Learnings from Bhutan
Wednesday, April 23, 2008/
Seeing how one of the world’s newest democracies adopts qualities of sustainability, respect for leadership and traditions is a lesson for business. MARCIA GRIFFIN
By Marcia Griffin
I thought eight days in the remote constitutional monarchy of Bhutan in the Himalayas, squeezed between the super powers of China and India, would be memorable – but I had no idea how memorable.
The country is exquisitely beautiful and unspoiled. Bhutan has a peace and majesty, in terms of both the geography and the people.
Fortunately for me, I also travelled with a small group of deeply interested people who asked many questions and energetically did a huge amount of trekking and visiting of monasteries and temples.
The people are polite, gentle and deeply proud of their country, beliefs and traditions. Buddhism has that effect – if you believe ‘god’ resides in everyone, people treat themselves and others with respect.
So what has any of this got to do with life and business – a lot I feel!
The key to the beauty and success of Bhutan in maintaining what is good about the past and adopting and adapting to what is good about the present is the leadership of the country. Bhutan was unified as a country 100 years ago and the present king is revered as wise and smart.
Here are some of the accomplishments that have come out of that leadership, in no particular order.
Bhutan has a Secretariat for Sustainable development – taken very seriously, everyone talks about sustainable development there – just one small example of sustaining traditions. But protecting the future lies in the prayer flag itself, possibly the most visible sign of the deep and penetrating spirituality of the country.
As important as prayer flags are, they create a problem, as each flagpole represents the chopping of one tree. So for the future, prayer flags will be hung by ropes to protect the forest but ensure the continuation of the tradition.
A training school of National Culture and Heritage has been set up by the Government so that young people learn the traditions of weaving, wood carving, dancing and so on. This will ensure that these traditions will be perpetuated in a systematic way. Tourists may visit this school, which was fascinating – seeing young people involved in what in most countries is now left to the old. It was interesting to see that they were having fun and mobile phones were fully in use!
Hydro-electricity is the largest export earner for the country, but with global warming there is some concern about its future, consequently the Government is turning to solar power – and it was amazing to see houses in remote village with traditional roofs and prayer flags also sporting solar panels!
Tourism is supervised in Bhutan – there is only one airline that flies there, owned by Bhutan – so tourist numbers are limited and even more importantly each tourist, either as groups or individually, has a guide. This means that sacred places can be visited, but under supervision, and it also means that there is no apparent poor tourist behaviour, as one sees in many countries. For example there appears to be no prostitution, drugs or alcohol abuse – at least by the tourists.
There is a daily surcharge on each tourist which goes into investment in the industry. Guides are well trained and extremely knowledgeable about their country, which makes the trip so interesting. It also means that each person who goes there learns a lot about the religion and traditions, and as we know word-of-mouth is the greatest marketing!
There are no beggars in Bhutan – it is expected that everyone has food and a roof over their head, however humble.
The first ever elections have just recently been held, and dotted throughout the country were election advertising boards with equal space for each of the two parties. What a relief that would be in Australia and how much less costly if the same rules could apply across our media here!
People spoke of the king in two ways – with deep respect and love. He certainly seems, through his very practical ideas and love of tradition, to be worthy of that respect. Interestingly his palace appeared quite low key, in keeping with all we were told.
There was so much more that I learnt and will continue next week with stories of leadership, wise ideas and commonsense in a country that seems to have protected itself at least until now against the worst excesses of industrialisation, but at the same time improving the living standards and education of its people.
To read more Marcia Griffin blogs, click here.
High Heeled Success is Marcia Griffin’s latest book, and is a frank account of building a business from a solitary sales person to a multi-million dollar business with 4700 sales consultants around Australia and New Zealand. It recounts successes and failures along the way and was written to inspire entrepreneurs-particularly women to triumph in business.