Happiness happens

Bhutan redefines development

By Avilash Roul
Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- Which is richer, the us or Bhutan? Well, that would be determined by whether you're looking at Gross National Product (gnp) or Gross National Happiness (gnh ) as indicator. Some experts regard the latter as a more evolved appraisal that integrates the values held by a country with how developed it is. gnh is based on four pillars:

Sustainable socio-economic growth

Good governance

Sustainable use of the environment

Care of the nation's heritage and promotion of its culture

For the Bhutanese, these goals are connected with the state of the natural resources that surround their existence. Frank Dixon, of Innovest Strategic Value Advisors, New York, a leading evaluator of corporate social responsibility, says, "Bhutan's interest in developing a gnh index reflects great wisdom".

In fact, Bhutan had drawn the interest of the world to the concept by hosting the first international conference on gnh in early 2004. Ronald Colman of Genuine Progress Index-Atlantic, Canada, a pioneer and leader in quality of life research, says, "It is certainly not a fairy tale. It is a real development strategy." Proponents of gnh strongly believe it is a more accurate measure of social well-being than gnp . As Dixon underlines, "It probably is no coincidence that Western economies are rapidly degrading environmental life support systems, making many unhappy. What doesn't get measured doesn't get managed." Bhutan, which adopted the gnh in the 1980s, has had a fair amount of success so far in meeting some development goals (such as education), but in other areas, like land reform and food productivity, problems continue. However, it is at least on track to resolve these issues. Last month, Bhutan's king, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, talked of the urgent need to address employment issues. The current Five Year Plan also accords priority to infrastructure development, but balancing existing environmental conservation policies with emerging socio-economic needs is a challenge. The focus on gnh, which makes ecological regeneration the axis for development, is reflective of this.

Like Bhutan, India also needs to look beyond western notions of development and success. Our eastern neighbour, whose king was the principal guest at the recent Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi, has shown us the way.

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