It was 10 years ago this month that Southern Innovator‘s first issue launched in New York during the UN’s General Assembly week (UNGA). It focused on mobile phones and information technology for a reason: these connectivity transformations were re-shaping how people lived their lives, even in the poorest and remotest places on earth.
The content was based on global research, beginning in 2007, funded by the United Nations.
“What a tremendous magazine your team has produced! It’s a terrific tour de force of what is interesting, cutting edge and relevant in the global mobile/ICT space… This is great, engaging, relevant and topical stuff.” Rose Shuman, Founder & CEO, Open Mind and Question Box, Santa Monica, CA, U.S.A.
In 2010, as we prepared to launch Southern Innovator, the branding and website for David South Consulting was re-visioned by Icelandic graphic designer and illustrator Sólveig Rolfsdóttir. David South Consulting has been working with clients around the world since 1991.
Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) – Mongolian newsstands are bursting at the seams. But while the content of the country’s publications is varied, their form is not. Newsprint rules this country’s publishing industry. The few glossy magazines for sale are imports from Russia.
When the democratic revolution unleashed the tide of free expression in the early 1990s, a flood of newspapers poured forth. It made sense. The cheap-and-cheerful technology of newsprint is low-tech, accessible and inexpensive. Suddenly everyone could be a publisher.
But Mongolia’s increasingly sophisticated media landscape is about to go “glossy”. Tomorrow (September 9) sees the launch of Ger (Home), Mongolia’s first on-line magazine. A bilingual quarterly funded by the United Nations, it combines entertainment – articles on the changing sexual attitudes of young Mongolians and the country’s vibrant pop scene – with information on the work of the UN and other NGOs in Mongolia.
“We want something that will tell the stories of Mongolians and their experiences over the last eight years – both to Mongolians and to the rest of the world,” says David South, communications coordinator at the United Nations Development Programme.
This month also brings the premiere issue of Tusgal (Strike), billed as the first full-colour, general-interest magazine in the new Mongolia. Published by Mongol News Company – the privately owned media group whose stable of publications includes the daily newspaper Onoodor and The UB Post – it offers a lively mix of sport, culture and celebrity articles, also aimed primarily at the young.
These two publications are just the top of the stack. Mongolia’s two best-known printing houses, Admon and Interpress, are said to be working on titles of their own.
Mongolia’s quick-to-learn capitalists see a gap – and they want to fill it.
“In Mongolia there are many newspapers, but no world-class magazines,” says Tusgal’s editor-in-chief, Do. Tsendjav. “On the streets you can see a lot of publications that aren’t exactly magazines but you can’t call newspapers, either – newspapers that appear every 10 days or two weeks.
“We want to fill this space. We want to produce the first colour magazine that will reach world standards, something close to Time or Newsweek.”
“There’s an enormous thirst for quality journalism, quality publications that are interesting to look at, top photojournalism – all the things newspapers don’t cover,” adds South.
“We’ve seen newspapers moving to more colour, more photographs, and that shows a desire for quality.”
That quality comes at a price. Tusgal, with 70 colour pages, will sell for between Tg 1500 and Tg 2000 – not much cheaper than an American publication like Time, and too expensive for many Mongolians.
With only 1000 Internet subscribers in Mongolia, Ger has an even smaller market within the country – though South is quick to point out, the UN has established public-access Internet centres in Ulaanbaatar and several aimags.
And he says a print version is planned to follow.
“Distribution is the big problem right now,” he says.
“We have to see how we can organize distribution to reach the whole country. I know more magazines will be launched soon in Mongolia, and hope a distribution network may grow out of that.”
The editors know Mongolia’s magazine market and magazine technology are in their infancy. Although companies like Admon and Interpress get more sophisticated equipment by the month, the capacity to produce quality publications is still limited – the first issue of Tusgal has been printed outside Mongolia.
Human resources need to develop as well, Tsendjav admits.
“To produce a monthly magazine you need highly qualified journalists. We don’t have that right now. We’re still seeking them out.”
But he is confident this will change – and quickly, too, if the pace of development in the past eight years is anything to go by.
“During socialism, Mongolia had many magazines, but it all stopped after 1990,” notes Tsendjav. “It was a question of economics.
“At first we don’t think we can earn money from this. If you want to make money you have to wait two or three years. So what we are aiming for at first is to build a readership.
“I think in two or three years, living standards will improve. People will have more money to spend on things like magazines. But we don’t want to wait for people to get enough money. We want to be the first, so people will develop an interest.
“There will be competition. Nowadays a lot of business-people understand the importance of the media. I welcome competition. It’ll make us work harder. It’s good for everybody.”
In 1998 Der Spiegel’s “Kommunikation total” issue profiled the global connectivity revolution underway and being accelerated by the Internet boom of the late 1990s. It chose my picture of a satellite dish and a ger in the Gobi Desert to symbolise this historic event.
“Die Handy-Gesellschaft war erst der Anfang: Experten sehen in den Sphären des Internet einen neuen Erdteil entstehen. Hier lebt die Info-Elite, umgeben von PC, Pager, Powerbook. Die Multimedia-Industrie wird zur Schlüsselbranche des 21. Jahrhunderts – mit gravierenden Folgen für die Gesellschaft.”
The world has changed considerably since then; and so has Mongolia. The digital revolution has rolled across the planet, the attacks of 9/11 unleashed a wave of violence and wars, and Mongolia even became the fastest-growing economy in the world a few years ago (2012). But back when this book was researched, Mongolia was just coming out of decades of isolation within the Soviet orbit under Communism, and the country experienced in the 1990s “one of the biggest peacetime economic collapses ever” (Mongolia’s Economic Reforms: Background, Content and Prospects, Richard Pomfret, University of Adelaide, 1994).
Two trends came together at the end of the 1990s and the start of the 2000s: the digital revolution and the mapping of the human genome. Both have given birth to whole new industries. Read more here: The Dawn Of The Genetics Revolution | 2001 – 2003
I had read the other day the following headline from Bloomberg: World’s Worst Air Has Mongolians Seeing Red, Planning Action. As far back as 1999, such a health and environmental tragedy was foreseen by a highly successful UNDP environment project. As its Canadian adviser Robert Ferguson said to UNDP News at the time, “Mongolia’s environment is endangered by a range of problems that are on the brink of exploding.”
He knew what he was talking about: Ferguson and his Mongolian colleagues had spent two years mobilizing Mongolians across the country to take practical steps to address the country’s environmental problems as part of the Environmental Public Awareness Programme (EPAP). Few people had as much first-hand knowledge of the country and its environmental challenges as they did.
In its 2007 Needs Assessment, the Government of Mongolia found the EPAP projects “had a wide impact on limiting many environmental problems. Successful projects such as the Dutch/UNDP funded Environmental Awareness Project (EPAP), which was actually a multitude of small pilot projects (most costing less than [US] $5,000 each) which taught local populations easily and efficiently different ways of living and working that are low-impact on the environment.”
UNDP News: Networking Publication of UNDP Staff Worldwide April/May 1999
A UNDP Success Story
By David South, Communications Coordinator, UNDP Mongolia
Grassroots environmental campaign mobilizes thousands in Mongolia
A countrywide environmental education campaign in Mongolia has drawn praise from around the world, most especially for its ability to mobilize thousands of people and produce hundreds of advocacy materials.
Robert Ferguson, a UNV Information Specialist from Canada, has just finished a two-year assignment advising on the Environmental Public Awareness Programme. The project, implemented by UNDP, proved that civil society is alive and very well in Mongolia, despite 70 years of Communism and the hardships of transition to a free-market economy.
For the first-time visitor to Mongolia, it is easy to be dazzled by the view: the expansive steppe, the sparse population with a sprinkling of nomadic tents, the enormous herds of sheep, goats and cows. First impressions tend toward the belief that Mongolia is an unspoiled paradise where nomads have roamed for thousands of years. The reality is considerably different. The 600,000-plus capital of Ulaanbaatar, or Red Hero, is densely populated, urban and home to the country’s remaining factories and electrical power plants. In winter, pollution from power plants and coal stoves in the traditional tents, or gers, where half of the city’s population still lives, chokes the population and causes numerous respiratory problems.
While Mongolia has space to spare – the population is 2.4 million, plus 32 million head of livestock, in a territory the size of Western Europe – a long list of threats are taking their toll on this harsh but beautiful country.
“Mongolia’s environment is endangered by a range of problems that are on the brink of exploding,” says Robert Ferguson. “As these problems are not yet out of control, this country is in a very good position for grassroots initiatives that can help communities to realize their environmental problems and understand possible ways to keep them under control …
… On one cold autumn day, Ferguson and his colleagues are visiting a project in the shantytown of Chingeltei in the north of the capital. A majority of Ulannbaatar’s population live in neighbourhoods like this, where the mix of traditional gers, wooden cottages and newly built Mongolian monster homes gives a vivid example of the transition years. The population has exploded as more and more Mongolians seek out their dreams in the capital.
The Environmental Public Awareness Programme, or EPAP, uses small grants of between $1,000 and $2,000 to start awareness projects with local NGOs. After two years, nearly 100 small projects have been implemented – yet the original project document had only proposed 15 projects. According to Ferguson, the project team, which includes Sumiya and Davaasuren, were struck by the wellspring of enthusiasm they were tapping.
… Garbage is strewn liberally on the dusty streets. Inspired by recycling campaigns in his native Canada, Ferguson encouraged local women to start the Blue Bag Project. Local women proudly show off their streets – garbage-free – as they collect pop and beer bottles and animal bones to turn in for cash at the local recycler. This is just one EPAP project that has galvanized grassroots action. Back in the EPAP at the Stalinesque Ministry of Nature and Environment, Ferguson continues …
…. were all weak. What was needed was a means to take the right to public participation and an understanding of these laws to community organizations and let them develop public awareness campaigns that get the information out.”
The Programme has exceeded expectations …
…. “The response we got to our initial call for interested environmental groups was unexpected,” says Ferguson. “NGOs came from nowhere. And they embraced the idea …
… In October last year, EPAP launched the Mongolian Green Book, a pocket-sized environmental awareness handbook for NGOs. More recently Ferguson completed a Handbook on Environmental Public Awareness to share Mongolia’s experiences with others who care about the environment…
… The workshop is an immediate follow-up to the launching of the network through a workshop attended by 12 members in December 1998…
… with such enthusiasm that we pursued more money and nearly doubled the funding for small public awareness problems.”
Note: This is just an excerpt from the story. This issue of UNDP News featured contributions from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Danny Glover, Nadine Gordimer and Amartya Sen.
The highly successful EPAP project was profiled in UNDP News in April/May 1999. This issue of UNDP News featured contributions from then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Danny Glover, Nadine Gordimer and Amartya Sen.
The story reports on a child health crisis in the country’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, because “Many ger households burn coal or even trash to keep warm and the smog they produce has led to a surge in respiratory and heart disease and stoked anger and protests.”
And “Pollution levels in Ulaanbaatar” have “become worse than that in cities such as Beijing and New Delhi”, according to the UNICEF report.
In 2018, Time published a story titled “Life in the Most Polluted Capital in the World”. This consequence of poor development policy stands in stark contrast to just a few years earlier, when the Mongolian President was awarded the 2012 Champions of the Earth award for “leadership that had a positive impact on the environment” and in 2013 was named as Global Host for World Environment Day 2013 because Mongolia “is prioritizing a Green Economy shift across its big economic sectors such as mining and promoting environmental awareness among youth”. Awards and meetings are clearly not enough. Update on Tuesday, August 28, 2018 at 3:35AM by David South
The importance of reducing exposure to urban air pollution is being backed up with more studies and evidence. What we have seen in the past 20 years of globalization has been a big push to encourage urbanization and denser urban living conditions. But, unfortunately for human health and well-being, this has not been connected to a strategy to reduce urban air pollution. In fact the opposite has been happening in many cities.
Urban air pollution has increased from various sources, in developed countries from vehicles, in particular those burning diesel fuel, and in developing countries, from not only vehicles but also households burning fuel for heating and cooking.
A new book to be launched in April 2019 by journalist Beth Gardiner (@Gardiner_Beth), “Choked: The Age of Air Pollution and the Fight for a Cleaner Future” (Granta) (University of Chicago Press), explores today’s global air pollution crisis in the world’s cities. Gardiner is an environmental journalist who writes for The New York Times, The Guardian and other publications (bethgardiner.com).
Listed in the Financial Times’ “What we’ll be reading in 2019”
“A compelling book about a critical subject” Elizabeth Kolbert, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sixth Extinction
“Air pollution kills seven million people every year, causing heart attacks, strokes, cancer, dementia and more. In Choked, Beth Gardiner travels the world to tell the story of this modern-day plague, exposing the political decisions and economic forces that have kept so many of us breathing dirty air.”