Japan to help improve Bhutan's 'happiness' index

    Smiling faces of children in Bhutan, dubbed as the “happiest country in the world.” The Japan International Cooperation Agency will help the country improve its “happiness” index. Photo by: Ryanne Lai / CC BY-NC

    The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is known throughout the world for its unusual approach to development, which includes measuring progress through the Gross National Happiness index.

    But beyond the “happiness,” the country is still mired in extreme poverty and chronic unemployment. About a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line and around half have no formal education, making unemployment an inevitable reality.

    That’s why the Japanese government announced last week its intention to assist Bhutan in improving the index, which current Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay vowed to amend when he was elected last year. We learned that over the next few months Japan will send experts to review the whole index and develop recommendations to make the tool more effective.

    “[The] whole … methodology will [be] reviewed and an idea for improvement will be recommended,” Tatsunori Higuchi, a senior official at the Japan International Cooperation Agency, told Devex. According to Higuchi, $333,000 will be allocated for technical assistance to conduct the study and finalize it by the end of 2015.

    Bhutan’s “happiness index” has been lauded by many development experts and stakeholders, some of which have even claimed the tool has the potential to “change the world,” but others — especially from local NGOs — disagree. For instance, a critic told Devex a few months ago that using abstract concepts to measure hard facts such as employment, life expectancy and literacy rate may be misleading, and the tool will remain a “publicity stunt” if it doesn’t achieve results.

    It will be interesting to see how Japan’s technical assistance can bring change and improvement — or even happiness — to Bhutan’s increasingly criticized development index.

    Should other donors look into this unique approach to development? Can it work in other countries? Please let us know by sending an email to news@devex.com or leaving a comment below.

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    About the author

    • Lean Alfred Santos

      Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.