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THIMPHU, Dec 7 2010 (IPS) - A decade ago the Queen of Bhutan Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, visited the ZERI pavilion at the World Expo in Hannover, the largest bamboo building in modern times, constructed with a German building permit. The pavilion demonstrated new emerging business models proven to work in Colombia, Brazil, Namibia, and Sweden. As the driving force behind these innovative development models, I was invited by the Queen to come to Bhutan.

I came and was enchanted with the country and its people. I was impressed with the visionary approach of Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the country’s fourth king, who not only brought democracy to his Himalayan kingdom but who stated early in his reign that happiness is more important than growth. That vision is now known to the world as Gross National Happiness (GNH). Without a doubt, a nation that enshrines forest protection in its constitution and establishes every citizen’s right to traditional medicine embraces a different type of development. On top of that, the government banned the sale of cigarettes and the use of plastic bags. However, the pressure to grow is high, unemployment poses a new challenge, and access to satellite television and the internet entices many to emulate a consumption model and desire junk food, which was recently subjected to a special tax.

After crossing the country from West to East on four extended visits enriched by dialogues with government, the private sector, and civil society, I submitted a portfolio of possible initiatives “to grow and be happy”. Based on my experience in creating initiatives that respond to people’s needs with what they have, I designed businesses that go beyond cutting costs and instead generate more value, especially for remote rural communities. And one of the core values is happiness.

A portfolio of six top projects emerged, each based on a benchmark somewhere in the world, inspired by pioneers who have demonstrated competitiveness while having the capacity to reach out to the unreached. These opportunities offer a platform for entrepreneurship, job generation, and investments, provided the government creates the policies to make this happen. Working sessions with the prime minister and his colleagues led to the formulation of government resolutions to set the stage for implementing this GNH portfolio backed up by an independent GNH Fund. The prime minister’s goal is that Bhutan will revert to 100 percent organic farming, forever. As a first step to achieve that goal, he wishes to decree that all food served in restaurants and hotels must be certified organic. This guarantees higher income to farmers.

The second policy option may even do better: turn Bhutan into the first country committed to bioplastics. An inspirational encounter between the Queen with Dr. Catia Bastioli, the founder of Novamont of Italy, who is already converting agro-waste of 600 Italian farmers into bioplastics, set the stage for a promising collaborative effort. Bhutan said no to plastic bags. Now it says yes to bioplastics made from left-overs which after use are composted and returned to soil.

The rise of petroleum imports is hurting the Bhutanese balance of payments. The prime minister already declared that the country will be carbon negative. Now he is prepared to commit to eliminate all use of fossil fuel. He is inspired by the pioneering work of Las Gaviotas, Colombia. Las Gaviotas taps pine trees to generate all the fuel it needs. Bhutan has a 72 percent forest cover. We can imagine an army of “happy tappers”, generating fuel from the trees.

The capital city of Thimphu and emerging urban centres are struggling with an increasing flow of black water, a danger to public health and costly to treat. The prime minister is ready to turn Bhutan into the first country committed to eliminate septic tanks, sewage, and water treatment. Instead, Bhutan wishes to opt for the Swedish technology proven to work in homes, schools, apartment blocks, and city quarters by the architect Anders Nyquist in Sundsvall. This “dry” approach, which does not smell at all, eliminates viruses at source, recycles water on site, regenerates nutrients, and is cheap.

Each policy decision proposed is backed by technologies, competitive business models, and investment opportunities all based on the Blue Economy, a development model that does not require anyone to pay more to be sustainable. Everyone in the government read my book of the same title, and now I realize the power of publishing! These policy decision made on December 7, 2010, inspired me to create the GNH fund with local partners. Over 100 figures signed a letter of support, going well beyond the clapping hands and slapping of shoulders. We are delighted to advance on an investment rather an aid strategy and expect the fund will be operational by spring 2011. Imagine if the big neighbouring countries would opt for the same strategy.(END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Gunter Pauli is author of the Blue Economy and entrepreneur.

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