What Makes Bhutan a Legitimate Next-Gen Startup Nation

by | Jan 7, 2024

In a recent conversation with the Asia Tech Podcast, Ujjwal Deep Dahal, the CEO of Druk Holding & Investments (DHI), shared his perspective on the importance of technology and innovation in solving problems and building a sustainable future for Bhutan. As an electrical engineer with experience in the power sector, Mr. Dahal has witnessed the transformation brought about by the internet and believes that it has provided opportunities for reflection and problem-solving.

DHI, established in 2007 through a Royal Charter in Bhutan, aims to make prudent investments for the benefit of Bhutan’s future generations. With over 20 companies under its umbrella, DHI operates in various sectors, including airlines, telcos, energy, banking, and more. The company focuses on solving problems that matter to Bhutan’s population while building economic value and ensuring long-term sustainability.

Ujjwal also discussed the commitment to sustainability and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles. Bhutan is known for being one of the few carbon-negative countries in the world, offsetting more carbon than it generates. Dahal emphasized the importance of leveraging technology and innovation to balance economic development with environmental sustainability, aiming to build the next generation of industries that are both commercially viable and carbon-neutral.

The conversation then shifted to the topic of self-sovereign blockchain identity, a decentralized identity system that provides individuals with verified credentials on the internet. Bhutan was the first sovereign government to pass an act related to self-sovereign identity, highlighting its commitment to innovation. Mr. Dahal explained that digital identity is crucial for various sectors, including banking, e-commerce, and other financial services. It ensures secure and authenticated transactions, making the digital economy more efficient and inclusive.

Drones were another area of discussion. Bhutan’s unique geography and topology provide an opportunity to test drones in extreme conditions, such as monitoring power transmission lines in inaccessible areas. DHI is working on drone projects in collaboration with partners from Singapore and Japan, focusing on design, engineering, manufacturing, and unique use cases. The goal is to leverage drones to improve various aspects of life in Bhutan, including medical delivery and infrastructure monitoring.

In terms of foreign participation in Bhutan’s innovation ecosystem, Ujjwal mentioned the country’s evolving policies focused on more foreign participation in its economy. Bhutan is actively seeking collaboration with international partners and encouraging the exchange of ideas and expertise. The recent Fab 23 conference held in Bhutan attracted international guests and showcased the country’s commitment to innovation.

Overall, Mr. Dahal’s vision for DHI and Bhutan is to create an innovation hub that solves real-world problems, fosters sustainable economic growth, and leverages technology for the betterment of society. The integration of government, academia, industry, and society is key to achieving this vision, and Bhutan is actively opening up to international collaboration in pursuit of innovation and progress.

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