Conversation Report: Transforming Bhutan’s Economy at Thimphu TechPark
The Druk Journal held the first Conversation on the 8th issue, ‘Transforming Bhutan’s Economy’, at TechPark Thimphu on Friday, 1 March. More than 70 people from various organisations as well as young entrepreneurs, civil servants, civil society organisation members, and officials of the Royal Monetary Authority attended the Conversation.
Five contributors – Dr Joseph Lo, Adrian Bernstorff, Dr Tshering Cigay Dorji, Pema Lama, and Tshering Dorji – were a good mix of speakers who presented their ideas.
Dr Joseph Lo spoke on the need to establish a creative hub for people to come together to innovate business ideas and opportunities. Pema Lama talked about women entrepreneurship and the challenges they faced as women. Adrian Bernstorff touched on the Bhutanese agriculture and how it can be capitalised to move the economy forward.
Tshering Dorji, a journalist with Kuensel, shared his views on Priority Sector Lending, challenges, and how it can be improved to finance particularly young entrepreneurs. He also highlighted the need for financial institutions to support small cottage industries rather than pumping millions to the richer sections like the hotel industry. Dr Tshering Cigay Dorji briefly spoke on how the economy can benefit from ICT in businesses.
The seminar lasted little over two hours with participants sharing a number of their ideas on how financial institutions could improve access to capital. Some participants pointed out serious problems in loan repayment by small business/entrepreneurs. For example, a person taking a loan of Nu 500,000 get a repayment term of just 3-5 years while a big business taking a loan over Nu 2 million gets a repayment term of 20 years.
A woman participant said that there is a greater need to hold such debates, seminars, and conversations with relevant stakeholders on board to enable both entrepreneurs, financial institutions, and policy-makers understand each other’s needs, issues, and way forward.
A young participant also felt that the country and government should invest more in the creative industry. “There is no room for people like us who wants to involve in creative work as we end up nowhere with our ambitions,” the participant said. “The government must support people who want to engage in creative ideas,” he added.
Both officials from economic affairs ministry and participants pointed out ‘duplication’ as a serious issue in business and entrepreneurship. This calls for people to come up with different ideas and innovation for businesses to be sustainable in the long-term. The seminar was funded by the Royal Monetary Authority.
During the two-hour long Conversation, the following recommendations and observations were noted from the speakers and participants.
- Increasing supply and demand of/for finance through financial literacy and awareness for bankers/investors about challenges facing women
- Building confidence and entrepreneurial identity
- Reviewing taxes and conditions for women in the economy
- Identify and drive innovation in sectors where women have a comparative advantage like hospitality and textiles.
- Rural Bhutan is where people live so we should hold seminars in rural districts.
- Need to tell the difference between business and entrepreneurship
- Have more of such conversations and seminars
- More policy for innovation and creative industries
- So much potential in the ICT sector to tap so need to look into enabling more people in this sector.
- Need to clear confusion over the aims and outcomes of REDCL and PSL among the people and these organisations themselves?
- Look into possibilities to incorporate creativity into our formal education
- Stop duplication/copy-cat culture but enable people to come up with more diverse ideas.
- Have a fund to sustain entrepreneurship
- CSOs feedback: we need support for creative evolution, not just conservation and preservation in Bhutan
- Corporate sector begin to contribute and not leave it all up to the public sector (because the government still may need to fund sectors with a higher priority)
- There is a lot of money already in Thimphu and investment into the agricultural industry can come from within
- Pioneers and entrepreneurs need to get greater support
- Storage facilities needed. However, everything can grow at almost all times of the year so storage can be less needed
- Junk food tax would be relevant now whereas it may have not been relevant when it was first suggested
- Big brand hotels are not following the environmental policies because no one is enforcing it, so the need to enforce
- We need more policy to be created in the agricultural sector
- Need people from the decision-making level in the agricultural sector at such an event; need relevant people from the important sectors, too, to engage and move forward.
- There are still a lot of chemicals used for farming, and this continues to increase
- With 60 percent of the population living in rural areas, agriculture can do so much and have to look into tapping these opportunities
- Single crop approach: Where some areas farmers are reliant on a single crop, bringing prices down due to competition
- Cardamom and Potatoes as examples
- Food entrepreneurship
- Encourage crop rotation to build resilience
- We must diversify consumption patterns to fuel a greater variety of crop (not just rice)
- There are more opportunities in organic agriculture. The narrative of organic farming will be most important but this must then be backed up by the actual practice of organic farming in Bhutan.
- In Bhutan, it seems that organic farming is wanted by the farmers, however, they practice conventional farming more out of need than from preference. So, how can organic farming be implemented sustainably, while maintaining the yields?
- Better training and tools
- Innovation and pioneering from the organic farming sector
- Organic flagship programmes – started by the public sector
- Take the initiative to make changes in Bhutan’s tech sector (online banking)
- Banks are supreme authority for granting PSL, so need to form a committee where decision-making is shared.
- Take the conversation and such initiatives beyond Thimphu to the rural areas.
- EECD need to be incorporated in state-funded free education. Need a new scheme to allow pursuing a career as well as parenthood.
- There is a greater need to relook into how we do business especially if we are talking GNH and doing GDP. The same about organic farming and its exorbitant prices. How do we balance it so that people can afford to offset consumption of the cheaper imported vegetables and food grains?
- Entrepreneurship development is very important for economic development but it is not getting the necessary focus and support since it is clubbed with business as a whole. Entrepreneurial journey is very lonely and challenging and often driven by a passion to fill gap/gaps in the society rather than just personal gain. Thus it requires a different level of attention and support. At the moment only Loden Foundation is looking at the social impact for selection of entrepreneurs, giving them mentoring and capacity building support. However, even organisations like Loden Foundation would require the capital and other support from the government and other agencies to continue and expand their initiatives.
- Lowering the rate of taxation for CSI sector would help women entrepreneurs directly since over 80% of women entrepreneurs belong to this group.
- State welfare would encourage more entrepreneurs
- Very true, we are talking GNH and doing GDP. From starting up a business venture, availing bank loans, procurement norms to taxation, every agency requires financial planning and profitability. There is no or minimum recognition or requirement for a business to fulfill a social/GNH parameter.
- For CSI entrepreneurs 8% interest on PSL is also too high if we want to encourage more people from lower income families or those without other social support systems. The rate of interest should be reduced for CSI sector.
- What is the objective of organic farming? If it is for the health of Bhutanese populace then the price has to be affordable as well. So it has to be an integrated approach on all fronts.