Yeshey Zimba

Shaping Bhutan’s Future

Yeshey Zimba BA1975, MA1976 tells a self-deprecating story about his struggles to pass a public-policy class during his days at UW–Madison in the mid-1970s.

While studying for a master’s degree in economics, Zimba recalled his difficulty with getting through Professor Dennis Dressing BA1964’s class. Years later, Zimba related the story to Dresang over dinner in Madison.

“[Zimba] joked that he barely got by in the comparative public administration course that he took from me — but he in fact earned an A and distinguished himself as a highly respected leader among the students,” Dresang said.

Zimba went on to prove his governmental abilities by serving in several high-profile roles in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan — including two one-year stints as the nation’s prime minister from 2000–01 and 2004–05.

In the late 1990s, the king of Bhutan devolved public authority to the people, and Zimba helped manage that transition. He dealt with issues including national security and debt, salary increases for civil servants, youth employment, and the Bhutanese constitution.

“What I learned in this great university has contributed immensely to what I am today and to what I was able to contribute to the development of my country,” said Zimba, who in 1998 was awarded the esteemed title of lyonpo by the king.

Zimba has also served as finance secretary, finance minister, trade and industry minister, minister of work and human settlement, and a member of parliament in the small, mountainous nation tucked between India and China.

He is an advocate of using the concept of gross national happiness instead of gross national product to measure responsible development. The idea weighs factors such as cultural integrity, conservation, governance, health and ethical community values in addition to economic activity. He calls the concept “a more relevant development paradigm.”

“The key to the success of the country and achievement of the lofty ideals of ensuring well-being and happiness of the people lies in an effective, caring and just government,” he said.

Surveying Zimba’s career, Dresang noted that Zimba learned his lessons well and “really deserved that A.”