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UNDP Mongolia Handbooks And Books | 1997 – 1999

Publisher: UNDP Mongolia Communications Office

UNDP Mongolia Communications Coordinator: David South

Environmental Public Awareness Handbook: Case Studies and Lessons Learned in Mongolia by Robert Ferguson.
Environmental Public Awareness Handbook: Case Studies and Lessons Learned in Mongolia by Robert Ferguson.
Mongolian Green Book by Robert Ferguson et al.
Mongolian Green Book by Robert Ferguson et al.
Mongolian Rock and Pop Book: Mongolia Sings its Own Song by Peter Marsh.
Mongolian Rock and Pop Book: Mongolia Sings its Own Song by Peter Marsh.
Pop music helps fuel Mongolia’s market economy by Oyuntungalag.
As cited in the book Collaborative Nationalism: The Politics of Friendship on China’s Mongolian Frontier by Uradyn E. Bulag (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010).
Mongolia Update 1998 by David South and G. Enkhtungalug.

Other

Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia by Jill Lawless (ECW Press, 2000) is one of many books featuring content and resources resulting from the two-year publishing programme of the UNDP Mongolia Communications Office (1997-1999). 

Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia by Jill Lawless.
Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia by Jill Lawless.
A review of Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia in the journal Mongolian Studies (2002) by Alicia J. Campi.
“Yet Ulaanbaatar is often ignored or downplayed in Western accounts (see, for example, Croner (1999) and Severin (1991); but see Lawless (2000) for a partial exception). Most Westerners who visit Mongolia seem anxious to get out to the countryside, to see the “real” Mongolia of nomads …” from Truth, History and Politics in Mongolia by Christopher Kaplonski (2004).
In their own words: Selected writings by journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999 by David South and Julie Schneiderman.

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

© David South Consulting 2017

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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

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CASE STUDY 4: UN + UNDP Mongolia | 1997 – 1999

Expertise: Crisis leadership, mission leadership, strategy, communications, web strategy, digital media, crisis recovery, public health, Northeast Asia, UN system.  

Location: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 1997 to 1999

UN/UNDP Mongolia Communications Coordinator: David South

Click here to view images for this case study: CASE STUDY 4: UN + UNDP Mongolia | 1997 – 1999 Images

Abstract

“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. 

About

The question posed itself from the start of the assignment: In the middle of a major crisis, is it possible to recover quickly while simultaneously growing and modernizing the United Nations mission (this was the dawn of the digital revolution)? It was only possible by teaching and mentoring colleagues, offering leadership, vision, strategy, and practical actions to get there – all with a budget and mandate for two years.

The mission had to tackle in particular, three, severe crises: the country’s turbulent transition from Communism to free markets and democracy, the social and economic crash this caused, and, later in 1997, the Asian Financial Crisis (Pomfret 2000)– all combined with the political instability this exacerbated. Richard Pomfret said in 1994, “In 1991 Mongolia suffered one of the biggest peacetime economic collapses ever (Mongolia’s Economic Reforms: Background, Content and Prospects, Richard Pomfret, University of Adelaide, 1994).” From Curbing Corruption in Asia: A Comparative Study of Six Countries by Jon S. T. Quah: “The combined effect of these three shocks was devastating as ‘Mongolia suffered the most serious peacetime economic collapse any nation has faced during this century’. Indeed, Mongolia’s economic collapse ‘was possibly the greatest of all the (peaceful) formerly'” Communist countries.

A dramatic decline in inflation paired with political and economic stabilisation allowed Mongolia to enjoy the fruits of the fast-growing economies of the 2000s. Source: Statista.

https://www.statista.com/statistics/727562/inflation-rate-in-mongolia/

A resources “boomtown” throughout the 2000s. Source: Bloomberg. When I left in 1999, Mongolia’s PPP was US $8.8 bn; today (2021) it is US $42.4 bn.

In this role, I pioneered innovative uses of the Internet and digital resources to communicate the UN’s work and Mongolia’s unfolding crises. The UN called this work a “role model” for the wider UN and country offices. A survey of United Nations country office websites in 2000 ranked the UN Mongolia website I launched in 1997 and oversaw for two years (1997-1999), third best in the world, saying: “A UN System site. A very nice, complete, professional site. Lots of information, easily accessible and well laid out. The information is comprehensive and up-to-date. This is a model of what a UNDP CO web site should be.” (http://www.scribd.com/doc/274319690/UNDP-Mongolia-United-Nations-2000-Survey-of-Country-Office-Websites)

“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)

As part of a strategic plan to raise awareness of Mongolia’s development challenges and to spur action on meeting them, a Communications Office was established for the UN mission in 1997 – a structure that is commonplace in UN missions today. The Office also led on digital communications, marking many firsts, from the first digital photo and video library, the first online magazine, the first web portal, the first online newsletter, and many other firsts. It gathered numerous stories on resilience in a crisis, and documented in data and storytelling the country’s development challenges, while introducing a transparent way of working and communicating unprecedented for the time (the country was still recovering from the state secrecy of its years under Communism), and led on modernizing communications in the country. Acting as a strategic hub, the Communications Office and its dynamic and talented team, were able to leverage the existing budget to spur action on many fronts, including:

UN/UNDP Mongolia Development Web Portal (www.un-mongolia.mn)

I launched it in 1997 in the middle of a major crisis, and oversaw its expansion and development for two years. A pioneering digital resource, this award-winning United Nations Mongolia development web portal was singled out by UN headquarters in New York as an example of what a country office website should be like. It featured extensive resources in both Mongolian and English and also was home to the bilingual online magazine, Ger – Mongolia’s first web magazine. It can be viewed at www.archive.org and there is more at Wikipedia here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ger_(magazine).

Media

Working with journalists and media both within Mongolia and outside, the Communications Office was able to significantly raise awareness of Mongolia and its development challenges. This was reflected in a substantial increase in media coverage of the country and in the numerous books and other publications that emerged post-1997. The book In Their Own Words: Selected Writings by Journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999 (ISBN 99929-5-043-9) published by UNDP Mongolia archived the stories by theme.  

Ger Magazine

Ger Magazine (the Mongolian word for home and traditional tent dwelling) was published as the country’s first e-magazine in 1998. There were four issues in total from 1998 to 2000. The launch issue was on the theme of youth in the transition. Mongolia was transitioning from Communism to free markets and democracy and this had been both an exhilarating time and a wrenching time for young people. The magazine drew on talented journalists from Mongolia and the handful of international journalists based there to create a mix of content, from stories about life adapting to free markets to stories on various aspects of Mongolian culture and life.

The second issue of the magazine proved particularly effective and inspiring, with its modern life theme and cover story on a thriving Mongolian fashion scene.

Archived issues of the magazine can be found at the Wayback Machine here: https://archive.org/. Just type in the UN Mongolia website address for the years 1997 to 1999: http://www.un-mongolia.mn.

An online survey of the state of Mongolia’s media and its history (www.pressreference.com/Ma-No/Mongolia.html), had this to say: “An interesting variation from some of the other publications available is Ger Magazine (published online with guidance from the United Nations Development Program, UNDP), which is concerned with Mongolian youth in cultural transition. The name of the magazine is meant to be ironic because a ger is the Mongolian word for yurt—a yurt being traditional nomadic housing—but the magazine is about urbanization and globalization of Mongolian youth.”

Blue Sky Bulletin

The Blue Sky Bulletin newsletter was launched in 1997 initially as a simple, photocopied handout. It quickly founds its purpose and its audience, becoming a key way to communicate what was happening in the country and a crucial resource for the global development community, scholars, the media and anyone trying to figure out what was happening in a crazy and chaotic time. It eschewed the typical ‘grip and grin’ content found in many development newsletters and instead offered stories, data and insights useful to anyone seeking to understand Mongolia’s development challenges. The Blue Sky Bulletin was distributed via email and by post and proved to be a popular and oft-cited resource on the country. The quality of its production also paralleled Mongolia’s growing capacity to publish to international standards, as desktop publishing software became available and printers switched to modern print technologies. The Blue Sky Bulletin evolved from a rough, newsprint black and white publication to becoming a glossy, full-colour, bilingual newsletter distributed around Mongolia and the world. 

Archived issues can be found online here:

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 1

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 2

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 3

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 4 

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 5

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 6

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 7

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 8

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 9

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 10

Publishing

MHDR 1997

The Mongolian Human Development Report 1997 (MHDR), the country’s first, placed the story of the Mongolian people during the transition years (post-1989) at its heart, using photographs, stories and case studies to detail the bigger narrative at play.

This groundbreaking Mongolian Human Development Report – the country’s first – went beyond just chronicling Mongolia’s state of development in statistics and graphs. Designed, laid out and published in Mongolia, the report broke with the practices of many other international organisations, who would publish outside of Mongolia – denying local companies much-needed work and the opportunity to develop their skills. The report’s costs helped to kick-start a publishing boom in the country and significantly raised standards in design and layout in the Mongolia. The foundations laid down by the project producing the report ushered in a new age in publishing for Mongolia.

The report’s launch was innovative, not only being distributed for free across the country, but also part of a multimedia campaign including television programming, public posters, town hall meetings and a ‘roadshow’ featuring the report’s researchers and writers.

The initial print run of 10,000 copies was doubled as demand for the report increased. To the surprise of many, once hearing about the free report, herders would travel to the capital, Ulaanbaatar, to pick up their copy. The report proved people cared passionately about the development of their country and that development concepts are not to be the secret domain of ‘development practitioners’. The report also became an English language learning tool as readers compared the Mongolian and English-language versions.

You can read the report’s pdf here: http://www.mn.undp.org/content/mongolia/en/home/library/National-Human-Development-Reports/Mongolia-Human-Development-Report-1997.html 

1997 saw the launch of the first human development report for Mongolia.

Mongolian AIDS Bulletin

UNDP acted swiftly to address a breaking HIV/AIDS crisis in 1997, offering a key lesson for others working in public health (the Ebola Crisis and global air pollution crisis both show those lessons have still yet to be fully absorbed).

Assembled by a team of health experts after the Fourth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, the Mongolian AIDS Bulletin was published in 1997 in the middle of an HIV/AIDS crisis. It provided timely information and health resources in the Mongolian language and was distributed across the country.

“Mongolia’s first AIDS Bulletin marked the beginning of the UNDP Response to HIV/AIDS/STDs Project back in the autumn of 1997. Over 5,000 copies of the magazine were distributed across the country, offering accurate information on the HIV/AIDS situation. The project has been pivotal in the formulation of a national information, education and communication (IEC) strategy, bringing together NGOs, donors, UN agencies and the government.”

Source: YouandAids: The HIV/AIDS Portal for Asia Pacific

Green Book

In the Mongolian language, the Mongolian Green Book details effective ways to live in harmony with the environment while achieving development goals. Based on three years’ work in Mongolia – a Northeast Asian nation coping with desertification, mining, and climate change – the book presents tested strategies.  

EPAP Handbook

The Environmental Public Awareness Handbook was published in 1999 and features the case studies and lessons learned by UNDP’s Mongolian Environmental Public Awareness Programme (EPAP). The handbook draws on the close to 100 small environmental projects the Programme oversaw during a two-year period. These projects stretched across Mongolia, and operated in a time of great upheaval and social, economic and environmental distress. The handbook is intended for training purposes and the practice of public participation in environmental protection.

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 $5,000 each) which taught local populations easily and efficiently different ways of living and working that are low-impact on the environment.”

Mongolia Updates 1997, 1998, 1999

Mongolia Update 1998 detailed how the country was coping with its hyperinflation and the Asian economic crisis.

The mission simultaneously had to deal with the 1997 Asian Crisis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1997_Asian_Financial_Crisis) and the worst peacetime economic collapse in post-WWII history (http://www.jstor.org/pss/153756).  

Mongolia Update 1998 – Political Changes

1998 proved a tumultuous year for Mongolia. The country’s existing economic crisis caused by the transition from Communism to free markets was made worse by the wider Asian Crisis. The government was destabilised, leading to an often-confusing revolving door of political figures. In order to help readers better understand the political changes in the country, a special edition of Mongolia Update was published that year.  

UNDP Mongolia: The Guide

The Guide, first published in 1997, provided a rolling update on UNDP’s programmes and projects in Mongolia during a turbulent time (1997-1999). The mission simultaneously had to deal with the 1997 Asian Crisis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1997_Asian_financial_crisis) and the worst peacetime economic collapse in post-WWII history.

Each edition came with short project and context summaries, key staff contacts, and facts and figures on how the country was changing. For the first time, any member of the public could grasp what the UN was up to in the country and be able to contact the project staff. An unusual level of transparency at the time for a UN mission.

Memoranda of Understanding

Three Memoranda of Understanding were negotiated with the Mongolian Government to help focus efforts and aid the attainment of internationally-agreed resolutions. This was affirmed by a series of youth conferences, One World, held in 1998 and 1999.

Strategy and Leadership in a Crisis

The scale and gravity of the crisis that struck Mongolia in the early 1990s was only slowly shaken off by the late 1990s. The economic and social crisis brought on by the collapse of Communism and the ending of subsidies and supports from the Soviet Union, led to a sharp rise in job losses, poverty, hunger, and family and community breakdowns.

The challenge was to find inspiring ways out of the crisis, while building confidence and hope. The sort of challenges confronted by the UNDP Mongolia Communications Office included:

1) A food crisis: agricultural production was down sharply, and the traditional nomadic herding economy, while at peak herd, was failing to get the meat to markets and to a high enough standard to restore export levels to where they once were. As a result, a cross-border trading frenzy became the solution to falling domestic food production and availability.

2) HIV/AIDS/STDs crisis.

3) A major banking crisis.

4) Both the Asian Financial Crisis and the Russia Crisis.

5) An ongoing political crisis and an inability to form stable governments.

UN Annual Reports

Editor and designer. 1998 Report called by Under-Secretary-General Nafis Sadik “a clear, well-written, attractive and colourful report.”

Timeline 

1997: Arrive in the capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, to undertake a two-year assignment with the United Nations mission. Quickly get to work founding the UNDP Mongolia Communications Office and pursuing a strategic communications approach with a busy online and offline bilingual publishing programme. Launch award-winning UN Mongolia Development Web Portal (www.un-mongolia.mn). Launch first Human Development Report Mongolia 1997, and a Mongolian AIDS Bulletin during crisis. Assist the Government of Canada to establish the first Honorary Consul in Ulaanbaatar on December 1, 1997.

1998: International media tours of the country, launching of Mongolia’s first online magazine, Ger, distribute globally a regular newsletter on Mongolia’s development challenges, Blue Sky Bulletin. Open United Nations Info Shop for the public. Assist the Government of Canada to connect with Canadians working with the United Nations in Mongolia during the first official visit by a Canadian Government Minister.

1999: Launch a string of books documenting insights gleaned from the Mongolia development experience.  

Testimonials

 “Mongolia is not an easy country to live in and David [South] showed a keen ability to adapt in difficult circumstances. He was sensitive to the local habits and cultures and was highly respected by his Mongolian colleagues. … David’s journalism background served him well in his position as Director of the Communications Unit. … A major accomplishment … was the establishment of the UNDP web site. He had the artistic flare, solid writing talent and organizational skills that made this a success. … we greatly appreciated the talents and contributions of David South to the work of UNDP in Mongolia.” Douglas Gardner, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Mongolia

Impact 

Micro

  • strategic communications approach including establishing the UN/UNDP Mongolia Communications Office and team and strategic communications plan
  • led on digital transformation, including use of digitial media (photo/video archive) and digital publishing (web site, online magazine and newsletter, etc.)
  • established and ran the United Nations Info Shop – a one-stop resource open to the public with archive of development publications and current periodicals and Internet access
  • began largest bilingual online and offline publishing programme in country – led on publishing and design modernisation
  • laid down the foundations for many UN initiatives in Mongolia that are still underway. Contributed to stabilizing the country in a turbulent time. Mongolia was briefly the fastest-growing economy in the world by 2011
  • championed transparency and access to information and media freedoms
  • oversaw a period in which Transparency International found lower levels of perceived corruption
  • managing editor for country’s first Human Development Report

Macro

  • raised profile of country and its development challenges. Donor pledges rose 
  • 2 international media tours
  • strong relationship with Mongolian and international journalists
  • championed innovators in commnications
  • crisis response: AIDS, economy, political
  • country’s largest website and one of its first. Called “Godfather of the Mongolian web”
  • called a “role model” for the wider UN
  • led on new approach to UN communications in the digital age
  • design-led approach
  • transparent and timely updates
  • negotiated three Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs): youth, food security and nutrition, STDs/HIV/AIDS
  • One World youth conferences

Publications

David South Consulting Summary of Impact

Environmental Public Awareness Handbook: Case Studies and Lessons Learned in Mongolia

Ger Magazine: Modern Life Issue

Ger Magazine: Youth Issue

Human Development Report Mongolia 1997

Mongolian Green Book

Mongolia Update – Coverage of 1998 Political Changes

Mongolia Update 1998

Mongolian AIDS Bulletin

Mongolian Rock and Pop Book

Partnership for Progress: The United Nations Development Programme in Mongolia

UNDP Mongolia Online Development Portal

UNDP in Mongolia: The Guide 

Stories

Freedom of Expression: Introducing Investigative Journalism to Local Media in Mongolia

Lamas Against AIDS

Philippine Conference Tackles Asia’s AIDS Crisis

Starting from Scratch: The Challenge of Transition

UNDP Mongolia Partnership for Progress 1997 to 1999 Key Documents 

A UNDP Success Story: Grassroots Environmental Campaign Mobilizes Thousands in Mongolia

Citations

The response by the UNDP Mongolia Communications Office has been cited in numerous articles, books, publications and stories. It has also contributed to the development of the human development concept and understanding of human resilience in a crisis and innovation in a crisis. 

Book citations include:

Dateline Mongolia: An American Journalist in Nomad’s Land by Michael Kohn, RDR Books, 2006

Modern Mongolia: From Khans to Commissars to Capitalists by Morris Rossabi, University of California Press, 2005

Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia by Jill Lawless, ECW Press, 2000

Paper citations include: 

Paula L. W. Sabloff (2020) Buying into capitalism: Mongolians’ changing perceptions of capitalism in the transition years, Central Asian Survey, 39:4, 556-577, DOI: 10.1080/02634937.2020.1823819

A more detailed list of citations can be found here: http://www.davidsouthconsulting.com/about/

For research purposes, key documents were compiled together and published online here: https://books.google.ca/books?id=K76jBgAAQBAJ&dq=undp+mongolia+key+documents&source=gbs_navlinks_s

This resource was praised for having: “Very useful references and original materials that documented UNDP Mongolia work. I needed to trace community-based development, and this book provided a valuable source.” Review on Google Books

In 2001, the UN won the Nobel Peace Prize for “their work for a better organized and more peaceful world” and its communications innovations, with work such as that in Mongolia being cited as a contributing factor to the awarding of the Prize.

The Nobel Peace Prize 2001 joint winners.

In 2000, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were launched in a 15-year bid to use a focused approach to development centred around eight goals to accelerate improvements to human development. From 2000 to 2005, consulting work was undertaken in various UN missions (Mongolia, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Ukraine) to communicate the goals and to reshape communications activities around the goals.

Transition and Democracy in Mongolia by Richard Pomfret, Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 52, No. 1 (Jan., 2000), pp. 149-160, published by Taylor & Francis, Ltd. (http://www.jstor.org/stable/153756?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents)

The Milk of Kindness flows in a Peculiar Land A Steppe From Nowhere by Leslie Chang, The Asian Wall Street Journal, 15 August 1998

Mongolia prepares for a magazine explosion by Jill Lawless, UB Post, 08-09-98

Other Resources

Letter from Mongolia: Herding instinct by Jill Lawless, The Guardian, 9 June 1999

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

© David South Consulting 2017