Bhutan is well known for creating the gross national happiness index, which represents the country’s commitment to having a happy, healthy population. When visiting Bhutan, it’s not difficult to see why its citizens are so happy. Bhutan is a small, beautiful country with a high level of education, a strong sense of cultural pride, and a royal family who look after the needs of the Bhutanese.
Although it may sound like a perfect place, Bhutan also faces serious challenges, particularly for entrepreneurs.
It suffers from a high rate of unemployment, particularly for young people. As a geographically isolated country with only a few flights per day to major cities, it is difficult to attract investors to Bhutan. Bhutan also has a very small population of about 750,000, which limits the number of consumers who are buying products.
While in Bhutan as an MBAs Without Borders Advisor to READ Global, I met with rural entrepreneurs and farmer’s groups to assess their challenges and look for opportunities.
One of these farmer’s groups was in a READ community in the Chuzagang district, which produces large amounts of high quality ginger. The main market for the ginger in this area is a nearby auction at the Indian border. There is a high demand for ginger in India, and buyers come to this auction to get ginger to bring back to cities like Calcutta.
While the Chuzagang farmers like the convenience of the auction, the prices that they get for their products vary greatly. Sometimes, they are only able to fetch a few Indian Rupees (barely 5 cents in the US) for one kilogram of ginger. This instability is risky for the farmers.
Typical Bhutanese cuisine doesn’t use a lot of ginger, and the number of people purchasing ginger in Bhutan is relatively low, so READ is trying to find alternative markets for this product.
As ginger becomes an increasingly popular flavor in the west, there may be opportunity to expand their exports beyond India. READ is also looking into ways that it can help the farmers produce alternative products using ginger, such as tea or candy to sell locally to tourists or for export.
Although the entrepreneurs that I worked with in South Asia face challenges, I believe there are also many opportunities for them to expand their small businesses and reach more consumers. They are creating quality products, and are highly motivated to grow their businesses, but may benefit from some additional tools and training.
By gaining an understanding of these challenges, organizations like READ Global can work with entrepreneurs to address their needs. From honey in Nepal, to textiles in India, and ginger in Bhutan, I believe that together they can pave the way to create jobs and improve the quality of life in rural villages across South Asia.
About the guest author:
Kathryn Svobodny, MBAs Without Borders Advisor
Prior to joining MBA Without Borders, I worked in community and economic development in the San Francisco Bay Area for a number of years. I received an MBA from the University of San Francisco and a BA in International Studies from the University of Oregon. I am passionate about small business development, microfinance, and volunteerism.