December 2004

ICT and Gross National Happiness (GNH)

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Introduction
The central of the concept of 'Gross National Happiness' (GNH), while still not precisely defined, provides Bhutan with a set of values to guide its development on its own terms.

However the introduction of new technologies, and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in particular, can pose a threat to development activities.

While ICT can be a powerful tool to accelerate identified priority development processes, it can also impact negatively on various aspects of Bhutan's society and economy.

This paper will explore the ways in which ICT can affect the achievement of the defined 'four pillars' of GNH, both positively and negatively, and it will propose two indicators that may help measure progress towards the goal of GNH.

Background and definitions

About Bhutan
Bhutan is a small, isolated, landlocked Kingdom in the eastern Himalayas. The population of around 700,000 lives mainly in the valleys. The terrain makes travel between the population centres difficult and time-consuming. Currently most Bhutanese are engaged in agriculture, or employed in the civil service. The Government has recognised the need to boost the private sector as a key source of future employment for a young population.

Bhutan is Mahayana Buddhist Kingdom, with a rich and unique cultural inheritance. Under the leadership of His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, Bhutan has pursued a unique development philosophy, informed by His Majesty's vision of 'Gross National Happiness'.

Gross National Happiness
Bhutan unashamedly makes 'happiness' its key national development goal, thus placing people at the centre of development. Despite an increasing amount of academic, and government attention, a precise agreed definition remains elusive.

The 'four pillars' of GNH has become the standard working definition of GNH.

The 'four pillars' are :

  • Economic growth and development , that is balanced and equitable towards national self-reliance.
  • Preservation and promotion of cultural heritage, which Bhutan believes is 'critical to its very survival as a nation state'.
  • Preservation and sustainable use of the environment, both in its own right, and as an important economic asset for the country.
  • Good governance, characterised by the pursuit of integrity, efficiency, accountability and transparency , as well as the people's participation in the decision-making process .

Some of the specific characteristics of ICT give room for optimism about the role it can play in assisting poor countries accelerate their development. First, new ICT investments can complement existing technology infrastructure. Hence, there can be substantial gains for limited investments. Secondly, new technologies such as wireless last mile connections increase the reach of and reduce the cost of connectivity. Thirdly, new technologies are multi-user in nature; many can benefit from one investment, for example in a shared public telephone. Fourthly, evolution of ICT equipment means that real investment requirements decline over time. Fifth, countries investing in ICT for the first time now can benefit from the best systems and standards, and avoid the problems of being tied to old technologies. Sixth, communication networks exhibit unusual network economies, as there are positive returns to the growth of the network. For example, the value to an individual telephone subscriber of the telephone network increases with every new subscriber.

Impact of ICT on elements of GNH

Economic growth and development
Potential positive impact of ICT
It has been observed that technological change 'plays a pivotal role in long-term economic growth', and that today the availability and use of ICT is 'a pre-requisite for economic

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