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Unique opportunities for a fair and just economy in Bhutan

Vast and increasing inequality, environmental challenges and crisis in many democracies are currently the three major problems the world is facing. Bhutan is relatively fortunate that so far only the first problem, link with rising unemployment, have clearly manifested in the country. Bhutan is still predominantly an agrarian society. That the (formal) corporate sector (both in industry and services) is not yet well developed provides tremendous opportunities for leap frogging, in case the policy makers and new government in Bhutan are not going to imitate the business sector in neighbouring countries, but have the courage to innovate.

One of the ways of doing so is to promote the concept of social business as an approach to a fair and just economy. Social businesses are organisations that use business principles to create ‘blended value’ (i.e. financial, social, environmental, gender equity, good governance) in a (financially) sustainable manner in order to contribute to systemic societal change. It should especially be noted that in a social business, the social and financial purposes are intertwined. A good example forms the work of Annamrit and SJS among apple farmers in the state of Uttarakhand in the Indian Himalayas which has increased the income of farmers, improved their position in the value chain, enhanced their self-respect and dignity and their access to basic social services such as habitat, health and education. The concept of social business should not be defined within the technocratica-political tradition, which is currently followed by many aspiring social entrepreneurs in the North, but conceptualized as a political project, as an element in a transformation process towards a social and solidarity economy. Such an economy sector aims to replace fundamentally unjust or unequal social, economic and power relations with democratically run institutions providing sustainable livelihoods, in order to bring democratically run, economically just, socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable futures. Such an approach fits well with the Gross National Happiness ambitions of Bhutan.

Hence, the concept of social business needs be regarded as a strategic approach towards a much broader political-economic discourse that aims at fundamentally transforming the neo-liberal development model. It is an approach whereby ordinary citizens can begin to control or ‘take back the economy’ through a combined strategy of local and global action. Social and solidarity economy is an attempt by society to prevent neo-liberal development models destroying society – or, we might say, the planet as a whole.  Hence this approach should be seen as part of a global counter-movement to a neo-liberalism that, left unchecked, will destroy the world.

Contributed by  Fons van der Velden

(Context, international cooperation, Utrecht, the Netherlands). The author is a pracademic who works in the space between in-between social entrepreneurship, policy development, academic research and teaching. He is the editor of Social Business; Transformational approach towards a fair and just society (Rawat, New Delhi), January 2019.

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