Local and Regional Policy Development towards Happiness and Wellbeing

Local and Regional Policy Development towards Happiness and Wellbeing

(คำกล่าวเปิดงาน “ the 3rd International Conference on Gross National Happiness ” จัดโดย มูลนิธิเสถียรโกเศศ เมื่อวันที่ 24 พฤศจิกายน 2550 ณ หอประชุมประจักษ์ศิลปาคม ศูนย์ราชการจังหวัดหนองคาย)

Welcome Address


H.E. Paiboon Wattanasiritham,

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Social Development and Human Security

To the Participants of the 3rd International Conference on Gross National Happiness

on the Occasion of the Plenary Gathering

“Local and Regional Policy Development towards Happiness and Wellbeing”

at the Provincial Hall, Nongkhai, 24 November 2007 .


Mr. Governor,

Distinguished Guests,

Participants of the 3rd International Conference on

“Gross National Happiness”,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank Mr. Governor for his kind Welcome Address. I agree with the Governor that it is a good idea to have the first part of the 3rd International Conference on Gross National Happiness here in Nongkhai. It provides us with an opportunity to directly connect with emerging policy developments at the local level.

I learned that the first day of the GNH conference has been spent at Wat Hin Mak Peng (วัดหินหมากเป้ง) where the conference was devoted to inner development, or happiness at the individual and inter-personal levels. And yesterday you focused on happiness, or well-being, guiding community development. Yesterday, I have been told, started with a moving traditional Bai Sri ceremony and resulted in Palaeng celebrations (พิธีพาแลง) in the village of Ban Wang Nam Mok (บ้านวังน้ำหมอก) , not far from Wat Hin Mak Peng.

So, today we are gathered in the Provincial Hall of Nongkhai and we try to get a picture of the trends in Social Development at the regional or provincial scale; and how these trends relate to the concept of “Gross National Happiness” as brought to us by our friends from Bhutan.

Although our exchanges on Gross National Happiness refer in the first place to the national scale, i.e., to Thailand as a whole, I am very happy that you paid attention from the very beginning to the individual and community levels. If we ask ourselves “How do we promote national wellbeing in Thailand?”, we have to take into account the complex, multi-dimensional, nature of the question before coming to good answers.

In my opinion, “How to promote wellbeing or Gross National Happiness” is not, and should not be, only a national concern.

Symbolized here in Nongkhai by the Friendship Bridge connecting Thailand with Laos, we intend to take into account the so called sub-regional scale. The Mekong Region brings together the Tibetan plateau and Yunnan Province in China, the northern part of Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and southern Vietnam through the shared watershed of the Mekong River.

Not only the Mekong River, nearly all major rivers in Asia have sprung from the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau. Almost our entire Asian continent is directly inter-connected through our rivers originating from the Himalayas and Tibetan plateau.

And then beyond our continental ties, of course we all share the trend of globalization, in terms of the environment including global warming and natural resources, the economy and the political inter-connectedness.

But before we get taken away by this big picture, it is very important not to forget the micro-regional, or provincial, the local, and the community levels, the scale where people do matter. These are the levels where our efforts to develop new policies to address urgent challenges succeed or fail. It means that any national policy depends on the way people shape their lives in local circumstances.

So I am very curious to hear what local groups are doing here in Nongkhai to improve their quality of life. Before we go to Bangkok tomorrow for the second part of the conference, I am eager to know what are the initiatives arising here in the context of local history, local social conditions and local visions for the future.

Distinguished Participants and Guests,

As for the Thai Government’s national policy in the context of this Conference’s deliberations, we have the vision of “A Society of Peace and Happiness Together”, and there are two crucial elements that would contribute to the fulfillment of this vision. These are: The Philosophy of “Sufficiency Economy” and “Human Security”.

First , “Sufficiency Economy”.

It is widely understood now in Thailand – and also among a number of interested persons outside of Thailand – that the Philosophy of Sufficiency Economy has been developed and introduced by our King, H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. In short, the Sufficiency Economy is an approach to life and conduct which is applicable at every level from the individual to family, community, to the business sector and national government. It promotes the middle path in management of the economy and society in the era of globalization.

The Philosophy of Sufficiency Economy has three key principles: moderation; wisdom or insight; and immunity against risks arising from internal or external factors. Wisdom and insight will lead to the development of morality. Individuals need a certain measure of self-reliance to deal best with the market; and countries need a certain measure of self-reliance to deal with globalization. Sufficiency has the double meaning of ‘not too little’ and ‘not too much’. The principle of moderation or middle path is a guide for finding the right balance between internal resources and external pressures, between the needs of societies at the grassroots, and the imperatives of the global economy.

Sufficiency Economy creates local communities’ immunity to economic shocks by promoting their ability to effectively deal with all challenges such as economic downturns, soaring oil prices, natural disasters, threats to public health, or bad harvests.

The principles of Sufficiency Economy may sound simple but as a government who declared Sufficiency Economy as its guiding principle, we know now that this is not easy to achieve. Globalization and modernization have influenced Thailand so fundamentally, that it is very difficult to bring about moderation and more equality in income, without strong resistance of interest groups that have invested heavily in making Thailand an aggressive economic tiger in the global arena.

From this point of view it is interesting to compare Thailand with Bhutan. Last year I had the good fortune to travel to Bhutan and experience the country with my own senses and make my own observations. In Thailand we risk losing the authenticity and cultural resilience which are such uniquely strong points of Bhutan. In a way we have to build our own Bhutan in Thailand in order to not become completely dependant on external factors such as the global economy.

The principle of Sufficiency Economy will bring balance, sustainable development and a culture of care. It will reduce risks, not overdo things, and make efforts to transform greed constructively.

I now come to the second crucial element, “Human Security” , which I would like to briefly mention as a subject for dialogue during this Gross National Happiness or GHN Conference. Human security is the special mandate of Thailand’s Ministry of Social Development and Human Security of which I am the Minister and Dr. Poldej the Deputy Minister. Not many countries in the world promote Human Security at the ministerial level, so this is quite a challenge for us.

National Security and the protection of the nation is the mandate of the armed forces. However, we see more threats to Peace and Harmony arising from social, environmental, health and economic factors. To address these factors effectively – i.e. in order to establish Human Security – we need concerted and cooperative efforts of civil society including NGO’s, the business sector, educational institutions, as well as the government sector.

As these concerted and cooperative actions toward human security are a common trend in the world, an Independent Commission for Human Security was formed at the 2000 UN Millennium Summit, chaired by Madame Sadako Ogata from Japan and Professor Amartya Sen (อมาตยา เซ็น) from India. An important contribution to the formulation of this innovative policy development concept was made by Dr. Surin Pitsuwan who has been recently appointed Secretary General of ASEAN and who will be a keynote speaker at the 3rd International Conference of Gross National Happiness next week in Bangkok.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Human security may appear to some of you as something abstract, but if we translate this concept into ‘national reconciliation’ or ‘trust’, we should all recognize that this is an urgent issue at all levels and in most countries. The more we democratize, the more we individualize, the more difficult is it to unite and create a true spirit of togetherness. Without this spirit of togetherness we are not secure.

It is my personal conviction that the exchanges as we have today – and during the whole conference – which involve not only representatives of governments, but also NGO networks and local communities; exchanges that involve the business sector, educators and academics, the media; exchanges that involve remarkably many young people – these exchanges are very much needed in order to discover and reinforce our common concerns. We need to cultivate ways to resolve conflicts of interest. And we need to explore pathways to building visions together towards a future we want to create for the next generations.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Sufficiency Economy, Gross National Happiness and Human Security, in my opinion, are powerful policy development concepts that can help us in shaping new patterns of cross-sector cooperation towards sustainable development. Our common intent is to shape a new world view based on inter-connectedness.

This conduct of joining hands, this working together, can happen at the local level, such as here in Nongkhai. It can happen at the regional level between the Mekong countries, many participants from which are present here today. It can happen in Asia where I think Bhutan does have a significant position at the centre of the continent. Of course it can also happen globally. In that respect Thailand has a modest aspiration to be a platform for global exchanges, and I am happy to see today that this is not only a Bangkok affair but that Nongkhai joins enthusiastically in facilitating creative international exchanges.

The remarkable quality of Gross National Happiness is that it places human interest, happiness, wellbeing, at the centre of our attention.

I thank the Bhutanese delegation for bringing this message to Thailand and thank all of you for joining the Third International Conference on Gross National Happiness. I see this Third International Conference on Gross National Happiness as a significant common effort of uniting forces towards social transformation which should benefit all peoples and all societies as well as the world at large.

Thank you very much

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