What we can learn from Bhutan’s shift to Web3


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Up in the Himalayan mountains, the nation of Bhutan has established a strong reputation for itself as a progressive bastion of environmental stewardship and even happiness, measuring both as national development indicators. Today, the land-locked country and its population of just under 800,000 people are looking to champion another sector: the Metaverse.

During the recently held FAB23 Bhutan International Conference in Thimphu, Druk Holding and Investments (DHI) – the commercial arm of the Royal Government of Bhutan – unveiled the “Bhutanverse”, its metaverse-based virtual space. 

A digital gateway into Bhutan

Together with Smobler, a leading metaverse architecture agency based in Singapore, and The Sandbox, a leading decentralized gaming virtual world and a subsidiary of Animoca Brands, DHI aims to create a transformative digital experience with the Bhutanverse. Essentially, the Bhutanverse will be a parcel of digital assets located within The Sandbox. Ujjwal Deep Dahal, CEO of DHI envisions it as a virtual space where global users can experience Bhutan, immersing themselves in the kingdom’s culture, history, and philosophy. 

“The Bhutanverse will be a place of cultural innovation and diversity, cultivating a community of international and Bhutanese Web3 artists, developers, and architects,” he said. “It will provide a gateway for global audiences to engage with Bhutan’s rich heritage of culture and art while also providing Bhutan’s digital communities with a space where they can leverage and explore the immense potential of Web3 technologies.”

“We live in disruptive times and this calls for a collective spirit of innovation, creativity, sense of daring and playfulness,” said Loretta Chen, Co-Founder and CEO of Smobler. “Our intentional laddering of a digital ecosystem unlocks not just a personal sense of achievement and celebration of Bhutan’s unique culture but also provides a viable, economic platform for the creation and ownership of digital assets and identities as well as accessibility to global communities as a means towards upward social mobility. This, to me, is the true value of Bhutanverse.”

Digital Diplomacy

Bhutan embracing Web3 technologies to showcase its culture and values is the latest example of how nations have increasingly turned to digital strategies to advance their global diplomatic initiatives. It’s a practice fittingly called digital diplomacy. This encompasses a range of strategies, from the Philippines’ Radyo Tambuli mobile app, which connects the Filipino diaspora to their homeland through radio news and cultural shows, to the Polish MFA’s smartphone application, iPolak 3.0, which provides travel warnings for its citizens. 

Digital diplomacy is about harnessing the power of technology to foster global connections, share cultural narratives, and advance national interests in the digital age. Philippine Blockchain Week 2023, slated for later this month, gathers a number of public and private sector partners in what is one of the most comprehensive examples of blockchain technology leveraged in digital diplomacy – all towards positioning the country as the Blockchain Capital of Asia.

A collaborative effort

At the heart of the Web3 movement lies the paradigm of open collaboration. Unlike traditional centralized systems, Web3 champions decentralized ownership, transparency, and peer-to-peer interactions. It’s a realm where collaboration isn’t just encouraged; it’s foundational. Recognizing this, DHI has forged meaningful partnerships with Web3-native enablers like Smobler and The Sandbox to create the Bhutanverse. 

Looking toward the continued growth of their project, DHI is now looking to the global community of artists, developers, and creatives to co-design the “Bhutanverse”. DHI will launch the project with an open challenge, inviting artists and creators to submit artwork to co-design Bhutanverse. The challenge will not only act as an accelerator to foster the Bhutanverse – and the wider metaverse ecosystem but will facilitate artists and creators to step into and leverage the opportunities that the web3 presents. Once launched, the virtual space will host a curated collection of artworks designed by the local community.

These collaborations, DHI explains, ensures that the Bhutanverse is not just a digital replica of Bhutan but a dynamic space that evolves with the contributions of its global community.

“The Metaverse should be a global digital nation with no frontiers, where users from anywhere in the world can access its economic opportunities,” said Sebastien Borget, Co-Founder and COO of The Sandbox. “Through this partnership with DHI and Smobler Studios, thanks to Web3 and true digital ownership, we aim to empower Bhutanese creators into the new jobs, monetizing their talent and expressing the unique aspects of their culture to the rest of the world.”

Enter the Bhutanverse

The overarching vision of the Bhutanverse project is to build knowledge and capacity, prompting development of the metaverse’s ecosystem within Bhutan – and globally – by:

  • Growing a domestic metaverse community.
  • Opening Bhutan to the global metaverse and Web3 communities and building bridges between them.
  • Serving as a virtual lab for students, entrepreneurs, and businesses to innovate based on metaverse technology.

The Bhutanverse is one of DHI’s many projects that leverage Web3 and blockchain technologies. DHI is currently developing Bhutan National Digital Identity (NDI)—a verifiable credential-based edge wallet based on the principles of Self-Sovereign Identity—for GovTech Agency Bhutan. In line with the nation’s commitment to preserving the environment, DHI has also begun development on a national blockchain-based carbon credit platform, as well as a joint venture with Bitdeer to launch a carbon-free digital asset mining data center. 

“DHI is making great strides in the Web3 space,” DHI’s CEO Dahal said. “Bhutanverse represents a significant leap into the virtual world, opening up new possibilities for young Bhutanese to leverage emerging Web3 technologies to build innovative new businesses and leisure pursuits. With Bhutanverse, DHI will empower individuals, businesses, and creators to shape the future of digital experiences, fostering innovation, and collaborative projects within the metaverse.”

with reporting by Simone V. Jalbuena

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