Yesterday I wrote about how CIPE is helping women business leaders to break down barriers in South Asia – both barriers between countries and barriers that are keeping women out of the economic mainstream. CIPE’s third networking and training session for the heads of women’s chambers of commerce and business associations, held on September 18-20 in Lahore, Pakistan, was a resounding success, including a dinner at the Lahore Chamber of Commerce that drew the Governor of Punjab as a featured speaker.
But we also wanted to take some time to focus on the training program itself, and the results of the hard work that these women are putting in to building their organizations. There is no shortage of programs in South Asia to build links among women entrepreneurs – to encourage trade and business ties – but CIPE is focused on strengthening the capacity of the chambers and associations, both so they can better represent their members in the policy process, and help their members grow their own businesses.
The biggest changes can start with small steps – particularly in the effort to change cultural barriers and to ease decades-old national tensions. Often it is the private sector, seeking to open new markets, explore possibilities, and expand trade and commerce, that is at the forefront of such changes.
Last week in Lahore, Pakistan, CIPE organized the third in its series of training and networking sessions for a group of women’s business leaders from across South Asia, helping bring about a range of positive steps – both for national understanding and opportunity for traditionally marginalized women.
This network, which CIPE has been developing with the support of the National Endowment for Democracy, includes participants from major and emerging chambers of commerce and business associations from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan.
The idea to bring together representatives from these countries – particularly given the tensions between India and Pakistan, and the history between Bangladesh and Pakistan, was not guaranteed to succeed. But after two meetings, one last winter in Dhaka and then again in the spring in Kathmandu, it was becoming clear that these women business leaders were growing closer, learning from one another, sharing ideas and information, and finding ways to strengthen their organizations.
Hammad Siddiqui, Deputy Country Director for CIPE’s Pakistan field office, contributed to this report.
To begin addressing the issue of why some women’s business organizations thrive while others do not, CIPE recently launched a project to build links among women’s chambers and associations in South Asia.
CIPE identified 11 organizations, from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka – and for the first time reached out to groups from India and Bhutan – to participate. With the assistance of long-time partner the Bangladesh Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BWCCI), conducted a diagnostic survey of these organizations’ governance, finances, membership, strategic planning, advocacy, services and other issues. The organizations were then invited to participate in a networking meeting held this February in Dhaka, Bangladesh. CIPE’s efforts complement a U.S. State Department program to build links among women entrepreneurs in the region, the South Asia Women Entrepreneurship Symposium.
Posters like these from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime are popular in Bhutan, highlighting concrete examples of corruption’s effects on democracy and development.
Bhutan – self-proclaimed “Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon,” one of the world’s newest democracies, and a country fairly high up on the ‘mysterious’ chart. Bhutan has been hidden away from the world nearly since its founding. The establishment of a parliament, the coronation of a new king, and the first-ever elections for the country’s leadership all took place in late 2008. Gradually, Bhutan is becoming more accessible, from an economic perspective, to the world. And yet, even this early in its founding, problems that we see throughout the South Asian region are starting to creep in.
Bhutan, a small country wedged between China and India, has made great strides over the past 45 years toward transforming itself from an isolated kingdom into a fledgling modern democracy. The country has progressed in terms of economic and political development, but one significant area still lagging behind is the education system.
In his Feature Service article, Kinley Rinchen, Planning Officer in the Office of the Vice Chancellor at the Royal University of Bhutan and an honorable mention winner in CIPE’s youth essay competition, traces the development of Bhutan’s education system and analyzes its current challenges. He emphasizes that more reforms are necessary to make the country’s education system able to better meet the needs of students and employers. As the Bhutanese economy grows, it needs well-educated and skilled labor in order to make this growth sustainable.
“Education Reform in Bhutan: Meeting the Employment Challenge” was entered in the “Educational Reform and Employment” category and notes that due to inadequate education, many of Bhutan’s graduates have only limited skills that are insufficient for finding suitable employment in a modern marketplace. Instead of striving to acquire the necessary private sector skills, many young people prefer to wait for government employment. In practice, however, that translates into prolonged unemployment since the public sector cannot possibly accommodate all job seekers.
Appropriate education system and curriculum reforms could change that. If young people are equipped with critical thinking, creativity, innovation, and leadership skills in the course of their education, they can succeed in the job market.
Article at a Glance
- Bhutan’s current education system does not meet the needs of students and employers, only contributing to growing youth unemployment.
- Most Bhutanese students tend to see education as a way to obtain jobs in the public sector, which cannot accommodate them all.
- School curricula should emphasize more skills-based training as well as critical thinking, creativity, innovation, communication, and leadership skills sought after by private sector employers.
Last week a tiny Himalayan country of Bhutan (population of 600,000) became the world’s newest democracy. With a high turnout of nearly 80 percent, the winning Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) party took 44 out of the 47 seats in the parliament and gained a strong mandate to implement reforms.
There wasn’t much drama involved in the elections. First, it was the King himself who initiated the transition from hereditary monarchy to democracy. In 2006, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck handed over power to his son, the current king, and ordered an end to absolute monarchy (the country will continue to have a monarch as the head of state). Second, the two leading parties competing in the elections had nearly identical programs. Both were promising to bring modernization and pursue greater “gross national happiness,” or a path of development emphasizing the role of respect for culture, religion, and environment in economic progress.
Democracy itself is one of the first elements of this push to modernize. In a country where satellite television came less than a decade ago, not surprisingly democracy was also welcomed with a degree of mistrust by many conservative Bhutanese wary of the unknown. Such mistrust illustrates a crucial broader point: elections are hugely important, but in and of themselves not enough. Now that the elections are over, Bhutan faces a much more profound long-term challenge of building, strengthening, and sustaining its institutions of democratic governance.
As Larry Diamond said in his latest book, one day it is possible for the whole world to become democratic – just as Bhutan did a few days ago. But the performance of many new democracies around the world is very troubling. Even free and competitive elections do not automatically translate into good democratic governance and weak governance in turn leads to instability, corruption, and economic mismanagement.