UNDP to support private sector

..commitments made in the private sector and ecosystem for start-up entrepreneurship to provide space for development in Bhutan

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has assured continued support to Bhutan in the coming years for the development of private sector and entrepreneurship in the digital field.

“You can count on our continued support,” said the Resident Representative (RR) of UNDP in Bhutan, Mohammad Younus at the Druk Tshongrig Gatoen event this week. He reiterated that UNDP’s focus on the digital sector and the government’s priority in the 13th five year plan goes hand in hand.

For instance, UNDP has been supporting young entrepreneurs including through the experimentation of prototypes. Proving an opportunity where the entrepreneurs can get together and showcase their achievements. UNDP also launched digital platform where innovations can be put on that platform.

A strong entrepreneurship or entrepreneurial ecosystem has proven to be one of the key engines of innovation and job creation in economic growth, according to the RR.   

“It is encouraging to see Bhutan did it in the same direction with increasing priority being given to startups in the country,” said the RR, adding that entrepreneurship is important in the creation of innovation, jobs, social innovation, scientific innovation, and the role of the startups and the entrepreneurship.

In his opening remarks at the event which was held at the startup centre in Thimphu, Mohammad highlighted three critical key areas to building a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem in Bhutan. 

According to him, the key areas include accessible markets, human capital and financing. “These are the three critical elements to create, support and to allow the ecosystem for startup entrepreneurship to flourish,” he said.

Mohammad shared that Bhutan being closest to the world’s two largest economies, there is a great market potential for Bhutanese products including digital products. “And in terms of success of human capital, Bhutan has a highly educated young workforce. They are all proficient in English which is important for global communication.”

On the access to finance and funding front, the RR said that it must put in place the system instructions to attract diverse investment through channels such as venture capital.

“The US remains the lead in startup investment followed by China, UK, India and Germany in the top investors,” he said, adding that, the investors in these economies are no surprise venture capital firms.

Mohammad also said that bringing together entrepreneurs, investors, industry leaders and policy makers is indispensable to building a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem. “It is equally important to put in place enabling conditions, including legislation, funding, mentoring and infrastructure support in order for entrepreneurship in startup culture to flourish.”

The global startup ecosystem report 2022 highlights the strong influence that digital technology has on the global entrepreneurship ecosystem. Fin-tech, healthcare, e-commerce, AI, blockchain and renewable energy are attracting the majority of the startup investments.

To the global digital technology, Mohammad said that Bhutan is responding to this emerging trend and that the UNDP remains committed to strengthening the digital technology in tech entrepreneurship ecosystem in Bhutan.

Meanwhile, in partnership with the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Employment (MoICE) and Loden Foundation, UNDP also provided access of finance for startups through springboard program. 

In addition, UNDP in partnership with MoICE, Loden Foundation and De-suung Skilling Programme, the digital job innovation challenges have helped startups as well as aspiring entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into businesses. 

“The things I have noticed within my one year in Bhutan is that I have heard that people find it a bit discouraging for being small but nonetheless being small is not something that should discourage,” Mohammad said.

He stressed that it is just a need of a more focus. “If you look globally, some of the most innovations have been brought to the country from a very small county. So being small should not stop us.”

Complimenting the Bhutanese youths, he said, “If we can have a startup on digital and attract the investor here, it might be small but it can turn into a unicorn. So it is not something to be discouraged that Bhutan is small.” 

Mohammad also shared on the things he heard about easily giving up. “I heard things like we have tried but this didn’t work. To this, I would like to encourage you to just take your phone, google Mr. Chang of the South Korean Hyundai Company. If we had the spirit that we have tried but didn’t work there and today the Hyundai Company will not be a Hyundai today. If you look at the struggle of Mr. Chang who had to establish Hyundai, he didn’t give up easily. So, for those who says I tried but didn’t work should try again and again as we all learn from failure and success.”

Although acknowledging financing is the most difficult part, the RR is confident that the government is taking note of it while he assures full support from UNDP’s side.

“For doubling the economy, doubling the GDP in five years will not happen by hiring more teachers or nurses as important as it is. It will be the private sector and the entrepreneurs, the ecosystem for the startup entrepreneurship that will provide the space where the GDP of Bhutan will double over the next five years,” he concluded.

Sherab Dorji from Thimphu