With fond memories of our discourse on sustainable brands in Bangkok, I take personal pleasure in welcoming all our distinguished participants at this summit of business leaders. GNH Centre Bhutan is honored to host this gathering of some of the most ethically responsible and visionary business leaders of Thailand and India. Your commitment to make sustainability a universal principle and practice in business and industry is an inspiration to us all.
I am aware that the choice of the GNH Centre as a partner by Sustainable Brands Thailand is based on its appreciation of Bhutan’s holistic vision of Gross national happiness which is founded on the ethos of sustainable and inclusive development. In a world where the general notion of development is one of boundless material growth, Bhutan is seen to be standing apart. We have pronounced GNH as a guiding principle in our constitution, adopted it as our national development goal and employ it as the rationale for public policy and resource management decisions.
We are fully mindful that this distinction, by no means, makes us the happiest country. Bhutan has its own share of problems. Our country has barely graduated from the group of the least developed countries and for many of our citizens, access to essential goods and services for basic well being is still a challenge.
I would, therefore, humbly caution that if, during your brief visit, you expect to find a happy people living an ideal way of life, you will probably be disappointed. This is certainly not to say we are an unhappy people. Infact, it is possible that you will carry with you the impression that Bhutan is a country that has found the secret to happiness. Many tourists visit us with the preconceived notion that Bhutan is the happiest country in the world and see through their mind’s eye brilliant signs of happiness in the faces of our people. A few have remarked that even our stray dogs who give them sleepless nights seem so much happier than the confined pet dogs living in their countries.
However, I am certain that, should you look at us as just another country struggling with the same human tribulations of a poor, developing country, you will find our serious pursuit of happiness resonating with your own inner longings. You will, I am certain, recognize our aspiration as the most obvious human desire: so obvious infact that it is trivialized. A good life, I believe, begins with understanding the meaning of happiness and making it a serious goal in life.
One of the greatest obstacles in our serious pursuit of happiness is that it is not given due importance. Instead, we choose to go after dreams that have not only been taking us further and further away from happiness but have brought us to a state when sustainability has become society’s most important watchword and challenge. Why this is so worrying and ought to shock us all is because sustainability is actually a fanciful word for survival.
The 4-day programme of the summit provides us with the scope to present you with not only a broad exposition of our people’s way of life – our culture, history and general development – but also spiritual experiences and conversations with the principal promoters of GNH in the country.
You will learn about the historical roots of GNH in Bhutan, as well as how It is being measured through periodic surveys and the practical application of the concept. This should provide a good understanding of the state and conditions of happiness among the Bhutanese people and suggest how it informs national policy making. Our own efforts are further augmented by the worldwide interest of GNH in the search for a more holistic development paradigm.
I am delighted that you will be interacting with the GNH Commission, which is the highest national planning body under the chairmanship of the Hon’ble Prime Minister. They will explain how it ensures that all government policies, plans and resource expenditures are directed to promoting Bhutan as a GNH society. They will, in effect, explain how the GNH concept is operationalized, among others, through a GNH policy and programme screening process. This is in keeping with the constitution which stipulates, ‘The State shall promote those conditions that will enable the pursuit of Gross National Happiness’. These conditions encompass the nine domains and their numerous indicators, all of which are interconnected, mutually reinforcing and are key to raising citizens’ capacity to pursue and attain happiness. In this regard, the role of the private sector and civil society cannot be undermined. In fact, it has become critical in shaping public policy and program delivery as in most democracies. For this reason, I am glad that you will be meeting some of our business and NGO leaders who will give you their perspectives on how they are playing their part in promoting happiness. The transformation of the Bhutanese nation into a GNH society of citizens, families and communities that are economically sustainable, ecologically responsible, socially harmonious and spiritually content can only happen when it is the people themselves who understand and want GNH more than our policy makers and thinkers.
Likewise, I am also delighted that you will be interacting closely with the GNH Center Bhutan which is by intention a principle promoter of GNH in our country. I say ‘by intention’ because, for lack of financial and institutional capacity, it has yet to fully play its role. The GNH Center Bhutan is non-governmental and non-government funded organization. It provides the crucial need for means to help internalize and live GNH at the personal, family and community levels. This role is to be undertaken by providing space and facilitating opportunities for discourse, experiential learning and living GNH for all sections of society.
You will discover, in the meanwhile, that it is happiness which gives us, the Bhutanese, a sublime and ethical sense of purpose for our development. It is this sense that keeps our national aspirations, policies and strategies anchored to a vision of a collective state of physical and mental wellbeing. Today, under the benevolent guidance of His Majesty the King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, we are confident that Bhutan will always remain true to its values and principles.
Through continuous research, introspection and endeavors, we are gaining deeper insight to the many dimensions of this vision. This is encouraging new and imaginative ways for the state and others to pursue our national dream of shared happiness. We believe this shared dream will also continue to bind and hold us together.
In the course of the summit, you will recognise with joyful satisfaction, the remarkable commonalities between our two great Kings, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck and His Late Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej. It is remarkable how two visionaries separately conceived their similar ideas of GNH and Sufficiency Economy in the early 70’s. Indeed, Thailand and Bhutan are similar in many ways and the mutual affection and admiration is, therefore, only natural. The Bhutanese have always admired the way Thailand and her people are growing in prosperity. Now, to see the Thai business leadership taking such interest to ensure that the Thai prosperity remains sustainable and ecologically viable, gives us cause for much joy. We are especially happy to see Thai business leaders sharing our same dreams of a peaceful, sustainable and happy world.
Before I conclude, I would, once again, like to thank the SB Thailand for the gracious hospitality they extended to me and my delegation during our visit to Thailand and for giving GNH Centre Bhutan the opportunity to host this event. I do hope you will have a fruitful conversation and enjoy your stay in the country.