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10 Years Ago

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.

Southern Innovator Editor and Writer David South.

“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.

While Southern Innovator’s digital presence has been key to its success and global reach, the hard copy of the magazine was designed with special features. The magazine needed to be robust and able to stand a fair bit of abuse and hard wear. It needed to be easy to read in low light conditions. And it needed to look sharp and eye-catching to reach as wide an audience as possible.

“Beautiful, inspiring magazine from UNDP on South-South innovation. Heart is pumping adrenaline and admiration just reading it.”

New Branding and Website

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.

Graphic Designer and Illustrator: Sólveig Rolfsdóttir.

20 Years Ago

Over 20 Years Ago

Mongolia’s first web magazine, Ger, launched in September 1998. It was also the first web magazine for the United Nations.

“The transformation of Mongolia from a largely rural nomadic society of herdsmen to a community dominated by the increasingly ultra-globalized city of Ulan Bator, where almost a third of the population lives, is nothing short of astounding. The New Mongolia: From Gold Rush to Climate Change, Association for Asian Studies, Volume 18:3 (Winter 2013): Central Asia

Logo and graphic design: P. Davaa-Ochir.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Mongolia Prepares For A Magazine Explosion | 1998

Story: Jill Lawless

Publication: UB Post

Date: 08/09/1998

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.”

From In Their Own Words: Selected Writings by Journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999

Read a story by Jill in The Guardian (9 June 1999): Letter from Mongolia | Herding instinct 

Jill’s story for the Far Eastern Economic Review is cited in the WHO Global Status Report on Alcohol 2004.

Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia by Jill Lawless offers a vibrant account of what it was like to be a journalist in Mongolia in the late 1990s.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2018

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Kommunikation total: Der siebte Kontinent

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.

Scroll through a PDF of the story (my photo is on the last page).


“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.”

English translation: “Total communication: the seventh continent –
The cell phone society was just the beginning: Experts see a new continent emerging in the spheres of the Internet. The information elite live here, surrounded by PCs, pagers and power books. The multimedia industry is becoming the key industry of the 21st century – with serious consequences for society.” (http://t-off.khd-research.net/Spiegel/10.html)
From The Turns of Translation Studies: New Paradigms Or Shifting Viewpoints? By Mary Snell-Hornby · 2006.
Der Spiegel is a German weekly news magazine and is one of Europe’s largest publications of its kind. It chose my photo taken in the Gobi Desert for its profile of the Internet revolution in 1998.

“The transformation of Mongolia from a largely rural nomadic society of herdsmen to a community dominated by the increasingly ultra-globalized city of Ulan Bator, where almost a third of the population lives, is nothing short of astounding.” The New Mongolia: From Gold Rush to Climate Change, Association for Asian Studies, Volume 18:3 (Winter 2013): Central Asia

From 1997 to 1999, I served as the Communications Coordinator (head of communications) for the United Nations (UN)/United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) mission in Mongolia, founding and directing its UNDP Mongolia Communications Office. 

Copies of Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia by Jill Lawless are still available in various editions and languages.

Published in 2000 (ECW Press: Toronto), Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia by Canadian author and foreign correspondent Jill Lawless also selected the ‘ger’ photo for its cover image.

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). 

“The years 1998 and 1999 have been volatile ones for Mongolia, with revolving door governments, the assassination of a minister, emerging corruption, a banking scandal, in-fighting within the ruling Democratic Coalition, frequent paralysis within the Parliament, and disputes over the Constitution. Economically, the period was unstable and rife with controversies.” Mongolia in 1998 and 1999: Past, Present, and Future at the New Millennium by Sheldon R. Severinghaus, Asian Survey, Vol. 40, No. 1, A Survey of Asia in 1999 (Jan. – Feb., 2000), pp. 130-139 (Publisher: University of California)

That collapse made for some crazy times, as Wild East shows. 

Read a small sample of David South’s new media journalism and reporting from the 1990s here: From Special Report: NMM (New Media Markets) Spotlight On The Emergence Of Satellite Porn Channels In The UK

Channel Regulation: Swedes Will Fight Children’s Advertising All The Way

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

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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A UNDP Success Story: Grassroots Environmental Campaign Mobilizes Thousands In Mongolia | 1999

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 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.
Many resources are available online to explore Mongolia’s 1990s transition experience.
The Environmental Public Awareness Handbook: Case Studies and Lessons Learned in Mongolia, published in 1999 by the UNDP Mongolia Communications Office.
The Mongolian Green Book was published in 1999 by the UNDP Mongolia Communications Office.
The EPAP Handbook and the Mongolian Green Book were published by the UNDP Mongolia Communications Office and funded by the European Union’s TACIS programme.
European Union. europa.eu

Read Robert Ferguson’s The Devil and the Disappearing Sea: Or, How I Tried to Stop the World’s Worst Ecological Catastrophe (Publisher: Raincoast Books, 2004) to learn more about the toxic mix of politics and the environment. The book has been widely cited since and can be purchased online here: The Devil and the Disappearing Sea: A True Story about the Aral Sea Catastrophe: Amazon.co.uk: Ferguson, Robert, Ferguson, Rob: 9781551925998: Books

Robert Ferguson’s The Devil and the Disappearing Sea: Or, How I Tried to Stop the World’s Worst Ecological Catastrophe (Publisher: Raincoast Books, 2004).

Further reading on the plight of the Mongolian steppe in China: Life sentence for former Party chief who killed the Mongolian steppe: For 8 years Liu Zhouzhi pocketed bribes favoring mines exploitation, destroying the landscape, polluting land and drying up the pastures’ water sources. 

“The former head of the Communist Party in Inner Mongolia has been sentenced to life imprisonment for taking bribes that have led to pollution of the Mongolian steppe and the oppression of Mongolian herders. According to the judgment, published yesterday, by Beijing News, Liu Zhozhi, who had been expelled from the party before trial, used his eight years in power to pocket up to 8.17 million Yuan (over one million euros).”

Read more on the connection between corruption and air pollution levels here: The effect of corruption on carbon emissions in developed and developing countries: empirical investigation of a claim 

“There’s many a slip between the cup and the lip.”

“Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!” Greta Thunberg, Sept. 23, 2019

“How dare you!” indeed …

UN agency hit with corruption allegations at climate projects – United Nations Development Programme internal audit describes signs of fraud and collusion

Document of the Week: Aid Donors Blast UNDP for Resisting Appeals to Fight Corruption – A dozen wealthy donor states press the United Nations Development Program to investigate allegations that funds were misappropriated from a Russia climate program it managed.

Greed and Graft at U.N. Climate Program – Whistleblowers and experts allege corruption at a United Nations Development Program project for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Russia, according to a Foreign Policy investigation.

And it hasn’t got better, according to UNICEF, as reported in The New York Times:

Mongolian Air Pollution Causing Health Crisis-UNICEF

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.

The tragedy unfolding in Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, is a classic case of this public health problem. But it is also a crisis in developed world cities, as more vehicles clog streets (many people have been encouraged to buy these vehicles as a boost to the economy during the Global Financial Crisis). Bizarrely, highly polluting diesel engines were marketed as a ‘green’ solution, in particular in the UK!   

Some stories that highlight the harm done, especially to children, can be read below:

Air Pollution Linked To Increased Mental Illness In Children

Air Pollution Causes ‘Huge’ Reduction In Intelligence, Study Reveals

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).  

The UK cover for Choked: The Age of Air Pollution and the Fight for a Cleaner Future (Granta, 2019). 

A story by Beth Gardiner on the air pollution crisis in Mongolia from National Geographic. Kids suffer most in one of Earth’s most polluted cities – In winter, coal stoves and power plants choke Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, with smoke—and lung disease.

“An urgent, essential read” Arnold Schwarzenegger

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.” 

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2020