The Druk Journal Conversation on Local Government
The Druk Journal Conversation on “Local Government” was held on 7th December. Students, faculty, political party representatives, local government officials, CSO members, government officials, and members of the media attended the conversation.
The Country Director of Helvetas highlighted the complexities for decision-makers when “efficiency and cost reduction,” a pragmatic approach to consolidating gewogs (counties) comes in conflict with the history and cultural identity of communities.
In light of the current state of the economy, a media person proposed how Local Governments can play a role in promoting tourism in the country.
A lecturer of The Royal Thimphu College shared how a supposed apolitical forum at the Local Government level — Dham Ngoi Zomdue — has become political in practice and signs of corruption are emerging at the grassroots.
Capacitating CLCS Students to Engage with Local Government
A 4-day training on GNH-based community analysis tools was organised by BCMD for the College of Language and Culture Studies. Thirty-five CLCS students participated in the training.
The training was organised to equip the students with the skills of planning, understand the importance of data and to reflect on their role in community planning and development.
After completing the training, a BHS second-year student, shared “I never felt my input as a youth was vital for the community’s development. I will look for ways to participate and contribute to my community so that all the youths in my community are heard and represented.”
Youth Summit in Eastern Bhutan
31 youth from four different schools in Trashigang took part in a five-day learning experience where they explored their roles as youth in their community, discussed issues that affect their generation, and learned how to get involved in the development of their community. The Summit shed light on how to engage young people in the decision-making processes and empower them to participate as active members in their community’s development
A student of Udzorong Central School said “I never assessed Public Services and was unsure how to rate them as I never reflected on it. However, now I am aware of public services in our own community and how to analyse them; I can use this lens to learn about these services and also assess them to provide feedback to the elected leaders.”
The Summit highlighted the importance of young people and adults working together towards a common goal on community development.
Bhutan Democracy Forum - Media influence on upcoming General Elections
On the eve of the fourth general elections, the 2023 Bhutan Democracy Forum on Media and Elections was held on 13th January. The forum was attended by 50 participants including a member of the parliament, local government leaders, political parties, government officials and media personnel.
The forum highlighted collaborations between government agencies, civil society organisations and tech firms as a key to fighting misinformation and disinformation during elections.
The forum highlighted challenges in accessing information that undermines the mandate of the media to inform the public and the ill-preparedness of youths to partake in democratic processes aside from making informed choices of their representatives.
Youth Initiative: Learn about Child Rights
For the first time, children with disabilities and monks attend the Youth Initiative Camp with other young people (a total of 21) to learn about their rights and responsibilities and become advocates for child rights.
“I was unaware of my rights, but joining the Camp helped me understand them better. Now I will take the responsibility to share my learning with my friends at school,” shared a student from Yangchen Gatshel Higher Secondary School.
The students from Wangsel Institute of Deaf shared that it was insightful to listen to young people sharing their perspectives on matters concerning them and to have the opportunity to contribute to the discussion.
#PeopleCentredPolicy Advocacy Event
The #peoplecentredpolicy advocacy event brought to light stories of discrimination in the workplace, inequalities in education, information and public services for persons with disabilities, gender inequality, and social reintegration issues faced by people with disabilities, women, youth recovering from addiction, caregivers, and the LGBTQIA+ community.
One mother of a child with autism shared the social and economic burden on caregivers who are usually the mothers and appealed for better integration and transition to higher education, and schemes and benefits for children with disability.
A deaf instructor shared hurdles in accessing information which affect the provision of quality education for them. Similarly, a trans-woman shared how her community members face harassment and discrimination at school and workplace.
Representatives of marginalised groups highlighted inadequacies in policy execution during their discussions with policymakers.
The event was attended by over 100 people, including the Finance Minister, members of parliament, government officials, development partners, and representatives of civil society organisations, and members from SOEs. The guests present at the event expressed feeling emotional and empathetic listening to the stories and yet at the same time appreciating the confidence in the representatives as they advocated for their own cause.
The social media advocacy campaign had a total views of 4,19,415.
Together with Children - For Children’s Rights
A total of 12 children from vulnerable sections of the population (children in conflict with law and children in difficult circumstances) were oriented to children rights and responsibilities and were consulted, with informed consent, to help BCMD understand the status of child rights and challenges.
Most children highlighted the importance of parental care and support in their development and most children came from broken families or those with alcohol problems.
To supplement the country sate report on the child rights landscape in Bhutan further consultations with different groups of children and a camp will be conducted this summer.
(A participant sharing their experience through the River of Life Activity)
Empower Bhutan's Citizens to Engage in Democracy (#21600)
Transforming Planning Processes at the Grassroots
The highland communities of Merak and Lumang in Trashigang brought community residents beyond the regular “head of the family” to discuss community development needs. The consultation used the Gross National Happiness-Based (GNH) Participatory Planning Toolkit of BCMD which provided multiple lenses to co-investigate community issues in an inclusive setting.
A local leader from the Lumang community stated that it was the first of its kind in the region and helped the community ideate new developmental plans.
The year ended with a 5-day Training of Trainers (ToT) on GNH-Based Participatory Planning and Community Analysis with 12 diverse participants from Trashigang and Monger on 26th November 2022.
Check Kuensel’s article on the event: https://kuenselonline.com/gnh-based-planning-for-lgs/
A Collaborative Policy Review for Social Protection
Over twenty public officials and civil society organisation members representing vulnerable groups (women, People With Disabilities, LGBT+ and youth) underwent a week-long training of trainers (ToT) workshop on Design Thinking.
A mental health worker remarked, “As a civil servant, we rely on our experience and qualification to develop policies, but this doesn’t necessarily encompass the experiences of the vulnerable groups. The Design Thinking workshop made me realise how dangerous it is to look at the world from our desks alone.”
Following the ToT, in October, close to seventy participants from vulnerable groups - women, people with disabilities, single mothers, recovering addicts, and LGBTI community members - including government officials attended a week-long workshop to look at social protection issues through Design Thinking processes.
On the last day of the workshop, a participant shared that the workshop was an ‘awakening’ experience for her as she got to hear lived experiences of PWDs, youth and women and it made her understand the purpose of her work.
Bringing Youth to the Centre Stage
The 2022 Youth Summit focused on promoting child-friendly local governance. Thirty-two youths and 12 local leaders, including district administrators, attended the 5-day Youth Summit in Tsirang. The Summit saw the budding of a trusting relationship between the Local Government leaders and the young participants.
Check out this article by Kuensel covering the event: Empowering youth to build child-friendly LG | Kuensel Online.
Here is the link to the news covered by Bhutan Broadcasting Service (Dzongkha news: 1:11:36 – 1:14:55 English news: 3:14:35 – 3:17:58)
Tendrel- a Citizen Engagement Platform was launched on October 15th to crowdsource citizen views on pertinent issues. Kickstarting the platform, over 4,436 youths and citizens took part in a poll on “How should Bhutan balance economic development and environmental conservation?”
Nurturing a Media-literate Society
Cyberbullying, phishing, misinformation and personal data breaches are growing concerns in the digital world. Forty-two local leaders from Thimphu and Paro attended a 3-day workshop to raise awareness on such issues and to prepare the local communities to navigate the digital world more safely.
Thirteen participants including Members of the Parliament, Assistant Research Officers, and officials from constitutional agencies received a three-day workshop on media and democracy literacy. An official from the government agency surmised, “Information as a public good is essential for making decisions. However, when authoritative sources do not engage the media, the danger is the consumption of misinformation and disinformation by the masses.”
Nurturing Democratic Student Representatives
Democracy is best taught when it is lived. To infuse the school culture with democratic values, BCMD organised a “Nurturing Student Representatives” workshop for middle and high school teachers of nine schools.
One key takeaway for many participants was that student leaders are more than information disseminators and it is necessary to involve them in decision-making in school activities. Referring to the workshop developed for schools, a participant noted that “the workbook is the immediate resource that will help them ‘materialise’ the democratic culture in schools, and prepare students for the future”.
Strengthening decentralised planning at the Local Government level
As the planning process for the 13th Five Year Plan commences by mid 2022, 61 LG office bearers and community residents from Thimphu, Paro and Trashigang are equipped with community analysis tools and facilitation skills. A planning officer noted how the tools would be useful in gathering the ‘actual needs’ of the people and enable a shift from the current infrastructure focused developmental plans to addressing social issues. A Tshogpa from Genkha remarked on the timeliness of the training as 22 out of 44 participants were newly elected members.
Conversation on “Democracy Today”
Keeping up with the biannual publication of The Druk Journal, two Suja Dzaw Conversations were held on the theme ‘Democracy Today’. The Conversation’s attendees involved a diverse group that included the political parties and the media. The Conversation discussed a wide range of topics from political ideology to the teaching of civics in the Bhutanese Education system and democracy as a means to realise Gross National Happiness:
Looking towards equitable growth after pandemic
As the country emerges from the whirlwinds of the pandemic, the Bhutan Democracy Form 2022 was organised on the theme “Equitable Prosperity through Inclusive Growth.”
The Forum deliberated on numerous and pressing issues such as the need to stabilise the volatility of Bhutan’s economy, diversify the economy from hydropower that is vulnerable to climate change, and the need to invest in R&D to forecast economic opportunities and shocks.
About 130 participants from government agencies, political parties, civil society organisations, the media, academic institutions and schools attended the Forum.y
Teach one, Reach all - Multiplier Effect of Teachers
BCMD conducted training for over 150 teachers from 5th January to 23rd March on media and democracy literacy. The in-person and virtual training included teachers from Tsirang, Thimphu and Tashigang districts from both public and private schools. The sessions included how to verify information in an age of infodemic, safe and responsible use of social media as online learning becomes the new normal during the pandemic, how to distinguish fake from real news and so on.
The teacher participants prepare to conduct in-school professional development sessions to spread media literacy and start media clubs in the schools.
Youth Engagement for Inclusive Decision making
The winter camp of Youth Initiative 2022 began in January with 26 youths deliberating on the theme of climate change. The youths identified mitigation and adaptation strategies to tackle climate change. These solutions from the youths are uploaded on Youth Conversations Platform, a digital platform, to crowdsource ideas and seek citizen views on the poll question, "What can Bhutan do to tackle Climate Change?" The findings of the poll would contribute to informing programmatic decisions for parliamentarians and policy-makers.
Continuing to put the youth at the heart of our discussion, 46 teachers, youth and members of civil society joined the Suja Dzaw conversation in December to talk about the role of the youth in tackling climate change, children in difficult circumstances and what our youth learn.
In the same month, BCMD supported Camp Rural Urban Friendship (RUF) with 130 copies of Jurwa: Changing times (parts 1 & 2) - a graphic novel on Bhutan’s transition to democracy. The novel follows the difficulties and triumphs of the protagonist, a young civil servant, as he aspires to stand for a seat in the parliament.
“I finished both Jurwa novels in one day. I liked the book because it followed the story of a youth who wanted to do something that usually adults are seen doing. I learnt that women and youth should also stand for elections and that they are equally qualified to become leaders of our country”, shared a high school student at the Camp.
Cultivating a civic mindset and civic action
Civic education is vital to democratic forms of government. It equips and empowers citizens with the agency to influence and shape society and be active in democratic processes. The ongoing pandemic demonstrates the complex nature of social issues that require different sectors, organisations and individuals to join forces for effective responses. To contribute to shaping a democracy that serves Bhutan’s needs, BCMD organised a webinar on Cultivating Civic Mindset and Civic Action on 25th March 2022.
Over 800 people from diverse backgrounds – secondary and tertiary educators, students, policymakers, district administrators, local and international NGOs along with engineers & planners, police officers and doctors – and from all over Bhutan registered for the webinar.
With perspectives from international and national academia and practitioners from the school and civil society contexts, the webinar shed light on the status of civic education in Bhutan and how to harness it to address societal needs. The webinar also called attention to the role of parents in developing a civic mindset and how it is related to spiritual practices.
Celebrating the Closing of the #FutureIsNow Advocacy Campaign
Reaching almost 600,000 people (total country population is approx. 770,000) within the span of five weeks, the closing ceremony for the #FutureIsNow advocacy celebrated the progress of the campaign. Bringing together the youths who worked on the campaign and important stakeholders from the government and parliament, the closing also created a rare opportunity for youths and adults to inhabit the same space and discuss issues surrounding youth realities in Bhutan. Both youths and guests alike commented repeatedly on the need to work with each other to tackle youth issues that are cross-cutting in nature.
The Secretary from the Ministry of Information and Communication had this to say: “Sometimes as a senior bureaucrat, I tend to get my priorities mixed up. So I think such events try to put things in the current perspective… Today we have multiple agencies whose independence and autonomy seems to be more important than… putting issues in the middle of the table and discussing to find a path forward”.
The closing which was graced by His Excellency the Foreign Minister also saw the official launch of the ‘Youth Voices: Youth Matters’ report which captures the voices of the youth reflecting on their realities and aspirations. Lauding the efforts of the youth and BCMD, the Foreign Minister remarked that this would be a current and up-to-date resource for the government to utilise as they continue their work on addressing the youth issues in the country. Thank you to UNICEF and CISU for the support in carrying out this campaign.
Harnessing the Power of Civil Society
This year’s Roundtable built on the previous one from 2019 titled, ‘Civil Society and Nation-building’, to explore in-depth, what “an enabling environment” for civil society organisations constitutes and its benefits to society. The three speakers brought a range of perspectives to the question of how we “harness civil society potentials”; from explicating how civic action is embedded in traditional Bhutanese culture to how civil society inheres potentials for greater contribution to development as evidenced during the pandemic, to the need for aligning goals with larger issues of climate change for effective fundraising.
The roundtable also unearthed current restrictions placed on CSOs especially at the registration process and how that has negative implications in creating a vibrant and giving society. A panellist, Dr Karma (one of the country’s respected intellectuals and historians) proposed that the registration should be made very easy but should be complemented with effective and strict monitoring of funds afterwards. Other discussions revolved around the comparative advantages of CSOs as small and nimble actors that have effective reach and understanding of their respective niches.
“From the Ministry of Health, we look forward to and see the opportunity to work together with CSOs because there are lots of emerging health challenges coming up. So far we have been working together with CSOs on advocacy mainly but if the capacities of the CSO can be built up further, they can even contribute in technical areas… They are also more closely and have better reach at the grassroots level so it is an area where we can work together”
– Dr Pandup, Secretary of Ministry of Health
The roundtable was attended by a total of 49 participants from various ministries, constitutional bodies, political parties, local government, parliament, media, judiciary, academic institutions, and fellow CSOs. As the civil society Act is due to be tabled for amendment in the 2021 parliament session, we thank CISU for making the roundtable possible.
Learning to Care about One’s Community
“The workshop inspired me. I had never cared about anything other than myself but now I know I am responsible for my community too.”
– Student, Sherubtse College
Earlier in October, 50 students of Sherubtse College completed a four-day asset-based community mapping workshop. Asset-based community mapping is a tool that puts community members at the forefront of community development. As the participants mapped assets and shed light on issues in their community, they shared that they felt empowered to engage in their community’s development. The workshop ended with participants sharing creative ideas to address issues they care about.
Throughout the four days of the workshop, the participants were also accompanied by 13 other students who were trained in peer facilitation in July 2021. The peer facilitators were able to share their earlier mapping experiences and helped facilitate the learning process of their peers. “I was a timid and shy person. But now I’ve gained confidence and am able to share my opinion without hesitation. Also by learning to respect others’ opinions, I think I’ve become a better person”, shared peer facilitator, Tsheten.
With support from the peer facilitators, participants are currently designing local action plans to address highlighted issues. The local action plans will be implemented in the following months.
Practising Democratic and Inclusive Public Consultation
Tshering, a De-suup (volunteer corps raised to respond to emergencies) said, “I have gained a better understanding of some of the community’s issues and how community development plans are presented as a result of this consultation. We youths have never been included in any community meetings before, but today’s consultation provides us with a chance and a platform to express our issues and challenges. As a result, I believe that young engagement in this type of dialogue will become increasingly essential in the future.”
Participants who were earlier engaged in the participatory planning and decision making workshop in August worked in groups to practise inclusive public consultation in unravelling community issues and assets, prioritising and drafting their community development plans. A total of six consultations were conducted in six localities across Thimphu and Paro.
The consultation was carried out using BCMD’s Gross National Happiness-based toolkit, which uses the four pillars of Gross National Happiness philosophy as a framework of holistic analysis. In the following month of October, the above development plan will be presented at an appropriate forum to influence the community development plans and policies. This project to enhance decentralised planning at the local level was made possible with support from the Asia Foundation.
Bringing Monks, Nuns and the Women of the Armed Forces up to Speed with Digital Literacy
In two rounds of workshops, 28 monks and nuns from the central monastic body and 40 women from the armed forces were engaged in a Media and Democracy Literacy (MDL) training. During a critical time when misinformation is rife and countries struggle with disinformation, this training is equipping vulnerable citizens with the skills to verify news, stay safe online and use media as a tool for constructive feedback and discourse.
I was inspired by His Majesty the King’s message that to excel together as a community or country, we need to catch up with the rapidly digitising world. So, I reached out to BCMD to provide this training for our monks and nuns, who are very vulnerable to the abundance of fake information on the internet”
– Lopen(Sr. Monk) Thukten, the media focal person at the Central Monastic Body.
The participants were trained to judge the authenticity of news articles and reflect on their social media habits. The monks and nuns also developed social media guidelines from what they had learned over the three-day training. His Eminence the Laytshog Lopen, graced the final day of training and instructed the Media Officer to compile the guidelines so that they could be further refined and distributed across the country to other monks and nuns. Numerous monks and nuns expressed their joy of learning to become media-literate; “This is something new for us. We’ve been using Social Media but we didn’t fully understand the privacy and security risks that we are vulnerable to”, a nun said.
Likewise, a woman from the armed force group shared how her “teenage kids have Facebook accounts but I don’t know what they use it for”. The 2-day Media and Democracy Literacy training with 40 other women from the armed forces colonies engaged them on topics such as the advantages and disadvantages of social media.
Pema, police personnel and mother expressed gratification for having been able to attend the training and added, “Just like how this training was given to us (mothers), I would like it if this training was also given to teachers in schools. Because these days, children seem to approve more of what they hear/ see at school than at home.” This project was supported by the United Nations Democracy Fund.
Educating Future Educators on Proactive Citizen Engagement
Trying their hands in community mapping for the first time, on 25th October, 20 first-year students from Paro College of Education presented their project ideas to address community issues in their localities. Issues of plastic waste, ill-maintained community landmarks and lack of housing for college students emerged as a result of their mapping exercise.
The mappers had the opportunity to interact with and receive feedback from diverse members of the community, such as teachers, local leaders, district administrators, civil society members, etc. who constitute the Paro town hall. Together with the town hall members, they also reflected on the practicality, necessity and sustainability of their local action plans within the Paro district which will then be implemented in the weeks following.
Making Public Consultations Inclusive at the Local Level
With the goal to contribute towards strengthening decentralised planning processes through modelling citizen participation and evidence-based decision-making at the local level, local leaders, administrators and residents in the year 2021 successfully engaged in a series of capacity development workshops and conducted public consultation with their respective localities. The resulting community development plans and findings were shared with relevant stakeholders from Helvetas, JICA, Department of Local Government (DLG) and Gross National Happiness Commission.
A total of 7 localities - 4 in Thimphu and 3 in Paro - engaged in public consultation where the residents and the project participants co-developed community development plans encapsulating citizen priorities and voice. Mr. Passang, Senior Program Officer at DLG shared that seeing the participants’ engagement in formulating plans using tools developed by BCMD can lead to better consultations and planning. He also highlighted the issue of replication of community development plans and the need for better consultations that can help change this.
The Gross National Happiness-based toolkit, which uses the four pillars of Gross National Happiness philosophy as a framework of holistic analysis. Along with the translator and the project participants, the toolkit will be translated into the national language, Dzongkha to make it accessible and create inclusive knowledge resources for diverse groups of community members. Ultimately the toolkit will help build the capacity of local government office bearers to be democratic, inclusive and consultative in conducting public consultations for planning and decision-making. We thank The Asia Foundation for supporting this project.
Creating Platforms for CSOs to Engage with the Government
The CSO-Government Meet 2021 marked another important milestone in the efforts of CSOs to have a structured and sustained platform to engage with the government. It was particularly timely with the Amendment of the CSO Act which has been tabled for the upcoming parliamentary sitting as well as the CSO-Government Collaboration guideline that is currently being reviewed by the Committee of Secretaries.
Tax exemptions to incentivise private donations, relook into the yearly CSO registration and collaboration through outsourcing relevant work and in areas of fundraising, especially in light of the LDC graduation were discussed. More broadly, the Meet brings together different players in the country’s development landscape to ensure that efforts converge towards realising national goals and priorities and establish better understanding and trust.
“The LDC graduation will have one big impact since the government will no longer have access to the same funding sources as before. So the government and CSO need to work together to explore new funding sources in the future”
– His Excellency the Prime Minister of Bhutan
In addition to His Excellency the Prime Minister, the meet was graced by 3 ministers, secretaries, 15 Members of Parliament and fellow CSO members. We would like to thank CISU for making this meet possible!
Druk Journal Conversation on Bhutanese Youth-Their Aspirations, Concerns and Mandate
The 14th issue of The Druk Journal was released with 17 articles on the theme “Bhutanese Youth – Their Aspirations, Concerns, and Mandate”. As with all editions of the journal, an accompanying conversation was held on 30th November with close to 30 participants to deliberate on the theme. The panel consisted of an eclectic mix of 4 speakers who contributed articles covering themes of mental health, children with special needs, LGBTI and technical and vocational education.
The conversation touched on the very personal experience of parents living with children with disabilities, the various social and emotional turmoils, the LGBTIQ experience and adverse childhood experiences as the underlying causes of mental health issues. On a lighter note, the Conversation also dwelled on some of the changes the TVET reform plans to bring forth.
For more, visit www.drukjournal.bt website where you can also subscribe to Druk Journal. Thank you to Asia Foundation & UNICEF for supporting the conversation.
Celebrating the Ending of 2021 Media Lab Class
Students and faculty from Motithang Higher Secondary School (MHSS), a local school in the capital city gathered together in November to celebrate the closing of yet another successful series of multimedia classes conducted at BCMD’s Media Lab. This initiative was a result of the wonderful friendship and shared belief in making learning experiential between BCMD and Motithang Higher Secondary School.
The closing also provided the opportunity for the students to showcase their work, where groups and individuals shared their videos and photos to 71 students in media studies and the faculty of Motithang Higher Secondary School. A member in the audience shared her insights on the importance of understanding media and using it as a tool to express oneself. Some students shared that the media lab classes sparked their interest in media, while others were empowered to use it as a medium to express themselves. The principal of the school, Madam Jigme said, “I am impressed with the creative work shared today, which displays your learnings from the sessions and I hope you all continue working with passion on building your capacity.”
Media lab with its equipment and experienced instructors provides a nurturing environment for young media enthusiasts and inquisitive learners to use the space and equipment to learn media production aiming to cultivate their creative capacity to interact with the world.
Capacitating Youths to Become Audio Storytellers
This year’s podcasting training engaged 17 participants to become storytellers by focusing on youths of Bhutan along with their hopes, concerns, dreams and responsibilities as young citizens of our democracy. The topics covered include mental health, employment, child sexual abuse and LGBTIQ. The training not only built the technical capacity of youths but also heightened their interest in social issues. At the end of their respective projects, the participants realised the need for them as citizens to be proactive and remain engaged in issues around them.
The podcasts will be uploaded on the BCMD Soundcloud channel. Check out our previous podcast series, ‘Dha rei na ba’ (trans. Nowadays) produced by the 2019 cohort here: https://soundcloud.com/bcmd/sets/dha-rei-na-ba
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