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Bhutanese Short Course alumni maintain connections with Australian entrepreneurs

Posted: 29 June 2020

Bhutan, COVID-19, Impact, Linkages,

Saturday 27 June marked the United Nations’ Micro-, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) Day, in recognition of such enterprises’ work in local and global economies. MSMEs, which generally employ fewer than 250 persons, are the backbone of many economies worldwide and play a key role in developing countries.

To mark the day, we are looking back on the successful Australia Awards Business Acceleration for Entrepreneurs Short Course for Bhutan, delivered last year. Through this Short Course, Bhutanese entrepreneurs made connections with Australians, many of which are still being maintained.

While in Australia last year, Bhutanese participants of the Short Course met with entrepreneurs from within their industries and sectors. Many of these connections have led to important outcomes for their start-ups, small businesses and communities.

Short Course participants included officials from the Royal Government of Bhutan’s Ministry of Labour and Human Resources and the Royal University of Bhutan, as well as entrepreneurs from start-ups in industries and sectors such as handicrafts, digital advertising, e-commerce, food and beverages, environmental solutions, fashion, horticulture, manufacturing, tourism, industry associations, and business accelerators and incubators.

The objectives of the Australia Awards Short Course were to promote private sector development, support new start-up businesses in Bhutan, create new networks with Australian entrepreneurs and agencies, and explore the value and application of business incubators.

As well as receiving the opportunity to develop linkages with successful entrepreneurs in Australia, the participants learnt business expansion and diversification skills.

Short Course alumna Seldon making connections at a networking event in Adelaide, Australia

During the Short Course, the Bhutanese leaders visited South Australia and saw unprecedented collaboration in action in the state. Activities delivered by the Short Course included a networking event in Adelaide to generate and accelerate connections between the Bhutanese participants and Australian entrepreneurs. More than 100 people attended the networking event in May 2019 at Imperial Measures Distilling, a local beverage enterprise.

The networking event was made possible through the organisation and support of local South Australian businesses. Bhutanese participants mentioned that a key takeaway was how Kangaroo Island has turned isolation, remoteness, beautiful scenery and handmade products into an international brand.

A selection of participants pitched their businesses and initiatives at the event, including Seldon from Bhutan Molay Travels, Jigme Thinley Yoezer Rinzin from Druk Ride, Pema Lhadon from Shaoulee Food Products, Kinlay Dhendup from Kinz Farm Mushrooms, Chandrika Tamang from CDK and Kinga Yezer from Kunzer Fabrication.

The Australia Awards Business Acceleration for Entrepreneurs Short Course was delivered by Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and their implementing partners, Workforce BluePrint.

Empowering women and local communities

“New, small, unknown players like myself have had to face big challenges to make our presence felt in a male dominated industry,” says Short Course alumna Seldon, speaking about the difficulties she faced in starting Bhutan Molay Travels, a female-led travel company that aims to empower women through gainful employment. Being selected for the Short Course was a game-changer for Seldon, as it gave her the opportunity to meet new people in the tourism industry, visit different places, and listen to many inspiring and encouraging entrepreneurs.

Seldon was able to create a network of many potential Australian partners and travel agents through her participation in the Short Course. She has nurtured these relationships and has plans to work with several Australian travel agents once international travel resumes after COVID-19.

Short Course alumna Seldon proudly operates Bhutan Molay Travels, a travel agency that provides unique holiday experiences and aims to empower local women and their communities. Here she is pictured (left) with Helen Klaebe, Pro Vice Chancellor, QUT; Yeshey Lhamo, guide, Bhutan Molay Travels; and Sonam Zangmo, driver, Bhutan Molay Travels

Bhutan’s tourism industry, like that of many nations in the region, has been badly affected by COVID-19 and many employees have been laid off. Seldon has been doing her best to support the community during this time, as she waits for the situation to improve.

After a hotel that she had opened to support her travel business had to be closed due to the pandemic, Seldon provided it to the Government of Bhutan free of charge to be used as a quarantine facility for those were travelling back home from abroad.

She subsequently re-opened the hotel for local visitors in the absence of international travellers, and hired some of those who had lost their jobs due to the global health crisis. Although her plans are moving slowly for now, Seldon hopes that “when the market situation improves, there will be an increased demand for tourism and hospitality, which will provide more job opportunities for female guides and a better market for female entrepreneurs”.

Sustainable fashion entrepreneur and fellow Short Course alumna Chandrika Tamang also spoke of the importance of promoting women entrepreneurs and the local community. Sharing what she learned on the Australia Awards Short Course, she says, “Making best use of indigenous materials and product diversification is very important for sustainability.” The Short Course taught her to “add value in my business by making my product eco-conscious and preserving our weaving culture”.

Both during and after the Short Course, Chandrika made an effort to connect with more women entrepreneurs. “Being the bridge between the end customers and the weavers and other artisans,” she says, “I want to make a difference to the lives of weavers by engaging them in the business and collaborating with other women entrepreneurs globally, as well as giving the best products to customers.” Chandrika proudly operates CDK, a sustainable fashion business in Bhutan.

Supporting new entrepreneurs with global knowledge

Short Course alumnus Tashi Wangdi has been helping start-ups in Bhutan with the information and connections that he gained through the course. He says that attending the course was a “once in a lifetime opportunity to explore, learn, unlearn and relearn from Australian small businesses”.

On his return from Australia, Tashi hosted Bhutan’s first start-up conference—the National Entrepreneurship Congress—to be a policy dialogue platform. There, he shared some of what he learnt from the Short Course and examples of Australian Government initiatives that promote small businesses.

“Through the Short Course I was able to connect with likeminded individuals and was able to build good social capital,” Tashi says. He connected especially well with Mark Potter, Director of Meeting Place—a co-working, networking and hotdesking space in McLaren Vale, South Australia. After returning home, Tashi—with the support of Bhutan’s Ministry of Labour & Human Resources—invited Mark to Bhutan, where they collaborated to offer free barista and cheese-making training for some of the high-end hotels.

During the visit, Mark also helped Tashi develop a sustainable model for his business, iHub Bhutan. Tashi founded this start-up incubation centre to contribute towards Bhutan’s entrepreneurship ecosystem and, in turn, help drive sustainable economic growth and generate employment opportunities. The centre nurtures innovation and provides mentorship services for aspiring and budding entrepreneurs in Bhutan. iHub Bhutan also provides co-working spaces at affordable prices, including additional technical support.

Tashi has incorporated many of the recommendations that he received from his connections in Australia into his business and can see them working.

Short Course alumnus Tashi Wangdi founded iHub Bhutan, a start-up incubation centre and co-working space developed to build a strong entrepreneurship ecosystem and to nurture innovation

“Many small businesses saw this COVID-19 pandemic as a crisis, but for iHub and its start-ups, I helped them to see opportunity in it,” says Tashi. Seeking advice from his Australian mentors, he “helped two start-ups to build and pivot their business model”.

One of these pivots led to the successful launch of Happy Delivery—a food delivery service.

This willingness and ability to adapt to any kind of environment is something that Tashi has identified as one of iHub’s strengths—and one of his own. He added that this forward-facing trait was “embedded when we were taught about the importance of SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis during our course in Australia”.

iHub Bhutan is also working on an environmental preservation project called GoGreen. Tashi and his team are partnering with Meeting Place in Australia for this project, which involves the team planting trees in Bhutan in exchange for payments made by international patrons, with the profit contributing towards an impact fund for entrepreneurs.

Tashi thanked Australia Awards for the experiential learning opportunity, and applauded the Government of Bhutan for “identifying entrepreneurship as one of the key drivers for employment generation and economic diversification,” which is more important now than ever before.

Bhutanese entrepreneurs with Tashi and the team at iHub Bhutan