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International GNH conference discusses value-based business model

The seventh International Conference on Gross National Happiness on the theme: “GNH of Business” held from November 7-9 in Thimphu explored ways to create conditions for achieving GNH in businesses.

From around 176 international and hundreds of Bhutanese participants, more than 60 experts from academia, politics, business and civil society from 29 different countries across the world shared their insights and experience into making the ‘GNH of business’ successful and sustainable.

“The business world holds tremendous power with huge impacts and it has become critical for it to change its vision by embracing societal wellbeing in addition to profit making,” said Dasho Tshering Tobgay, Lyonchhen during the opening of the conference.

According to him, from a GNH standpoint, business is a vital pillar of the society, one, that must make equal contribution, if not more, to improve people’s happiness.

“For this to happen, business will have to integrate GNH values not only to operate responsibly to address social and environmental concerns, but also to make itself sustainable and profitable.”

In addition to presenting concrete policy, frameworks, institutions and measures to promote GNH as a value in companies, the conference discussed assessment of GNH and implementation issues across the business sector.

To assess business establishments’ efforts to integrate GNH values into its operations, a guide book titled ‘Proposed GNH of Business’ was also released.

Further, Center for Bhutan Studies (CBS) and Gross National Happiness Research (GNHR) proposed GNH of Business Assessment Tool to certify businesses.

The proposed tool is for systematic assessment of businesses using the GNH framework. The objective is to certify business establishments based on their scoring across a range of GNH indicators. It evaluates 49 indicators at two levels: ‘worker happiness’ and ‘organizational conditions for happiness’.

Lyonchhen said that the tool will require the businesses to account for non-financial aspects, along with financial matters, in corporate strategies and decisions, and develop a GNH-integrated reporting.

“The tool will allow business to provide tangible social and economic outcomes of what it really means for business to integrate GNH-based indicators,” he added.

Overall, the tool will try to involve business for common good and share common values. The process will provide a platform for interested business establishments to be certified by going through a rigorous certification process to receive a GNH certificate.

“But certification will not be its main purpose. We want to witness changes in business values and objectives,” said Lyonchhen.

According to Lyonchhen, the GNH certification would require the businesses to invest in risk mitigating activities in community and find innovative operations to improve societal wellbeing.

“The tool will have to be continuously reviewed and refined to test its validity, reliability and relevance,” said Lyonchhen.

The government will start by assessing the public corporations under Druk Holding and Investments, and identify areas of improvement so that all of them pass the GNH certification process.

“Once this is done, it is our hope that private companies and businesses will follow suit. If there is a credible evidence of certification, the process improves worker happiness and organizational conditions for happiness, and the government can link the certification to fiscal incentives and subsidies in future,” said Lyonchhen.

The Center for Bhutan Studies would function as a certification agency for businesses in the country to be certified as GNH-friendly.

Lyonchhen expressed his expectations for Bhutan to have GNH citizens.

“I expect the Royal University of Bhutan to develop a curriculum on GNH business for its affiliated college and train generations of young Bhutanese leadership with GNH values. Similarly, we need to introduce GNH values into national curriculum so that we not only produce GNH leaders, GNH workers and consumers, but also more importantly GNH citizens,” he added.

The next International Conference on GNH will be held in University Technology MARA, Malaysia.

Pema Seldon from Thimphu