The SDC ends it work in Bhutan amid encouraging signs of a burgeoning democracy

Article, 06.03.2017

Switzerland's development cooperation with Bhutan began in the mid-1960s. The SDC funded rural development projects run by Helvetas for several decades before getting involved in the governance sector upon the request of the Bhutanese authorities. Within 10 years, clear progress had been made. The SDC's work in Bhutan is coming to an end in early 2017.

Women and children attending an event.
With Switzerland's support, Bhutan implemented political reforms that strengthened citizens' rights. © SDC

It all began in the late 1940s when two young women – the daughter of a rich industrialist from Zurich and the future queen of Bhutan – developed close ties. This led to a long tradition of development cooperation between Switzerland and the small Himalayan kingdom. For several decades, the SDC funded rural development programmes that were run by Helvetas.

Swiss Expertise requested

After adopting a new constitution and holding its first general election in 2007 and 2008, Bhutan requested Switzerland's expertise in the area of democracy. The SDC responded by reorienting its support in an effort to help the kingdom put in place transparent and democratic decision-making mechanisms. 

Over the course of nearly 10 years, the SDC invested more than CHF 20 million in the governance sector. On the ground, a number of steps were taken to make the authorities accountable for their actions and to involve citizens more in managing public affairs. 

Looking back, both the Bhutanese authorities and people are grateful to Switzerland for the progress that was achieved. The SDC will end its work in Bhutan by the summer of 2017 in order to focus its efforts on regions of the world that are in greater need. Bhutan should now be in a position to further strengthen its democratic processes, building on a solid foundation.

Overview of the main projects achieved

Two men in an office.
Two men in an office. © SDC

Combating corruption

The SDC provided Bhutan's Anti-Corruption Commission, which was set up in 2006, with capacity-building support.

Wood piling up in a river.
Wood piling up in a river. © SDC

Decentralised forest management

In one of the SDC's signature projects in Bhutan, more than 600 village communities were encouraged to form forest management units.

View of a courthouse.
View of a courthouse. © SDC

An independent justice system

The SDC, in a joint project with the Austrian Development Agency, helped develop an effective, independent and fair justice system.

Three Bhutanese officials in official dress with a guest in a western suit.
Three Bhutanese officials in official dress with a guest in a western suit. © SDC

Strengthening decentralised authorities

With the support of the SDC, more than 6,200 local civil servants and elected officials working in decentralised authorities were provided with management skills training.

Woman working at a computer.
Woman working at a computer. © SDC

More accessible services

The SDC helped make it easier for the Bhutanese people to use the government's various services.

Four women having a discussion.
Four women having a discussion. © SDC

Empowering women

One of the SDC's priorities in Bhutan was to support women's rights.

Old lady wearing headphones.
Old lady wearing headphones. © SDC

Support for the media

The SDC has played a role in promoting and professionalising the media in Bhutan.

Round table, exhibition and drinks reception with music

On 11 March 2017, the SDC and the Switzerland-Bhutan Society will hold an afternoon celebration open to the public to mark the end of the SDC's work in Bhutan. A panel featuring several prominent Bhutanese and Swiss figures will discuss the SDC's contribution to the Himalayan kingdom's development and its nascent democratic process. The programme will be followed by a drinks reception.

Overview of the event