Meet the Activist Using Rap Music for Positive Social Change in Bhutan

World Learning LEAD Alliance fellow Kezang Dorji is not only one of Bhutan’s most popular rappers, he is fast becoming a global rising star. At age 19,while studying at Sherubtse College, he started to write and perform home-grown rap music with lyrics in English. Later, he switched to Dzongkha, to promote rapping in the national language, which no one was doing at the time.

Kezang Dorji —Rap activist in Bhutan

However, unlike many western rap artists, including Kezang’s hero Eminem, his message is positive and patriotic, seeking to inspire youth in the remote Himalayan kingdom to vote, work hard, steer clear of drugs and alcohol and serve the nation.

Since downloading beats from the internet and dropping his first rap song in 2011, Kezang, whose high school nickname was Rap, has produced two albums, a number of music videos, and is the first Bhutanese performer to go on national tour.

World Learning recently caught up with him, to learn more about his passion for rap music, why he believes it’s a good way to speak to the country’s youth and how LEAD Alliance helped him develop as an activist and positive change-maker in Bhutan.

Why were you drawn to rap music?

I came across a music video of Eminem at a friend’s place when I was in my mid-teens. I instantly liked it. I started listening just for fun and then found out that Eminem also had a story like mine. His parents were separated and he was also raised in poverty. I related to him and was inspired.

How has rap changed your life?

Rap music has changed my life in so many ways. People know me because of my music. But I am more passionate about social issues, like youth issues, equitable development, national identity, the environment and, actually, everything. I just want fairness. I use my status as an artist to share my concerns about issues affecting society. Rap music gave me opportunities to be a part of youth networks at home and abroad.

The lyrics of your songs are quite different from Eminem and most rappers. Why did you go your own way?

Spreading a positive message via hip hop.

Music is a very powerful medium. It influences listeners in ways artists may not even think of. If we spread hate and use slang, young listeners would think it is okay to do so too. Aspiring artists who look up to such artists are going to copy them. Then it’s a chain reaction and a culture of music that promotes hatred will be born. Such music only leads to animosity.

What does it take to be a rap artist?

Anyone who can write and rap can become a rapper. All one needs is skill and a beat. With the internet it’s much easier to get songs out. To me, what makes an artist stand out are the subjects they touch.

What do you do when you’re not rapping?

I am a corporate performance analyst by profession. I rap when I’m not working.

Bhutan has a very small music industry catering to a small population so it’s hard to be a full-time musician. My job puts food on my table. I am a musician solely as a hobby.

Donating projectors for remote schools in Bhutan.

I also spend my time doing social work, because of what I experienced and saw growing up. I come from the eastern part of the country from a remote village where life is very difficult. I have been through challenges that many in privileged or urban parts of the country may not imagine.

As a kid, it was very clear to me that when I grew up I would do something about bringing change to the lives of underprivileged youth. I am keeping that promise. I work on projects to promote youth issues and try to capitalize on my status as a public figure to create awareness.

You were a fellow of World Learning’s LEAD Alliance in 2017. What were your biggest takeaways from the program? How did it support your activism?

Kezang Dorji (far right) with Bhutan LEAD Alliance fellows.

The LEAD Alliance 2017 was the first international youth summit I attended. I learned a lot about advocacy and got a lot of inspiration learning about the work of youth leaders in other countries. I also learned the importance of networking and forged lifelong friendships with youth representatives from other countries on the program.

The LEAD program was like a springboard for me to participate in other youth programs supported by the U.S. government and World Learning through the International Republican Institute (IRI). That same year, I had the opportunity to attend the Generation Democracy Jakarta Academy and the Global Summit of Generation Democracy in Austria in 2018. What I learned from LEAD and other programs continues to influence my work and will benefit me for the rest of my life. I remain very grateful for all these opportunities.

According to the U.N., 60 percent of Bhutan’s population is under the age of 25. What are some of the social and economic challenges facing such a young country?

Youth always has been a concern of our lawmakers and senior bureaucrats. We also have many government agencies and CSOs [civil society organizations] working to make things better for youth. I appreciate their efforts. However, I still see a lot of room for improvement. I’ve been speaking out about the absence of a national Youth Action plan. We need a plan listing all initiatives with deadlines to address specific youth issues and fulfill specific objectives. Bhutan’s Youth Policy is currently being reviewed and I am hoping this will be addressed.

A bright spot is the National Service for youth that will begin in 2022. I am optimistic that this program will alleviate many pressing concerns including youth delinquencies and youth unemployment through vocational training.

What do you wish people knew about Bhutan?

I wish everyone in the world knew about the principles of good karma embraced by many people in Bhutan. Our daily lives and even the development philosophy of Gross National Happiness are guided by the principles of karma. Bhutan is a peaceful and harmonious country. If everyone lived by such principles imagine what a happy a place the world would be.

What’s next for you?

There isn’t any exact plan, but I will continue making positive music and working on youth projects. With time, I hope to take on larger projects.

Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminars

Participant Profile

Participants are alumni of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs and vary in age and level of expertise, but all will be engaged in the seminar topic and highly motivated to create change in their communities.

Please consult the list of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs below.

Participant Selection

Alumni TIES participants who are not U.S. citizens are nominated by the U.S. Embassies or Consulates in their countries. Please contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your country to learn how you can participate in Alumni TIES. Potential Alumni TIES participants who are living in the United States can apply for specific seminars managed by World Learning. The web link to the online application will be distributed widely by the Office of Alumni Affairs of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

All participants for Alumni TIES seminars are selected by the U.S. Department of State.

Program Design

Alumni TIES seminars take place in six world regions and the U.S.; each seminar is three to four days for small groups of alumni. The seminars include speakers, capacity development trainings, and alumni networking activities. Through the small grants initiative, alumni have the opportunity to take action and make a positive difference in their communities.

Learn More

Watch more videos about the Alumni TIES program.

Read stories from past participants about their experiences at the seminars or with their small grant projects on the Alumni TIES blog.

For information on programs for U.S. government-sponsored exchange program alumni visit the International Exchange Alumni website.

Alumni TIES is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and supported in its implementation by World Learning, in partnership with the Office of Alumni Affairs of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).  

Communities Connecting Heritage

Communities Connecting HeritageSM  Program Impact


CCH Alumni Small Grants

At the conclusion of the program’s third year, the CCH team opened the Communities Connecting Heritage Small Grants to organizational and community member alumni from all three CCH cycles. The following projects were selected for CCH Small Grant implementation.

Kristina Llane (Albania)
Title of Project: Beekeeping Tradition as and Educative Tool

This project aims to preserve and share the importance of local beekeeping traditions in the Gjirokastra community of Albania. Kristina will work with elementary school students to cultivate youth interest in beekeeping’s cultural role in their community. Throughout the project, students and teachers will contribute to an educational book on beekeeping to that will equip teachers to continue sharing with future classrooms. The project will conclude with a panel discussion focused on protecting and preserving culture, tradition, and the environment in Albania.

Kalpana Gagdekar (India)
Title of Project: Connecting Community with Their Traditional/Heritage Cuisine

This project will explore and document the Chhara community’s traditional cuisines, which are experiencing a disappearing effect under modern global influences. Kalpana aims to document the rituals and heritage of Chhara cuisine through seven video interviews with Chhara women elders. The project combines modern technology with traditional food heritage and welcomes Chhara members of all ages to reclaim and rediscover their own heritage.

Mandala Theatre (Nepal) and Creative Connections (Connecticut, U.S.)
Title of Project: Hamro Sanskriti: Preserving Cultural Heritage through Participatory Theatre

The goal of this project is to provide youth in Connecticut and Nepal with a deeper connection to their own culture through student-led virtual workshops. The workshops – spearheaded by theater trainers in Nepal and Connecticut – will teach participatory theater techniques to 250 high school students and conclude with a model forum theater piece produced by students for the public.

Athar Lina (Egypt)
Title of Project: Rawya: The Water Women

Rawya: The Water Women is a Cairo-based project aimed at restoring the historically significant Sabil Um Abbas, a 19th century religious building and gathering place, into a usable community space once more. In addition to restoring aspects of the building, the project will connect U.S. and Egyptian women storytellers Donna Bryson and Chirine El Ansary to curate a storytelling experience of powerful 19th century women from their respective countries. Their work will culminate in a video exhibition that will be on display in the newly renovated Sabil Um Abbas for the local community to experience.

Bhasha Research and Publication Centre (India) and University of Northern Colorado (Colorado, U.S.)
Title of Project: Reclaiming Heritage II: Building Social Bonds and Bridges with Cultural Heritage

This project will utilize digital library resources at UNC to create and share cultural heritage “snapshots” with the broader community. These short videos will help immigrants and refugees in Colorado and indigenous peoples in India share their cultural heritage while building bonds with their local communities. The project will provide its participants with the ownership and platform to share their own heritage while paving a pathway for integration with others in their community.

Outside the Lens (California, U.S.)
Title of Project: Youth Tellers

Youth Tellers is a cross-cultural collaboration between Latinx youth in California and Bosnia-Herzegovina, relying on the concepts of past, present, and future to explore students’ complex cultural identities. Using digital media tools including photography, videography, and youth-facing communication forums like Discord, the project will culminate in a virtual exhibition showcasing the participants’ cultural heritage exchange with one another.

Explore the Story section on the right to learn more about the unique cultural heritage projects implemented since 2018.

Fulbright Specialist Program


Link U.S. Experts and International Institutions

A program of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Fulbright Specialist Program is a unique opportunity for U.S. academics and established professionals to engage in two- to six-week consultancies at host institutions across the globe. Host institutions, including universities, non-profits, and other organizations, develop and submit projects for approval by the U.S. Embassy or Fulbright Commission in their country in wide-ranging academic and professional fields that build capacity and promote long-lasting linkages between individuals and institutions in the U.S. and abroad.


Address Priorities and Build Institutional Capacity at Institutions Around the World

An important companion to the traditional Fulbright Scholar Program, the Fulbright Specialist Program differs by providing short-term exchange experiences that tackle discrete, sometimes rapid response, projects. The Fulbright Specialist Program encourages participation of both university faculty and highly experienced non-academics, including legal experts, business professionals, public health practitioners, scientists, IT professionals, artists, and journalists. The program is a mutually beneficial opportunity for the Specialist who may not be available to leave their position for an extended period of time and the host institution which needs an experienced partner to jointly tackle a problem or examine an issue on a short-term basis.


Become a Fulbright Specialist: Apply to Join the Roster

Fulbright Specialists are a diverse group of highly experienced, well-established faculty members and professionals who represent a wide variety of academic disciplines and professions.  In order to be eligible to serve as a Fulbright Specialist, candidates must have significant experience in their respective professional field and be a U.S. citizen at time of application. Eligible disciplines and professional fields supported by the Fulbright Specialist Program are listed below.

  • Agriculture
  • American Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Archeology
  • Biology Education
  • Business Administration
  • Chemistry Education
  • Communications and Journalism
  • Computer Science and Information Technology
  • Economics
  • Education
  • Engineering Education
  • Environmental Science
  • Law
  • Library Science
  • Math Education
  • Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies
  • Physics Education
  • Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Public/Global Health
  • Social Work
  • Sociology
  • Urban Planning

Interested candidates can find more information about the Fulbright Specialist Program and apply to serve as a Specialist at Candidates who meet all eligibility requirements will have their full applications reviewed by a panel of their professional peers. Candidates who are approved by the peer review panels will then join the Fulbright Specialist Roster. Individuals remain on the Specialist Roster for a three-year term and are eligible to be matched with a host institution’s project abroad during that tenure.

The following costs are covered for those Fulbright Specialists who are matched to a project: international and domestic airfare, ground transportation, visa fees, lodging, meals, and incidentals. A daily honorarium is also provided.

Become a Host: Bring a Fulbright Specialist to Your Institution

The Fulbright Specialist Program allows universities, cultural centers, non-governmental organizations, and other institutions abroad to host a leading U.S. academic or professional to work on diverse, short-term collaborative projects where the Specialist conducts activities which may include, but are not limited to:

  • Delivering a seminar or workshop
  • Consulting on faculty or workforce development
  • Developing academic or training curricula and materials
  • Lecturing at the graduate or undergraduate level
  • Conducting needs assessments or evaluations for a program or institution

Institutions interested in hosting a Fulbright Specialist should contact their local Fulbright Commission or U.S. Embassy for country-specific requirements and deadlines.

Contact information for all participating countries is available on the website.

For more information or questions about the Fulbright Specialist Program, please email [email protected].

The Fulbright Specialist Program is a program of the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. government and administered by World Learning.