Another milestone in Bhutan’s innovation journey

GovTech, DHI and CIT join hands for collaborations in several areas

Bhutan’s step towards innovation marked another landmark on February 28, 2024, as Bhutan’s Government Technology (GovTech) Agency, Druk Holding and Investments (DHI), and Japan’s Chiba Institute of Technology (CIT), announced the establishment of a partnership on a series of collaborations focused on education, technology and infrastructure. The agreement comes close on the heels of Bhutan’s National Day Celebrations on 17the December, 2023, where His Majesty, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck announced plans for a new Special Administration Region (SAR) – the Gelephu Mindfulness City – to drive social and economic growth in the country while respecting its rich cultural and spiritual heritage. The agreement also follows technology development milestones in Bhutan, which include the recently adopted blockchain-based National Digital Identity, the world’s first self-sovereign identity programme.

While the agreement is broad with each specific area, needing further detailing out, in terms of identifying specific areas, protocols to be followed and others, it is the first step towards a range of collaborations, which will assist Bhutan in leapfrogging into an advanced economy.

Apart from the above, the cooperation will contribute directly to the development and growth of the Gelephu Mindfulness City (GMC) Special Administrative Region (SAR) by helping to establish the robust technology infrastructure resident companies will require, contributing to the development of a talent pool with diverse international experience, working with technology leaders and creating opportunities for international academics, investors and businesspeople to visit Bhutan and experience GMC.

Meanwhile, some areas of collaboration are the launching of a GovTech-CIT scholarship programme under which GovTech employees or current Bhutanese students will receive full scholarships to study fields such as space, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, semi-conductors and Web3 at CIT. The collaboration will also be seen in areas such as the establishment of a high-speed digital infrastructure in Bhutan to strengthen digital ecosystems and enhance reliability, leveraging terrestrial and satellite links to support research and development and facilitate the delivery of modern education in the Kingdom. This will include supporting the establishment of GPU/CPU computing centres that can benefit from Bhutan’s abundant and cost-effective green hydroelectric power resources.

The conduction of research to incorporate Buddhist philosophy into artificial intelligence (AI) products and services and developing pragmatic AI governance and safety rules and regulations to help ensure that the technology contributes to the spiritual health of humans and the environmental soundness of the planet is another area that falls in the realm of the partnership.

Other areas include supporting the buildout of Bhutan’s digital capabilities through training in emerging technologies and the introduction of post-graduate courses in AI, Software Engineering, Cyber Security, Data Science, AI governance and safety and other related disciplines and jointly developing sustainable architecture and construction technologies which can be incorporated into developments in Bhutan.

The collaboration will also assist CIT as it explores the development of a FabLab, an open platform for technology learning and innovation.

Speaking about the importance of the collaboration, an official from DHI said the significance stems from the overall impact it would have, one of which would be the impact in building the Innovation Ecosystem towards a STI/Start-Up Economy. “The Innovation Ecosystem creation requires strategizing collaboration with and amongst universities, startups, academicians, innovators, creators, and passionate minds nationally and internationally. Hence, this collaboration amongst GovTech, CIT and DHI provides one such pathway,” he said.

The official also mentioned that DHI is committed to supporting building an Innovation Ecosystem to make a Science Technology and Innovation (STI)/Start-Up Economy for the future.

It is also in line with GovTech’s interest. “GovTech is keen to help globalize our domestic IT industry and to work with like-minded partners in developing unique solutions that use technology to leapfrog current challenges,” an official from GovTech said.

Speaking on the introduction of PG Courses in different areas, officials said that the collaboration provides the opportunity to design, implement and operate the PG courses in AI and other impact areas to develop the skills of the 21st century. “In terms of modalities of execution in Bhutan, it would be a discussion amongst the partners as we operate on the larger scope of the MoU signed. Also, as there is demand for such professionals both locally and globally, we want to begin building such capabilities in our domestic institutions. We aspire to build the capabilities in the new skills and knowledge of the faculties through training, exchanges and on the job possibilities and collaborate on design, engineering and implementation of critical infrastructure required for the digital transformation to support the digital economy,” an official said.

The partnership in sustainable architecture and construction technologies will see the three exploring technologies and construction methodologies and best practices of project management as they work together to explore green and sustainable construction technologies.

GovTech Agency, established under the Royal Government of Bhutan, operates autonomously with a mission to create a technologically advanced nation. The focus is on transforming public services, placing citizens at the core, and fostering a secure digital economy. Dedicated to simplifying processes and enhancing citizen access to government services, the GovTech Agency manages space-related activities, government data centres, technology talent development, and globalising the Bhutanese technology industry. Embracing emerging technologies such as drones, artificial intelligence, web3.0, among others, the agency facilitates access to secure and high-speed networks for businesses, institutions, and government and society overall.

DHI, is the largest and only government-owned holding company in Bhutan, holding  shares of 22 different domestic companies operating in the manufacturing, energy, natural resources, financial, communication, aviation, trading and real estate sectors.

DHI’s wider portfolio contains investments across a range of asset classes that deliver exposure to traditional sectors and the industries driving the modern economy. This includes global equities, fixed income and venture capital investments in promising startups; domestic and international real estate; and a future focus on five specific sectors: 1) technology – creating an innovation ecosystem for a Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) economy in areas such as AgriTech, healthtech, artificial intelligence/machine learning, blockchain and Web3; 2) energy and resources; 3) mining and minerals 4) digital assets; and 5) infrastructure.

CIT, founded in 1942 as Koa Institute of Technology in Tokyo has the longest history of all private technological universities in Japan. In 1946, the university relocated to Chiba and was renamed as Chiba Institute of Technology. Now a premier Japanese technological education and research institution, CIT is renowned for fostering innovative thinking and advancing technological knowledge.

By Nidup Lhamo, Thimphu