The Road to Songtsam: A Social Philosophy of Entrepreneurship in Tibet


Tibetan entrepreneur Pema Dorje at George Washington University

On January 26, 2017, the GW Tibet Governance Project hosted leading Tibetan entrepreneur, Pema Dorje (Baima Duojie), for his first public lecture outside the P.R.C.

In his talk, “The Road to Songtsam:  A Social Philosophy of Entrepreneurship in Tibet,” Pema Dorje gave an account of the unconventional life path that took him from film production at CCTV in Beijing to founding Songtsam — his award-winning string of boutique Tibetan hotels inspired by the culture and civilization of Tibet.

Songtsam hotels have been recognized globally for setting a new standard for craftsmanship and quality for boutique hotels across the People’s Republic of China.


One of the Songtsam Lodges in Dechen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture

Pema Dorje discussed what underpins the distinctive quality of his hotels and all his related entrepreneurial pursuits.  At the heart of all his work, he explained, has been his personal awareness and appreciation of Tibetan civilizational values and wisdom traditions.  These values and traditions, as he has interpreted them, now form the aesthetic basis and the workplace ethics of all his businesses.

Despite having been raised in the green mountain valleys outside the southwestern Tibetan town of Gyalthang (Shangri-La), Pema Dorje found that, even for him, it took time to fully develop a deep appreciation of the cultural and civilizational values of Tibet.  The challenges of building his trailblazing business taught him the difference between the acquisition of knowledge and the attainment of deeply felt realization of that traditional wisdom.

Today, Pema Dorje ensures that these values and traditions are part of the DNA of Songtsam by his frequent talks and group discussions with his extensive staff.  With a few exceptions, the personnel of Songtsam across all sites are exclusively Tibetan and primarily local.

“Pema Dorje not only represents a pioneering moment for Tibetan entrepreneurship in the hotel industry,” said Dr. Tashi Rabgey, director of the GW Tibet Governance Project at the Elliott School of International Affairs, “he has also taken up the mantle of speaking publicly about the ethics of doing business in Tibet, and the challenges of meaningful integration of outside businesses with local Tibetan economies.  This is quite a feat under current circumstances.”

Pema Dorje gave a well-received Yixi Talk in 2015 — the Chinese equivalent of a TED talk — and is now in constant demand to speak at universities and businesses across China.

There are currently six Songtsam Lodges, and a new facility will open in Lhasa in May 2017.


Pema Dorje leads discussion on the social philosophy of entrepreneurship in Tibet at the Elliott School of International Affairs


Pema Dorje YIXI Talk in 2015

Pema Dorje is a pioneering entrepreneur in Tibet. Trained as a filmmaker, he was on staff at CCTV in Beijing in the late 1990s when he returned to Gyalthang (Shangri-La) in Dechen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture to shoot a documentary film about his childhood home. Inspired by the experience, Pema Dorje left Beijing to begin the work of constructing boutique hotels rooted in the traditional philosophy and civilization of Tibet.  His flagship Songtsam Lingka was named among the top boutique hotels in the P.R.C.