Man helps Bhutanese learn to manage money

by Takuro Iwahashi

Kyodo

As an aide to the prime minister of Bhutan, Takao Takahashi helped deepen people’s understanding of the need to manage their money in the rapidly growing South Asian country valuing “gross national happiness.”

The 31-year-old, who now works for the World Bank in Washington, said that although Bhutan’s consumption is surging amid rapid economic growth, its people have little knowledge about how to manage their money.

He said people in remote areas still barter goods and therefore can lack experience in how to handle money, adding he has seen people spending a sizable amount of money without understanding the value of what they are actually buying.

“Bhutanese people tend to prioritize ‘happiness of the moment,’ which is different from Japanese, who usually save money to prepare for the future,” Takahashi said.

“It’s not which is better and which is worse,” he said. “What’s important is to maintain a balance between the spiritual and material richness,” he said.

Last summer, Takahashi published a book titled “Bhutan de Honto no Shiawase ni Tsuite Kangaete Mimashita” (“I Thought About Real Happiness in Bhutan”) based on his one-year experience as a fellow of the Bhutanese prime minister from August 2011

In Bhutan, Takahashi produced a humorous TV drama series and manga to help Bhutanese understand the importance of saving money and ways to benefit from financial services.

In one clip from the TV series, an old man who was robbed of the money he kept at home was recommended by a friend of his daughter to save money at a bank and taught how to use an automated teller machine. The man was stunned to see money coming out of the machine and shouted, “Is anyone inside the machine?”

Takahashi, who is from Osaka, worked as a management consultant at McKinsey and Co. after studying international law at Kyoto University.

He earned a master’s degree in international development and microfinance at Georgetown University in the United States in 2011. Around that time, he learned about the job in Bhutan.

He first hesitated to apply for the job as the term was just a year and pay was about ¥20,000 a month, but decided to apply as he was thrilled by the thought of being involved in building a nation that pursues happiness.

Takahashi said that at the World Bank, he hopes to help raise the level of happiness among people worldide from the perspective of international finances.