This session focused on issues relating to governance and institutional structures and understanding the multi-pronged strategies required to rebuild after natural as well as economic disasters. The session reflected upon varied perspectives based on experiences of working in the Himalayan region, and provided a framework of thoughts on what government and institutions have done, and it would need to do. The session was moderated by Suman Shakya—Managing Director of One Planet Solution and CEO of Tangent Waves.
At the very beginning of the session, Khampa Tshering, Media and Business Consultant from Bhutan, highlighted the importance of making the correct choice of development models. Citing the example of Bhutan, which chose to give greater importance to Gross National Happiness (GNH) than Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and chose a more sustainable model of development rather than the conventional model of indiscriminately exploiting natural resources and attaining material prosperity, he highlighted how such a development choice has made the country a role model today.
He elucidated on the construction of the Gross National Happiness Index and expressed how the domain of psychological well-being is the most important domain which shows that the GNH is not all about material well-being and growth but also involves emotional and spiritual well-being. The GNH index, according to him, is created in such a way that it accommodates all kinds of alternative models and solutions to enable or create enabling conditions for people to be happier. Khampa Tshering suggested how GNH can be a model that can be agreed upon in the larger consensus being built.
Professor Mahendra Lama of Jawaharlal Nehru University stated that there has been a hegemonic discourse on the Himalayan region which is based on misplaced notions and perceptions about the region and that time has come to question, challenge, and give alternative perspectives and perceptions on the region. The alternative discourse that should replace the existing discourse on the Himalayan region should cuts across political regimes, communities, geographic boundaries, governance, ideologies, and institutions. For a new paradigm and perception on the Himalayan region to emerge, according to Professor Lama, three critical discourses—on borders, on what is mainstream and what is periphery, and on globalization—need to be uprooted and replaced by a new discourse in accordance to the communities’ needs.
The first of such discourse is on borders. Generally, borders are perceived as geometric lines separating political entities and such thinking gives rise to orthodox national security discourse that limits thinking beyond borders. The thinking on borders should therefore be shaped by the idea of borderlands instead, which constitutes economies, migration, culture, tourism, natural resources all cutting across borders. Borders need to be viewed as opportunities rather than as national security threats. Secondly, the development discourse has for long relegated the Himalayan region as the periphery and such development models have failed. This perspective needs to change and the alternative model should be built with the Himalayan region as the mainstream. Thirdly, with globalization, what really happened was the localization of global but what the people of the region want is the globalization of local knowledge systems, institutions, traditional wisdoms, and practices. Professor Lama mentioned that unless these three ideas that have dominated thinking on the Himalayan region can be uprooted, a new set of discourse that will usher prosperity, happiness, equality, inclusiveness, and broadness in the entire system of the Himalayas’ functioning will not be possible.
Li Lin, Program Executive Director at WWF China, focused on the three principles of consensus, learning, and rebuilding. She talked about how, in order to build a consensus, there first has to be a complete understanding and appreciation of the cultures, practices, and ways of life of the people of the region and highlighted the need for an open-mind for such comprehension. Comparing the Himalayan region to China of 30 years ago, she talked about how there are similarities between the two places in terms of the desire for development but also stark differences in terms of how spiritual beliefs have held people together in the Himalayas; which she held to be the treasure of this region. Li Lin highlighted the importance of learning from the development experiences of the rest of the world and talked about how the Himalayan region could learn about preventing calamities such as widespread pollution of resources by carefully examining the development model of the developed world and avoiding the same mistakes.
Talking about how no one can understand the Himalayan region as well as the people of the region themselves do, she stated that the initiative for inheriting, enriching, and rebuilding the new Himalayas lies with the people of this region itself and pointed to the need of reclaiming the Himalayas in order to make this region the ‘Himalayans’ Himalaya’.
Anne Feenstra, Dean, Faculty of Architecture at Cept University, shared his experiences as a practitioner of how sustainable models can be build when the real needs of the community can be identified better. He cited example of his team’s work in areas east of Sikkim, close to the Chinese border where red panda’s habitat protection project had run into trouble as communities in the area cut down trees and other plants for fuel to keep their houses warm. Such conflict between nature and mankind, he shared, was mitigated by properly identifying the communities’ needs, bringing in sustainable practices, allowing communities to decide upon the best options to solve the problem, and by mobilizing locally available resources to make their houses insulated from the cold and wet climate of the region. This way the people’s firewood dependence was reduced significantly all the while helping protect the red panda habitat.
The session brought together valuable insights from panelists of diverse portfolio envisioning alternative development model for the Himalayan region, pre-requisites for adopting such paradigms in terms of the need to replace the current discourse with one that the Himalayan region can itself take ownership of by reorienting and rebuilding its institutions by capturing the essence of its rich traditional knowledge and wisdom, and by properly identifying and addressing the needs of the communities in the region.