South Korea is home to 50 million people. They have the 13th largest economy in the world and are a member of the G-20. They are the world’s leading exporter of some of the best electronics (think of Samsung), home appliances (LG), cars (Hyundai Kia) and ships (Hyundai). They have hosted the Olympics, the World Cup and the Asian Games. They have the world’s best education system, enjoy one of the highest internet penetration rates, and boast a popular culture that has taken much of Asia by storm.
But in spite of all their successes, South Koreans are still grappling to identify themselves. And try as they might, they have not yet been able to brand their country successfully.
On the other hand, Bhutan, a small country tucked away in the Himalayas with barely 600,000 people and with one of the smallest economies in the world, possesses a powerful brand. Not may people know about Bhutan, but those who do know – almost every one of them – associate our country with GNH and happiness. GNH is a powerful brand, one that is the envy of some of the richest and most powerful nations.
The GNH brand was not created overnight. Instead it developed gradually – naturally and effortlessly – over several decades, during the period that our beloved monarchs worked tirelessly to improve the social and economic conditions of our people in an equitable, just and sustainable manner.
Today, however, that brand, GNH, is being undermined on two fronts. When we talk, we overuse GNH, and by overdoing it, we risk demeaning GNH to a hollow slogan, a trite cliché. But when we work, we ignore GNH, and by not practicing what we preach, we risk making our own people skeptical and cynical of GNH and its promises.
The GNH brand is a national asset. We must treasure it. We must nurture it. And we must celebrate it. But we must also remain faithful to it. For that, we, ourselves, must first understand what it really means, and then we, collectively, must work hard at putting it into effect.
Otherwise, we will diminish our brand image. And, as a small country, with barely 600,000 people and with one of the smallest economies in the world, we will find it exceedingly difficult to rebrand ourselves. And we will find it impossible to revive the GNH brand.