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Gross Domestic Happiness

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Gross Domestic Happiness - where did it come from

I was reading some of the forum posts under the Happiness topic and thought what can I contribute to members and I was reminded of an encounter I had in 2009 at the Travellers Club in London.

I had been recruited by a large Global Advertising Agency that was in financial rankings one of the Top 5 in the world. It had grown largely out of pan-European acquisitions. Unlike it's competitors at the top it's characteristics were less defined. Nothing especially unique about what the business stood for had emerged as a point of difference within the group other than being broadly very good and successful in and of itself and on behalf of its clients. After some big shake ups at board level, such as its long standing French CEO being axed in a shareholder coup, that had planned and plucked a young British Executive Director who had recently won the single most lucrative full service accounts from the biggest consumer goods corporations in the world would now be tasked and steered to change the reputation of the company. He had the blessings of the majority shareholder who had seized control at the board known for his aggressive raider approach. They had the power but they also faced an uphill march. The trouble with a young former Executive Director is that outside of his stellar performance in New Business, journalists and PR decision makers had never heard of him, he had no track record for leading a Global Company. When you Googled his name the first search results yielded a retailers in Australia, former professional Rugby Players, Textiles companies and a myriad of Welsh males who may or may not be connected to our boss. Where I am in England the name John Smith was for years assumed to be the most ubiquitous name you could have been given at birth, our man was about the second most common name you could have so we had work to do on the substance. What you could attribute to him after 6 months in the post was the entire output of the London and NY PR agencies the group held and this soon stretched to Asia and Australia but it took 3 years to build the new bosses public profile to the point where it had enough traction and people began calling us for his interviews and a world became receptive to hearing his philosophy of the challenges facing his sector and his group of companies opportunities in the present marketplace as it was then. His youth did become his advantage. 

This is where he did have a significant edge. Social media like Facebook was by todays standards still in its early days. it had not floated as a public company, it did not have its weight and revenues that it sees today and frankly most people were still figuring out its purpose other than being an address book of friends you could share videos and comments with in real time. Brands were not advertising on them as they do today and it was not even a marketplace where its users could trade goods or sell tickets to events. We are going back a bit.

The world was in a real mess, the Global Financial Crisis was only one year behind us. World leaders would soon see the Arab Spring, everything it seems that was once a stable pillar of human Civilisation had deep fissure cracks about their foundations from Politics and its practices with the Estate of media, to the Role and activities of Global Business, to the food system, health, religion, education, human rights. We had many concerned faces and many important questions, what the world lacked it appeared to many, at the time was sufficiently skilled leaders to navigate the world into a sustainable future, a world that felt more secure about its prospects than less.

Corporations with activities that harmed their reputations from environmental pollutions, human rights abuses, low pay, underage work forces, were increasingly getting caught in exposing situations where they would be advertising it's green credentials on TV's and billboards, and yet when an oil pipeline ruptured in the Gulf of Mexico and it tried to set up a twitter account to act as a means of broadcasting news updates, by which I mean very heavily censored news updates. Another twitter user called Leroy Stick set up a dopple-ganger handle that matched the look and tone of the official PR mouth piece and each tweet he put out lampooning as the PR team behind the big oil company was hilarious satire that exposed what most considered true of the companies actual ethical standards and the actual PR handle fighting a losing battle of trying to prove his satire false. 

No if you were the boss of a major corporation the phrase 'you are not in Kansas anymore' would seem true.

The idea was to look at the worlds big conferences where we all look for driving strategies to emerge from and analyse the gap between the internal reality that they actually achieved and the external perception of their policies and efforts in communities and countries. It was pretty clear much like the slow progress on human rights, anti-corruption, escalated armed conflicts etc etc that when it came to the world leaders being effective on behalf of the world, by and large the worlds citizens had begun to doubt in the capabilities.

What do you do, how can you help bring about positive changes faster, how do we open up the major challenges facing the world today and encourage universal action to mitigate the threats people face and support examples of progress is being made that resolves human activity that is causing harm. The concept was to flip the model of the G7, G8, World Economic Forum. And ask if the worlds elites can't leverage their influence and financial might positive change what if we brought together the best and most inspiring young leaders who are just emerging in enterprises contributing and enhancing life in their communities, disrupting old business models that cuts out the waste, have social policies that pledge to act and stand for activities that nurtures progress and purpose and ask them what decisions need to be taken today to address the challenges they will undoubtedly face 15-20 years down the line. 
The concept would fly that we were certain of but it too had no track record and of course it was a brainchild on paper only those in the office tasked with getting it off the ground were the only ones who actually knew about it. My job was to bring in and reach out to the thousands of applicants that we hoped would want to attend. That is not too difficult I hear you say. We aimed from the very start to have a representing delegate aged approx 25 who stood out for their achievements from every single country in the world. 

The first thing I bought for my desk was a Debrett's guide to Social etiquette and built a database of all of the foreign embassies in London. The benefit of having been an Imperial Empire London houses an Embassy for literally every country pretty much that is recognised by the United Nations. From summer of 2009 and spring 2010 I almost visited them all. I shared tea and tears with the Ambassador of Afghanistan who was personally desperately concerned as he and his wife's children were all daughters and he was acutely aware how the education of women was essential to liberating their lives but also boosting the social and economic prospects of his nation. I visited a very ordinary residence on a regular suburban ring road and sat with the Ambassador for North Korea, never for a moment imagining before meeting him that he regarded the inevitable outcome for Korea would be reunification, as he told me this I looked about the drawing room we were in,supposing cameras and microphones would be relaying our talk back to PyongYang.

The gentleman I met over tea and crumpets with at the Travellers club building on Pall Mall in London was the Honoury Consul for the Kingdom of Bhutan, a British Man who lived way outside of London so we agreed to meet here which is where he met many of the people here with various national interests with the Kingdom of Bhutan. During our conversation I asked him to tell me about Bhutan's Gross Domestic Happiness, by know it had appeared across the business and social interest media and other countries had since published their Happiness audit results and a pipelines of new ones underway. I was curious and wanted to know how they went about assessing it, why and what happens when they see the figures what is the strategy to improve the levels of Gross Domestic Happiness.

The Honorary Consul leaned towards me from large dark Chesterfield armchair embracing him towards mine glanced left then right to see if anyone was eves-dropping and said to me in a quiet voice "Now here's the thing about Gross Domestic Happiness".

Bhutan is not by global standards a very wealthy country, it is largely agricultural and very mountainous so it has geographical constraints. But it has a rising economic power as its neighbour in India . India has increasing needs to generate electric power and Bhutan secured substantial investments in return for Indian infrastructure an it's power companies to be granted high altitude water deposits and rivers to be dammed and enormous hydro-electric dams built to serve India's surging demand for electricity. This kind of infrastructure takes a long time to build and there were setbacks and delays due to difficulties with bureaucracy on both sides, logistical blunders and one thing or another and the investment support on India's side was becoming increasingly impatient and hostile towards Bhutanese representatives at AGM's and the like where arguments became quite common and on both side tensions were being expressed.  At one important news briefing the King of Bhutan was in attendance and naturally he gave an address to the cameras and reporters following developments. A journalist from the Economic Times of India raise his arm as soon as the King had finished speaking. He asked the King of Bhutan how the countries finance ministers were aligning its fiscal policies so that Bhutan would not is a year or two's time begin defaulting on the loans and repayments it had agreed in advance with Indian investors. In short his question was "How are you going to boost GDP your Royal Highness" to which the King looked at the journalist who asked him to respond. Looked down at his notes and stepped out in front of his podium and replied "Young man, I have no interest in Gross Domestic Production, I am interested in Bhutan's Gross Domestic Happiness" and soon after the briefing wrapped up. Perplexed the audience discussed among themselves curious as to what the King had meant. Gross Domestic Happiness. Such a thing had never been heard of before. 

When the King rejoined his national delegation there were some anxious looking advisors keen to speak with him. "What did you go and say a thing like that for, now the whole room of journalists have requested that Bhutan releases to them the Gross Domestic Happiness report, and the trouble is Your Highness we have never conducted one" The king said to his advisors "Well you had better get on a find out how Happy the Kingdom actually is seeing as you have promised the people in that room that you would supply one."

And today out of a Kings quick thinking is the report and its findings https://ophi.org.uk/policy/national-policy/gross-national-happiness-index/

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