After 7 years working at the World Economic Forum, it is impossible not to be a bit nostalgic this week as I follow the 2013 Davos Annual Meeting this week. It would be easy to assume that 2500 CEOs, Heads of State, NGOs and other leaders are just drinking Champagne (something I never actually saw in my 7 years) and not relevant to Bhutan’s development. I believe that there is a missed opportunity, and that representation at the World Economic Forum by both public and private sectors would be a great accelerator for Bhutan.
1) Global Capitalism needs GNH: Both the World Economic Forum and capitalism in general receive abundant amounts of criticism, much of it unfair. That said, there is clearly room for improvement, and GNH has great potential to contribute to a more balanced capitalism and holistic growth. It is clear that GDP is insufficient in measuring social and environmental progress, and around the world there are conversations about what is next. Davos is no exception, and would provide an excellent focal point to carry the conversation started at the UN deeper into the business community.
2) Happiness is on the Global Agenda: This year CEOs and heads of state discussed these issues in a session entitled “The Happiness Factor“, and last year in Davos there was a session entitled “Beyond GDP” with the head of OECD. There is also a Global Agenda Council on Measuring Sustainability, of which Karma Tshiteem, Secretary of the GNH Commission, is a member. Many business leaders in Davos and around the world are ignorant of GNH and find happiness elusive (both as a business issue and in general). However, there are clearly leaders who would like to explore how the four pillars of GNH apply to business, and with the right enabling environment, can lead to more happiness and more profits.
3) Nobody in Davos is wearing a Gho or Kira: While there are over 100 delegates from neighbouring India this year, there is not one Bhutanese national on the Davos participant list this year. (Last year there was one Japanese youth wearing a kira as a token to the year she spent working in Thimphu with the Gross National Happiness Commission.) A small delegation of Bhutanese in national dress amid the vast fields of dark business suits would get people talking and garner a lot of media attention. With millions of people tuning in to watch the Davos stage and over 150,000 stories in 2012, this exposure would bring benefits to tourism as well as investment.
4) Show me the (Investment) Money: It is no secret that most people in Davos are striking business deals rather than improving the state of the world. Bhutan should do both. Business fora like Davos are opportunities to show the world that Bhutan is a blossoming business environment with a stable government and low corruption. Every year the Confederation of Indian Industries takes out huge amounts of billboard space and woos potential investors with special debates and cocktail sessions. It would not take much for Bhutan to do the same. As Bhutan becomes more competitive and the investment environment improves through revisions in FDI policy, it will be advantageous to let the world know.
5) Bring home new ideas: The main reason that I enjoyed my 7 years at the Forum was due to the diversity of stakeholder engagement. By catalysing dialogue and action plans between business, government and civil society the Forum has spent 40 years advancing issues like global health, competitiveness and climate change. It is exactly these types of interactions that have the ability to open eyes, build trust and allow participants to learn about new opportunities. It will be new approaches and the cultivation of trust between public and private sectors that allows countries to be more competitive on the global scene.
Some Bhutanese have participated in various Forum events over the years. Tashi Wangmo, a Member of the National Council has been nominated as a Young Global Leader of the Forum, and joined the Africa and India Summits in 2010. Last November I joined the CEO of DHI at the India Summit which gathered more than 600 leaders from South Asia in Gurgaon. This year there are two opportunities for Bhutan to represent itself on the regional stage: In Myanmar there will be a summit on East Asia from 5-7 June, and the India Summit in November.
Bhutan should take these events as serious opportunities to showcase to the world that this is more than a destination for tourists, it is a destination for investors. A delegation of Royalty, Government and Business will have a lasting impression and a quick payback in Bhutan’s future economic and social development.