Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How did I get to Bhutan?

Readers of this blog rightly asked how I had got to Bhutan. Here is my story:

I was working for the Levi Strauss Foundation when I came across with the London-based 'think and do tank' the New Economics Foundation. nef explores new ways of organizing our economic system as if people and the planet mattered. In 2006, nef published the first Happy Planet Index that was basically a list of countries in the world ranked according to happiness or unhappiness of their citizens. More precisely, the index combines environmental impact with human well-being to measure the environmental efficiency with which, country by country, people live long and happy lives. Bhutan, by the way, ranked 13. in the first and 17. in the second index published.

Through discussions with nef staff about the report and their work, I discovered Bhutan as the only country on earth where the government declared that GNH or Gross National Happiness was more important than GNP and GDP or Gross National / Domestic Product. That was very exciting and I tried to learn more about this approach to development.

In 2010, I was in London to attend a board meeting of the Resource Alliance that builds fundraising capacity of nonprofits across the globe. At the dinner that was organized for board and staff members, I got introduced to Dawa Dem, a new staff member who happened to be the first Bhutanese I had met. I got excited about the opportunity to discuss GNH with someone who actually lived in  the country. As I learned Dawa and her husband, Dr Karma Phuntsho, were associated with Bhutan's first registered charity, the Loden Foundation.

Meanwhile, I decided to leave the Levi Strauss Foundation after 12 great years and pursue new opportunities which meant that I suddenly had more time for volunteering. Given my interest in Bhutan and my acquittance with Dawa Dem, it made sense to explore if I could support Loden as a volunteer. The answer was positive and I got invited.

Voilà, that is the way I have got here to spend 9 weeks working with the leadership of Loden  and its network of young entrepreneurs as well as study GNH in practice, in other words: the everyday life in Bhutan. 

My project was made possible thanks to help and support of several people such as staff at nef; Prof. Laszlo Zsolnai promoting Buddhist economics; Dawa Dem, Dr. Karma Phuntsho, Gerard Tardy, Anne Tardy, and Dorji Tashi from Loden; the Bhutan government that issued my visa; and last, but not least my wife, Heni, and the rest of my family who have been supporting me in this adventure. I hope to give them back at least as much as they gave me.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Cleaning up, football game and prayer flags

Last weekend was about physical exercise. Saturday morning, I joined around 100 volunteers from the Royal Society for Protection of Nature, the Bhutan Olympic Committee, and one local recycling business, Greener Way. With the support of  the City, we cleaned up parts of the town alongside main roads for an upcoming international SAARC meeting. People agreed that it is not good practice to clean up the town for important meetings only and Thimphu urgently needs a waste management strategy to efficiently deal with its increasing solid waste that is becoming quite visible all over the place.

Passionate young entrepreneur, Karma Yonten, who started Greener Way together with his wife using a start up loan from the Loden Foundation is well aware of this emerging issue. He has not only started his unique and innovative business collecting and recycling solid waste, but his mission also includes advocating for change at all levels of society and the government. It seems to be timely for Bhutan to implement a waste management program with no delay before the garbage in the streets becomes a major concern for citizens and tourists alike. Community-based organizations like Greener Way are great partners for this endeavor.

Saturday afternoon, I joined a team of friends to play football against a team of policemen at the Police Camp. It was a serious game on a very rough, rocky pitch with referee and two assistants. I really enjoyed playing, although it was tough for me ! 90 minutes played in  midfield at this altitude with strong sun first and then with sudden cold was a challenge. I survived, but our team lost. Actually, they have never won against the police yet. Next time !

Sunday I walked up to a nearby peak from 2400m to 3000m altitude. The view was great, I could see the whole valley. Along the road, playful blue, red, green, yellow and white prayer flags in the wind cheered me up whenever I got tired.

Thimphu center from the Telecom Tower hill

Prayer flags blessing Thimphu and hopefully the hikers

There are two basic types of flags: horizontal ones on ropes and vertical ones on poles

Prayer flags are also blessing street dogs who wanted my food