in America, and I couldn’t be prouder.

Our first writer is named Dorji Wangchuk. He’s a student in grade ten, and he wrote an original fable called “Tree God,” about a village on the brink of environmental disaster and a mysterious visitor who teaches everyone how to fix their own problems.

It’s a really good story, and you’ll be able to read it in October when the anthology I Write Short Stories by Kids for Kids Vol. 9 comes out. The book, funded by the Houston Literary Organization, collected stories and poems from students all over the world. Dorji is the first Bhutanese writer to be a part of this project.

“I was really surprised when I heard the news,” Dorji said. “Nothing like this has ever happened to me before.”

His award ceremony is scheduled for October 27 in Houston, Texas. I really hope he gets to go, but plane tickets might be too expensive. Still, even if he doesn’t attend, he’ll always have the honor of being a published writer at sixteen. I’m really proud of him.

My other two writers are both poets. Amandika Thapa from grade nine and Tila Rupa Chhetri from grade eleven will both be featured in the Sewing the Seeds of Peace anthology, also based in Texas. Amandika’s poem “A Conversation with Peace” and Tila’s poem “Looking for Peace” are both beautiful pieces of writing.

Their big award ceremony is scheduled for next month, to coincide with the International Day of Peace on September 23.

I love my job in Bhutan. The students here are so motivated and clever. As a foreign teacher, I truly feel that it’s my responsibility to help them reach their full potential. Because Bhutan is such a small country, it can be hard for the students here to know how to express themselves. They all want to be heard. I just gave them the megaphone.

This blog post was written by Evan Purcell, a BCF teacher in central Bhutan. Read the published story in the national newspaper in Bhutan, Kuensel, here.

You can also follow the writers’ work at https://iwrite.org/i-write-contest/ or https://www.inspiritry.com/pages/peace/art-of-peace-tyler

Summer Reading Program: It’s a Wrap!

With the summer almost at an end, it also brings the end of another very successful reading program.

Our teachers came together for a lively discussion sharing their own unique experiences and debriefing on the program. We are very thankful of the contributions each of our teachers made this summer. To each of our teachers, thank you for supporting education to youth in local communities across Bhutan!

Interested in joining our reading program? We are now seeking teachers to join us in 2019! Read more information at: https://bhutancanada.org/programs/bhutan-reading-program/