Ms. Kanni Wignaraja, Regional Director of Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, UNDP


19 March 2021: The UNDP’s Director of Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, Ms. Kanni Wignaraja, who is also the Assistant UN Secretary-General and Assistant UNDP Administrator, visited Bhutan from 8-17 March. It was Ms. Wignaraja’s third visit to the Kingdom of Bhutan, albeit virtually this time around.  

The virtual mission came at a time when Bhutan, like the rest of the world, is recovering from the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. During her meeting with Honorable Prime Minister Dasho Dr Lotay Tshering on 12 March, Ms. Wignaraja commended Bhutan’s ‘exemplary COVID-19 response’ and its commitment to green recovery, and reaffirmed UNDP’s support to long-term economic recovery.

Ms. Wignaraja underscored the importance of ensuring that vulnerable populations and young people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic are not left behind as the country recovers from the pandemic. She said engaging young people is critical and that the government must find ways to address the youth unemployment issue through a multi-sectoral approach and systems lens. 

“I am overwhelmed by the extraordinary excitement and enthusiasm with which my virtual mission was received by the Honorable Prime Minister and others. This reflects Bhutan’s strong commitment to multilateralism and the importance it attaches to its partnership with UNDP. The meetings have been constructive, positive, and forward-looking,” said Ms. Kanni Wignaraja.

“I commend the Royal Government for the long-term economic recovery plan and for looking to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the pandemic to transform the system even as it continues to fight the virus daily. The pandemic has reversed development gains made by countries in recent decades. We remain committed to preventing significant setback to development in Bhutan through sustainable, inclusive, and resilient recovery. As a climate champion, Bhutan can ensure the ‘green focus’ in the long-term economic recovery.”

Honorable Prime Minister Dasho Dr Lotay Tshering commended the efforts of the United Nations and UNDP, and acknowledged the long, fulfilling partnership with Bhutan. He said that the UN must lead the world with the same spirit, as we venture beyond the pandemic to create sustained peace and prosperity.

While the immediate focus would be to recover from the pandemic, ensure people have means to livelihood, he said UN has a critical role in realizing the global dreams.  

Among others, the Prime Minister said we should aspire to see the world achieve 100 digital literacy. Besides the dreams to achieve 100 percent literacy rate, and a life expectancy of 100 years, the digital literacy should enable every person living in all corners of the world to make a living through technology.

“Bhutan’s concern is not just the unemployment issue. It is the employability of our people. People who are unemployed, people who graduate, people who have lost their livelihoods owing to the pandemic. We must skill and reskill them so that they are prepared for a post-pandemic world. So, when the UN turns 100, the world must see 100 percent digital literacy coverage. That digital literacy does not mean just being able to use phones. It is about being able to make a living through your mobile phones. The UN has a critical role in realizing these global dreams,” Prime Minister said.

On the climate front, Ms. Wignaraja praised Bhutan’s climate leadership and reaffirmed UNDP’s support to its commitment to remain carbon neutral. Ms. Wignaraja emphasized the need to explore innovative financing mechanisms, including blended financing, to leverage both domestic finance and international funds, and successfully implement the country’s enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The Regional Director also stressed that Bhutan must build on data and science to come up with clear, concrete efforts to remain carbon neutral.

During her 8-day virtual mission, Ms. Wignaraja also met Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Lyonpo Yeshey Penjor, Minister for Agriculture and Forests,  Lyonpo Loknath Sharma, Minister for Economic Affairs, Lyonpo Namgay Tshering, Minister for Finance, Mr. Thinley Namgyel, Secretary of Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC), Dasho Penjore, Governor of Royal Monetary Authority, Heads of UN Agencies, World Bank team and other key national partners and stakeholders.

During the series of dialogues, Ms. Wignaraja committed UNDP’s support to innovation and new ways of doing development through its Accelerator Lab. The pandemic has proved the importance of anticipatory governance. She said being innovative, anticipatory, adaptive, and agile is key to navigating the fast-changing world and that UNDP remains committed to supporting national efforts in strengthening the innovation ecosystem. She reaffirmed support to economic recovery from the pandemic, including creating jobs for youths and smooth graduation from the Least Developed Countries (LDC) category.  

The Regional Director also met with Mr. Shingo Miyamoto, Minister for Economic and Development with the Embassy of Japan to Bhutan. The Minister reaffirmed Japan’s unwavering support to Bhutan. “Our partnership with UNDP is an integral part of Japan’s engagement in partner countries,” said Mr. Miyamoto.

The meeting saw discussions on the global project for COVID-19 response, ‘Innovation for a smarter, greener, and more resilient 21st Century Bhutan’, funded by the Government of Japan, of which Bhutan is one of the implementing countries.

UNDP Resident Representative, Ms. Azusa Kubota said the Regional Director’s virtual mission couldn’t have come at a better time.  

“Besides COVID recovery, this year is a ‘super year’ for nature with COP26 scheduled to take place later in the year towards which Bhutan is preparing its revised NDCs. We are also in last decade of action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) where globally, there has been visible dent in the progress made to date. The Royal Government and the UN are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Bhutan’s membership with the UN. As an agency that has been present from the beginning of the UN’s journey in Bhutan, the year 2021 is a very special year for us.”

It is indeed strategic and timely to engage the Royal Government, senior leaders and other key national stakeholders and partners in forward-looking dialogues,” Ms. Kubota said.  

The virtual mission provided an opportunity to discuss ongoing partnership in various other areas, including support to the National COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment Plan, in close collaboration with WHO and UNICEF. 

Ms. Kanni Wignaraja’s mission is a second high-level visit to Bhutan by a senior UNDP executive in recent years. In 2019, UNDP Administrator Mr. Achim Steiner visited the country to co-chair the 14th Round Table Meeting (RTM) of Bhutan’s development partners.


Contact information:

Dechen Wangmo, Communications Analyst, UNDP Bhutan, tel: +975 322424 ext: 135, email:

UNDP partners with people at all levels of society to help build nations that can withstand crisis, and drive and sustain the kind of growth that improves the quality of life for everyone. UNDP Bhutan is part of the 170-country office UNDP network, and offers global perspective and local insight to help empower lives and build resilient nations.

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