Pakistan Simplifies Job-matching Services

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions


An innovative job-matching service from Pakistan is trying to bring together people who normally live separate lives. It is eliminating the middlemen who gouge both employers and employees for job-seeking fees and opening up a new world of opportunities for the poor.

Connecting employees and employers is a problem being compounded in countries all over the world by the global economic crisis, as people retrench to their own communities and stick with known and trusted contacts. While this is a natural response to crisis, it is highly damaging to economies and social mobility.

Pakistan ( has had to contend with multiple challenges in the last few years. It has been hard hit during the global economic crisis. It is also experiencing stress from the ongoing conflict resulting from terrorism and the nearby war in Afghanistan. And 2010’s floods devastated large swathes of the country’s crops.

As the World Bank noted in its Pakistan Economic Update June 2011, “Pakistan continues to face significant political challenges in achieving durable development. The domestic security situation as a result of (the) campaign against terrorism is a direct and indirect tax on the costs of economic activity and the achievement of the kinds of social stability required to promote a supportive environment for businesses.”

The World Bank estimates that 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, although Pakistan’s finance ministry has recently estimated it to be 43 percent.

“Due to the global financial crisis, many businesses in Pakistan either scaled down their operations or had to close down,” said Asim Fayaz, one of the people behind Pakistan Urban Link and Support, or PULS (

“As a result, the income of the informal sector was also affected because many of them became unemployed. In turn, the supply surplus meant the job market became more competitive, further affecting their income growth.”

Job-hunting is time-consuming for everyone involved in any country, worse still during an economic downturn. The hunt for a job or for the right employee is part and parcel of a dynamic economy. The more dynamic and fast-evolving an economy, the more employees will move around looking for the best deal and the more employers will need to seek out people with the latest skills and best attitudes to stay competitive. A fluid labour market is a good thing if a country wants to be competitive.

PULS bills itself as a “Telecommunications Software Platform for Job Search and Networking between the Working Poor and Educated Elite of Pakistan” ( It was a semi-finalist in the 2011 Dell Social Innovation Competition (

“Conventionally, the informal sector workforce has found employment primarily through personal connections,” explains Fayaz. “In cases where that doesn’t work, they approach employment agencies and get enlisted. These employment agencies, behaving as middle men, charge both the employer and the employee upon making a connection. PULS removes the need for the middle man. Employees sign up on this platform themselves. Employers will only be charged a very small amount if they wish to contact a listed employee. If the employee is actually hired, PULS does not find out about the transaction and does not make anything off it.”

As an e-marketplace accessible through SMS and Web, PULS matches the working poor to the educated elite of Pakistan. It is hoped it will boost the creation of jobs in Pakistan and help in raising incomes. PULS defines working poor as skilled but undereducated domestic workers (cooks, drivers, guards, gardeners, tailors, etc.), independent laborers and self-employed craftspeople.

Pakistan has a population of over 169 million (World Bank, 2009). Of that, PULS estimates there are 20 million people who are literate and have access to mobile phones but not the Internet.

Then there is the elite, defined as educated employers and formal-sector professionals. They live in extended family households and employ one or more domestic workers. Of this elite group, around 10 million are regular Internet users.

The much larger group of working poor have little access to the resources found on the Internet or in employment databases. Because of this, most turn to word-of-mouth and informal connections to the elite for new jobs and upward mobility.

These groups have traditionally failed to meet. The educated elite, with their access to online search-engines and classifieds, only ever see other people engaged with the formal employment sector. Those in the informal sector are left out of the loop in accessing these better quality jobs with better pay.

Fayaz says PULS enables jobseekers to “get access to more employment opportunities outside their network.”

“They will be able to contact those potential employers directly without going through a middle man,” he said. “Most importantly, this service will be free for employees.”

He says the platform could potentially be used for other transactions, such as buying and selling cars, electronics and other equipment.

PULS has built a multi-use, “mobile-to-web software platform explicitly designed for semi-literate mobile phone users and fully literate Web users.”

The first version, PULS 1.0, has an SMS (short message service) interface in the Urdu language and enables domestic employees to register, create a profile, and communicate with employers. All an employer has to do is pull up the PULS 1.0 website. The employer creates a profile as well, searches for potential employees, and sends SMS messages to employees through an anonymous gateway.

“In addition to employer-to-employee broadcasting, PULS will also (eventually) provide the informal sector a simple means to self-promote and broadcast custom messages back to employers,” Fayaz said. “Presumably PULS will eventually offer a multi-use tool for advertising, networking, job search, and even financial transactions, all via SMS-to-Web.”

PULS is a non-profit entity developed by a team from The Fletcher School, Tufts University in the United States ( and aims to be financially sustainable as it grows and the service stays affordable for its users. Employees can use the system for free as long as they pay standard SMS charges, while employers must buy credits. To get things started, employers are given 1,000 credits for free. PULS is also offering premium services such as mass-communication surveys, market research, and advertising.

Developing the technology didn’t prove difficult in Pakistan, Fayaz says.

“We have a large of pool of skilled workers equipped to develop such platforms, very high cellular penetration and one of the lowest SMS rates in the world!”

Fayaz advocates taking an organic approach to developing a new technology like PULS.

“Setting up the technology is just one part of the picture,” he said. “You should identify a problem, look at how it’s currently being addressed, see how you can improve, research on how it’s being addressed in similar circumstances elsewhere (in our case, India works best), design your solution with just the main use cases addressed, and aggressively roll out.

“You should remember that you have to make revenue at some point but don’t let it be a hurdle in the short term. Don’t jump back to the drawing board if the first few people find your service hard to use. Also, you may want it to look fancier than Facebook but remember, they also took time getting there!”

Published: August 2011


1) Dell Social Innovation Competition: The competition is looking for students with the most innovative ideas to solve a social or environmental problem anywhere in the world and the first prize is US $50,000. Website:

2) Taka Taka Solutions: TakaTaka Solutions is a social enterprise that collects and recycles waste. It aims to bring about social and environmental change through a commercially viable business approach in Kenya. Website:

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

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This work is licensed under a
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© David South Consulting 2022


Brewing Prosperity Creates Good Jobs

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions


In the Democratic Republic of Congo – home to the world’s largest United Nations peacekeeping mission and decades of bloody civil war – a brewery has not only survived, it has thrived to become a popular brand throughout central Africa. By being a success, the Brasimba brewery has brought prosperity and high-quality jobs to Congo’s second largest city, Lubumbashi (, and proven that a modern business can do well there despite the obstacles.

The Brasimba brewery has an ultra-modern factory ( complete with high-tech laboratories to constantly test the quality of the beer. It employs 700 people – most of whom are Congolese – and produces 250,000 bottles of Simba beer every day, according to Monocle magazine. The company’s beer brands are Simba Biere du Lion and Tembo Biere and its slogan is a proud Notre Biere (Our Beer).

Lubumbashi is a city described by the BBC as without “child beggars, without potholes and where there are no festering mounds of rubbish.”

A study of the economic impact of breweries in Uganda and Honduras found that more than 100 local jobs, from farmers to truck drivers, depended on every person employed by a brewery ( Markets across the South are seen as growth areas for beer companies: China’s beer consumers now outnumber those in the U.S. By 2003, world sales of beer reached 148 billion hectolitres (Euromonitor). Overall, it is forecast that global beer consumption will rise by 3.5 percent by 2015, mostly in the South.

Apart from creating steady employment, breweries also help to improve the development of the advertising and marketing businesses of a community as they promote their various brands, and they support local activities like sport with team sponsorship. They also offer a local example of how to run a modern beverage business, with mechanized production, distribution systems and laboratories to ensure hygiene and quality standards are maintained.

Brasimba has been operating in Lubumbashi for eight decades, through the twists and turns of the country’s history. The city has prospered from its copper mines and wisely used that wealth to improve the city’s general prosperity.

The brewery has successfully become a regional favourite, producing beer that is drunk not only in the surrounding Katanga province, but also in Zimbabwe and Zambia. It’s an impressive accomplishment for a company operating in such a turbulent environment. Distribution of the beer by truck is not easy, with the trip taking between six days and two weeks depending on the weather and the condition of the roads.

And the beer is not cheap, at around US $1.48 for a big bottle — a sure sign there is money to be made.

The healthy economic environment has also spawned a beer war with rivals Bralima, owned by the multinational Heineken. With five breweries in Congo and its head office in the capital Kinshasa, Heineken claims the lessons it has learned in Congo are helping it to change its marketing and business strategies far away in the United States.

It recently transferred its commercial director of Congo operations to head up operations in the United States. Heineken Chief Executive Officer Jean-Francois van Boxmeer told the Bloomberg news agency that working in Africa was “certainly worth three times Harvard Business School.”

Heineken’s market share doubled in the Democratic Republic of Congo in just four years and Africa has become a significant market for the brewer.

Published: December 2009


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Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

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This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


© David South Consulting 2022


African Hotel Boom Bringing in New Investment and Creating Jobs

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions


Africa is experiencing a boom not seen for decades. The IMF forecasts economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa of 6 per cent in 2014, compared to global growth of 3.6 per cent.

And this boom is getting an additional jolt of support from the world’s multinational hotel chains. January 2014 saw Africa’s largest hotel chain bought by global giant Marriott ( For decades major global multinationals shied away from Africa, but today they are battling to get a place in Africa’s fast-growing economies and to serve the growing middle classes.

Marriott is leading the way by investing US $1.5 billion in 25 new hotels equalling 5,000 rooms. To boost capacity further, Marriott is taking over South Africa’s Protea group ( and its 116 African hotels.

“We have 25 Marriott brand hotels under construction in seven countries in Africa that will come on stream over the next four years,” Alex Kyriakidis, the chain’s president for the Middle East and Africa, told Bloomberg (

The new hotels “are going to bring us into Benin, Gabon, Ghana, Ethiopia and Mauritius. With our existing hotels plus those in the pipeline and those Protea operates today, we will be in 16 countries in Africa by 2017.”

Bloomberg calls what Africa is experiencing the “fastest pace of hotel development in the world”.
“Our mission here is to grow, grow, grow,” according to Kyriakidis.

Meanwhile, a further boost is coming from the US $5 billion Angolan sovereign wealth fund, Fundo Soberano de Angola ( It will be investing in hotels and commercial infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Bloomberg. This could include 50 sub-Saharan African hotels in the next three years.

“We believe there’s a lot of investment interest in Africa,” said Chairman Jose Filomeno dos Santos. “It has a lot of mineral potential, almost a commodity hub. We believe this interest will remain there for the coming years.”

Little thought is given to the role hotels play in development, yet they are a critical development tool for any country wishing to move up the economic ladder. As the quality of hotels improves, they tend to become key gathering and meeting places. Conferences and seminars can act as catalysts for change, attracting people from around the world. When quality hotels are in place, then the top-drawer global conferences will come to town, in turn bringing new tourist income for local businesses.

Anyone who has stayed in a hotel in Africa knows that standards are variable: the pool with dirty water, the power cuts, the food hygiene standards that might not match what people are used to at home. This is what international hotel chains can change. Not only do they demand the highest standards in their own establishments, they also push up standards at local competitors, as all of them battle for the attention of visitors.

Africa has been overlooked by the large global hotel chains and brands since the end of the colonial period in the 1960s and 70s. Africa was considered too poor, too chaotic, too dangerous and too much hard work for it to be worth the effort.

But now the tune has changed. With Africa’s population over a billion, and many of the continent’s economies experiencing rapid growth while also urbanizing, conditions are fortuitous for the hotel trade.

The situation has changed in the last decade, for a variety of reasons: debt relief, a rise in commodity prices, expanding trade and investment with China and the global South, and a growing middle class — all slowing the growth of poverty. Africa is still notorious for under-investment in infrastructure and has a long way to go to catch up to the fast-moving economies of Asia. But greater optimism is leading to greater real investment. And the world’s large hotel brands are the latest to join in the rush to Africa.

Large chains including Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Hyatt and Kempinski hope to open 300 new hotels in Africa over the next five years. The number of hotel beds is set to increase by 30 per cent by 2018.

Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti in Tanzania ( is the first investment in Africa by the Canadian brand. Four Seasons is known for its luxury, upmarket city hotels and has kept with this tradition by building the largest and most luxurious safari lodge ever built in Africa.

This is having a knock-on effect on African hotel operators. The surge in investment is giving these local operators the right incentives to create African brands and to raise their game.

Nairobi in Kenya has become something of a test market for high-end boutique hotels. Already a city benefiting from its status as an international development hub, home to many agencies including the UN Environment Programme’s sprawling and verdant headquarters (, it has also become a corporate headquarters for Africa and has a large U.S. presence ( This means lots of people coming to the city to do business and attend events, creating a market for better quality accommodation.

The Kenyan-owned, 156-room Sankara Nairobi Hotel ( boasts of having the best wine list in Africa and claims to be a five-star hotel. It also capitalizes on being close to the international airport and the UN’s Nairobi headquarters.

“There’s an appetite for something local that’s different and, for the first time, there’s the confidence and funding to bankroll new developments,” said Sankara Hotel Group director Rohan Patel to Wallpaper Magazine. “Africans don’t want a theme-park African hotel, with prints of ‘the big five’ on the wall. That’s condescending. Nor do they want a New York-style hotel. They’ve probably been to New York. They want modern, connected Africa.”

Elsewhere in Nairobi, the Kenyan-owned Tribe Hotel ( is looking to expand to meet growing market demand.

“The market for new, authentic, yet modern African hotels is growing,” manager Michael Flint, who previously ran New York’s Ritz-Carlton, told Wallpaper.

“We’ve been so successful here we are building a new 187-room hotel in Nairobi. We’ve taken over a boutique hotel called Westhouse ( And we’re looking to expand further, with properties at the airport and on the coast. Who knows what will be next? Tribe will be a mini empire.”

In Rwanda’s capital Kigali, the Rwanda Marriott has ambitious plans. Rwanda was ripped apart by ethnic genocide in the 1990s that killed an estimated 500,000 to 1 million people ( Now, the country’s economy is booming and its hotels are getting an upgrade.

The Akilah Institute for Women ( in Kigali has been helping in training women for the hotel sector. They sent trainees to Dubai and Doha to learn how to do hotel service the Marriott way.

Starwood (, a competitor to Marriott, is hoping to grow its African hotel investment by 30 per cent as well. It will be done through the Sheraton, Aloft, Le Meridien, St Regis and Four Points brands. The first St Regis has already opened in Mauritius.

Neil George, Starwood’s head of African development, believes “Africa is the final frontier. It’s adventurous.

“I would rather arrive in Kinshasa and work out how to do a hotel there than do it in Frankfurt,” he told Wallpaper.

The Hyatt ( brand is now running the Hyatt Kilimanjaro Hotel in Dar es Salaam (, Tanzania. Peter Norman, Hyatt’s African head, is working on opening a Park Hyatt in Zanzibar ( and another Hyatt Regency ( will open in Arusha and a further 140-room Hyatt in Senegal (

The 200-room Villa Rosa Kempinski in Nairobi (, boasting an outdoor heated pool, and the Olare Mara Kempinski ( luxury camp in the Maasai Mara will also be joined by projects in Ghana and Equatorial Guinea.

Kempinski also has properties in Chad and the Congo, has bought the Hotel des Mille Collines ( in Kigali and aims to operate 20 hotels across sub-Saharan Africa.

British entrepreneur Richard Branson has the Mahali Mzuri in the Maasai Mara and it is seen as a stylish role model for other hotels. The local landowners and herdsmen have been included in the business, benefiting from the hotel and helping to preserve the local ecosystem.

EasyHotel (, a low budget hotelier, is also rapidly expanding across southern Africa.

Published: May 2014


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4) Hotel Career: Many hotel jobs for the Middle East and Africa. Website:

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


© David South Consulting 2022


US-Mongol Construct 2000 Business Prospectus: Building A New Democracy | 2000

Researcher and Writer: David South

Consultancy: David South Consulting

Publisher and Client: USAID

Published: 2000

Background: This excerpted text is from a business prospectus prepared in 1999 for USAID to promote construction opportunities in Mongolia to the US construction industry. At the time, Mongolia was in the grip of a severe crisis, called one of “the biggest peacetime economic collapses ever”. By 2012, Mongolia was called the “fastest growing economy in the world”. It is proof the foundations for Mongolia’s recovery from crisis were laid in the late 1990s.

“No other Asian country enjoys more political freedom today than Mongolia. And no other Asian country has shown greater commitment to open markets. But Mongolia has received little reward for its efforts.” Fortune Magazine, December 1998

Discover a New Democracy

Mongolians are some of the highest per capita donor recipients in the world: On average US $50 per person. The vast majority of this aid is targeted at infrastructure projects. Mongolia in 2000 is an opportunity waiting for American business. Democratic, with a free market economy, the country offers regulatory freedom, a belief in the private sector setting standards and a pro-Western attitude friendly to American companies. 

Mongolia’s history is marked by the rise and fall of cities, the ebb and flow of political and economic systems. The country has experienced being the largest empire for its time in the 13th century, to being occupied by foreign powers. Economically and socially the country has lived through feudalism, communism and now, capitalism. The one thing that has remained stable throughout this rich history has been the nomadic way of life. Livestock remains to this day a major pillar of the economy and contributes to one of the country’s major foreign currency earners, cashmere wool. 

After over 70 years of communist rule, Mongolians finally turned their backs on communism and robustly embraced free markets and democracy in 1996 with the election of the Democratic Coalition. A gradual opening up of the country had begun under the ruling Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party after the collapse of the Soviet Union and under pressure from peaceful public demonstrations.  

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the country suffered what many economists have called the largest peacetime economic collapse in the 20th century. 

While it is a fact that Mongolia’s economy is severely underdeveloped, both in terms of infrastructure and diversity, it is also true the country is the freest in Asia. As Fortune Magazine noted in a December, 1998 issue, “No other Asian country enjoys more political freedom today than Mongolia. And no other Asian country has shown greater commitment to open markets. But Mongolia has received little reward for its efforts.” Mongolia, for American business, offers a win-win situation, an opportunity to join in the building of a strong democracy in Asia while tapping the rich resources, both natural and in human capital. American businesses can enjoy a regulatory environment that is more flexible than in the United States, and a government that lets businesses do what they do best: serve the needs of customers and make money. 


A Bright Young Future

Demographically, Mongolia is a very young country. A by-product of high birth rate policies during the communist period, 60 per cent of Mongolia’s population are aged between 1 and 24, with 37.6 per cent between the locally accepted definition of youth of 15 to 34. In 1998 the New York Times Magazine called Mongolia “The youngest place on earth”. Even a cursory glance at the streets of the capital, Ulaanbaatar (population 600,000), will reveal a young population taking their fashion and cultural cues from the West, and who hold correspondingly Western aspirations to own homes and start businesses. Mongolia enjoys exceptionally high rates of literacy ( 96 per cent), post-secondary enrolment (65,089 students in 1998) and the urban population quickly embraced Western consumer products as they became available. 


The Construction and Environmental Services Industry in Mongolia

Today, Mongolia officially has 100 architectural and engineering design companies and over 500 construction companies. Of these, 40 are considered large operations with their own in-house design and engineering outfits, or who have a close relationship with one or more companies that either manufacture or import construction materials. The country is a rich resource for raw materials for the construction industry, but this vast wealth remains under-utilised. According to geological surveys spanning the decades from 1930 to the 1990s, over 200 deposits were discovered that could be tapped for construction materials. 

At the beginning of the 20th Century, there were few permanent standing structures in Mongolia, apart from Buddhist monasteries and royal palaces. At the beginning of the 20th Century most Mongolians lived in the round ger felt tent. It wasn’t until the communist revolution that construction of sedentary dwellings and buildings in the country picked up pace. In 1924, three years after the 1921 revolution, the State Committee for Construction was established (by 1926 it became the Construction Department of the Ministry of Industry), and undertook the large-scale construction of buildings based on European designs. 

From the 1960s the construction industry in Mongolia emerged as the country industrialised. Mongolia received aid from both China and Russia up to the Sino-Soviet dispute, and both countries were the main funders for construction projects. Many buildings in the downtown of the capital were built by the Chinese government.

Up until the election of the Democratic Coalition in 1996, all construction activities were conducted under the direction of the state. Building booms took place in the 1970s and 1980s as the communist government tried to meet the demand for apartments and other facilities. At its peak in 1989, the construction sector made up 10 per cent of the gross national product. With the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s, many building projects in Mongolia ground to a halt as Soviet subsidies were withdrawn.  Across the country it is possible to see the empty shells of apartment buildings, holiday resorts and half-built sports stadiums.

The Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, under popular pressure for a change, began to gradually make the shift to free markets and democracy. The first state privatization programme began in 1993 under the direction of international experts. It wasn’t until the election of the Democratic Coalition in 1996 that significant reforms were taken to fully introduce a free market economy. And it wasn’t until 1997 and 1998 that the fruits of these measures started to appear.

The construction industry was fully privatised in 1998, with companies becoming limited or wholly owned entities. There now exists a mix of private and public companies in this sector. All of the companies are in the early stages of learning how to work and prosper in the free market.

The legacy of working under a command economy has left many companies ill-equipped and under-funded, many not operating at full capacity or not at all.

The private sector has shown itself to be capable of initiating real estate development projects, most commonly the building of private apartments, shopping complexes and small hotels.

Weaknesses in management and financing do lead to long delays, poor quality and in some cases, the abandonment of a construction project mid-way.  According to the State Statistical Office, the construction sector shrank from 1991 to 1994. In 1994, activity increased 26 per cent from 1993. Since then the gross national product has averaged growth of 3.3 per cent, but still has not caught up with the rate at the end of the 1980s. 

The environmental services sector has received a significant boost from international donors working in Mongolia. Various donor funded projects are building and renovating facilities using energy-efficient technology. These donors have also conducted training workshops and education campaigns for local construction companies. Being a very cold country, awareness is high over the financial and environmental benefits of energy-efficient techniques. Construction techniques, however, are weak and Mongolia has a long way to go in utilizing these technologies efficiently.  

It is a misnomer to think most Mongolians are wandering nomads. In fact the majority of the population of 2.4 million now live a sedentary lifestyle in small towns or in the big cities of Ulaanbaatar, Erdenet and Darkhan. Under communism these urban centres were economically dependent on state enterprises, many of  which now have either gone bankrupt, idle or have been privatized. There is currently a significant migration to the capital from these economically devastated communities. Officially the government was able to track 6,518 people, mostly between the ages of 18 and 39, moving to the capital in the first half of 1998 – a 60 per cent increase on 1997. Unofficial migration to the capital is believed to be far higher. 

At present a majority of the population still live in ger tents or sub-standard makeshift wooden housing. The construction industry cannot meet the high demand for modern housing, with amenities like running water, toilets and electricity.

“The business atmosphere in Mongolia is inviting and [our] partnership has faced very few obstacles while entering the market. Based on our positive experience here, we plan to continue and expand our presence in the Mongolian marketplace.” Mrs. Bolormaa Reiner, Representative Johnson and Johnson-Mongolia

Foreign Aid

Economic Prospects for the Country

Large donor community

Along with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mongolia also lost significant economic subsidies, which contributed to the severe crisis of the early 1990s. The World Bank has estimated these subsidies reached a third of Mongolia’s GDP in the late 1980s. Since then international donors have played a key role in helping to restructure the Mongolian economy to adapt to the demands of a market economy.  

Infrastructure has always been a weak point for Mongolia, and it was considered the most isolated and underdeveloped of the former Soviet bloc countries. International donors have placed infrastructure development at the top of their agendas. Since 1997 foreign aid in the form of grants and loans has hovered around US $250 million, with the vast majority of this aid going towards infrastructure development. Priority areas are highways and transportation, power stations and communications. By sector the aid breaks down as follows: 30 per cent to mining, 27 per cent to energy, 19 per cent to transport, eight per cent to communications, five per cent to social security and three per cent to other areas. The donor community and the Mongolian government want to dig the country out of decades of underdevelopment, which currently hampers the budding private sector from becoming more sophisticated. 

These large-scale infrastructure projects offer enormous opportunities for US firms experienced in working in cold-weather conditions. There are also opportunities to develop world class office space for these international donors, something that is currently lacking in Ulaanbaatar.  

Foreign investment to date

Actual large-scale foreign investment to the country has been slow coming and still doesn’t represent a major economic opportunity. The major players in direct foreign investment outside of development aid have been Mongolia’s old neighbours, Russia (20 per cent) and China (33 per cent). This decade the country has attracted US $200 million in foreign investment and registered 840 jointly owned or wholly owned ventures.

New-found affluence

It is estimated that around five per cent of the capital’s population fit into a middle or upper income category. The late 1990s have seen the emergence of a new breed of affluent Mongolians. Many of these affluent Mongolians struck it rich trading in once-unobtainable consumer products or servicing the expanding foreign community. This class of traders have developed a sophisticated taste for all things Western – Mercedes Benz cars, four-by-four jeeps and western fashions. Vehicle registrations have steadily risen since the introduction of a market economy. In 1996 the number of vehicles was 65,020; by 1997 it was 70,088. 

New home owners

In 1998 50,000 families became homeowners as a result of privatization of apartments. All the apartments are of Soviet era and do not meet the aspirations of the growing middle class. Many of these new homeowners immediately set about renovating these apartments, installing modern appliances and furniture. A significant minority is renovating apartments with the intention of selling them on to wealthier Mongolians or foreigners. The high number of renovations and additions to buildings in the capital is also indicative of other things: the economy has changed and existing buildings do not meet the new demands, and that people have money to pay for the renovations. 

Business Opportunities

USAID has identified the following opportunities in the Mongolian construction sector:

– Donor-funded projects: Large-scale infrastructure projects that are funded by loans or grants from international donors, are a safe bet. These projects require management and technical expertise that is often difficult to find locally. This includes projects that require an international tender.  

– Fully funded foreign projects: Any project requiring a building that meets international standards. International companies have little choice when it comes to finding adequate office or retail space.

– Low-cost labor: The Mongolian workforce is highly literate and often speak a second language, usually Russian amongst older workers, and English amongst the young. Unemployment levels are high in Mongolia and workers are keen to get a job. Generally salaries are as follows:

– Manager: US $250

– Accountant: US $200

– Engineer: US $150

– Secretary: US 100

– Driver: US $100

– Qualified worker: US $100

Source: FIFTA

– Donors: Many large-scale projects are directly funded by donor grants or loans and therefore are a low-risk, reliable source of income. At the June, 1999 donors meeting in Ulaanbaatar, US $320 million was pledged, the largest amount in eight years of donor funding. Most of these pledges are targeted at “hard” infrastructure and private sector development. 

– Imports rule: Imported construction materials dominate the marketplace and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Many of the materials are poor quality and from China. American companies can attract customers with their obvious advantages in both quality and innovation.

– Large resource base: Mongolia’s large wealth of mineral resources is inefficiently utilized, with many mines and factories working under capacity or not at all. These resources could be tapped to produce construction materials locally for the domestic market, or more lucratively, for the booming Chinese market hungry for resources. 

– Very cold country: Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, is the coldest capital in the world. Mongolia’s winters dip below minus 40 Celsius, and for those who live in apartment buildings, this can be a difficult time. Many apartments are inadequately insulated, and dip below zero when the central heating system is disrupted due to poor maintenance. There is an urgent need for high-quality aluminium and plastic windows and doors. Budgets are tight in Mongolia yet many organizations spend vast sums to heat buildings. It has been proven that during the course of the winter heating costs can be reduced from Tg 4,200 (US $4.20) per square metre, to Tg 280 (US $0.28) in an energy efficient dwelling. 

–  Windows are expensive: Mongolia must import all windows and glass products. When the cost of freight is added, windows become an unnecessarily expensive portion of any construction bill. This is a business opportunity for any company who can domestically produce glass products and windows at a cheaper price than imports. A National Code for Insulation of Buildings is being revised and none of the existing windows and doors meet this requirement.

– No chemical industry: While Mongolia exports oil to China for refining, the country does not have a domestic chemical industry, and consequently plastic and rubber is imported for construction purposes. Stone tiles like marble are currently also imported from outside, despite this resource being available in Mongolia.  

– Central heating and water unreliable:  For those who live in apartment buildings, the regular disruptions to both the water and heating supply are not only inconvenient, but also bad for business.  Technology that can by-pass relying on the central system (common to many Soviet-era cities, this system is wasteful and subject to regular breakdowns), is urgently needed. Alternative energy sources like solar power and wind can bring electricity to those who are not on the grid.  

 Free trade zones: The towns of Sukhbaatar (Russian border) and Zamyn-Uud (Chinese border), both served by rail, are the focus of Mongolian government attempts at increasing cross-border trade. At Zamyn-Uud Japan has upgraded the customs house facilities and trans-shipment facility. On the Chinese side, a major trading market has been constructed and a boom is taking place based on trade with Mongolia.  

“Arthur Andersen has had representation in Mongolia since 1993. We have been very active in the development of the accounting and auditing profession in Mongolia. January 1999, Arthur Andersen opened Arthur Andersen Mongolia Audit LLC.” Mr. C. L. Ruddell, Representative Arthur Andersen-Mongolia

What Do Mongolians Say They Need?

In interviews conducted by USAID, Mongolian government officials and construction companies detailed what they felt were the most urgent priorities: 

– Education and training: The vast majority of engineers and managers in the Mongolian construction industry received their training under communism. They were trained to work under a centrally planned economy, and will need to learn how to thrive in a free market situation where there are no guarantees. The Construction Training Institute currently only offers courses to managers and engineers. Its curricula is out-of-date and awareness of modern construction techniques and standards is weak. Exposure to computer-assisted construction methods is urgently required as well as training in foreign languages. 

– Awareness of International Standards: No Mongolian companies can offer state-of-the-art consulting on construction projects. 

– Licensure, apprenticeships and guilds: Standards are very weak in the construction sector and there is not a highly developed mechanism to ensure construction managers, engineers and workers meet a minimum qualification.     

– Being Earthquake-proof: While the National Design Codes and Regulations do stipulate that buildings must meet minimum requirements against earthquakes (Mongolia is located in a seismically active region, and severe earthquakes have happened), most buildings post-1989 fail to meet these requirements. 

– Weak infrastructure: Developing the transportation infrastructure of Mongolia will be key to future improvements in the economy. The rapidly developing Chinese economy offers many opportunities to Mongolia if roads and highways can be upgraded.  

– Better coordination and promotion: Working with FIFTA or the Foreign Investment and Foreign Trade Agency, Mongolian companies seeking foreign investment for projects need to improve their networking and presentation skills.  

Obstacles and Market Risks

Corruption: While Mongolians will tell you corruption has reached all levels of government, it is important to keep in mind it does not come close to the levels of corruption found in other former Communist countries. Foreign businesses do not suffer from harassment or intimidation by criminal gangs. 

Inexperience with the free market: Foreign businesses and travellers to Mongolia do experience difficulties communicating Western business concepts like consumer rights and service. It has to be said that over the past three years this has changed considerably for the better, and continues to improve as Mongolian businesses learn the importance of the axiom “the customer is always right”. 

Differences between Mongolian and US standards: While Mongolia’s regulations and laws are different from those in the US, it is important to keep in mind that the regulatory environment in Mongolia can be much freer in some areas. Also, many of the new laws have been drafted based on US laws and Mongolia’s constitution was written upon the advice of US legal experts. 

Harsh climate: The long cold winters do present problems for some foreign businesses not used to working in cold-weather climates. This is also an area where American companies are at a specific advantage. 

Financial instability: Mongolia has had a number of serious banking crises since the early 1990s. Many private and public banks are insolvent due to bad loans. This can lead to long delays to construction projects and/or non-payment of salaries.   

Contract bidding: Only those contracts that are directly commissioned by the government will be subject to an open bidding. Private sector work is usually not subject to open bidding or design competitions. 

Downtime: Since Mongolia does no international corporate presence in the capital, any technical problems to equipment or software can involve downtime and delays as parts or repairs are sought in China. It is important to take this into consideration when establishing an operation in Mongolia. 

Advantages of Working in Mongolia

– Regulatory freedom

– Private-sector driven

– Market economy taking off

– Democratic

 Privatization of Land: Can I Own Land in Mongolia?

The dual legacies of communism and nomadism have made the issue of private ownership of land in Mongolia a thorny one. The government has passed the necessary legislation to make owning land in urban areas possible. However, inexperience with the concept of owning property and the laws that govern this make buying land risky. It is advisable to get a reliable local partner and to use the services of a law firm that knows the Mongolian situation. Long-term leases are available and might be a good option. 

Mongolian Government 

Financial commitment to date: 

The Ministry of Infrastructure Development has developed projects to encourage the production of construction materials locally. Due to financial constraints these projects have not been implemented. They include projects on cement, glass and paint production, rock processing, lime extraction and road development.

Government plans:

At this time the Mongolian government has not been able to develop a long-term strategy for the development of the construction sector. There are no specific policy incentives directly supporting real estate and housing development. The Ministry of Infrastructure is looking to the private sector to offer direction and guidance. 

Future Opportunities

The Tumen River Project: The eastern portion of Mongolia is included in a major trade zone development project initiated by the United Nations Development Programme. The Tumen River Area Development Programme (TRADP) is focusing foreign investment and infrastructure upgrading on eastern Mongolian, North-East China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and eastern Russia. This region has cumulatively attracted US $961 million from 1991 to 1997, with Mongolia’s second biggest trading partner, China, making significant development gains.  While the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has been a thorn in the Project’s side, both Mongolia and China are keen to push ahead with improving infrastructure and trade links. It is impossible to ignore the fact that China has made significant gains and that trade links with Mongolia continue to tighten. 

A feasibility study is currently underway on a railway link from Arxan, China to Choibalsan, Mongolia, and possibly on to Ulaanbaatar. As donors begin to fund these projects it would be prudent for American businesses to start building a relationship in the region to take advantage of future contracts. 

Commercial Street 2005: The City of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital and commercial centre, has drafted the blue prints for the construction of a modern commercial and business centre for the next millennium. Commercial Street 2005 will offer infrastructure and services that match global standards. The current Soviet-era infrastructure of Ulaanbaatar is an impediment to future growth and is unsuitable for Mongolia’s new market economy. 

The project covers 20 hectares of 1 km length in a historically vibrant part of the city. The city will pay for the engineering and infrastructure works for the complex and local businesses will pay for the construction of secondary buildings. Commercial Street 2005 is looking for foreign investment to participate in the building of a food supermarket, trade and service complex, a twin-towered international trade and service complex, a banking centre, a business centre and renovations to nearby apartment buildings. It is estimated the project will create 10,000 jobs and would cost an estimated US $100 million. 

Darkhan: With a population around 55,000, Darkhan is as-yet an untapped opportunity. Located north of  Ulaanbaatar and close to the border with Russia, Darkhan is linked by a good road and rail. Along with the mining town of Erdenet, Darkhan has a modern infrastructure. Having been trained to work in the former state industries that once dominated the city, the population is well-educated and skilled. Today, coal mining and agriculture are key to the economy. The city is potentially a good stable base for accessing the Russian market.

Getting started

Registering prior to undertaking construction work is relatively simple. The Government Agency for Construction issues three degrees of licenses. The first license is for small projects, the second is for small to medium-sized projects, and the third is for large-scale projects anywhere in Mongolia. As the project develops the company is obligated to notify and allow local building inspectors to enter the site. 

Residency Permits

All foreigners wishing to remain in Mongolia for more than 30 days must apply to the State Centre for Civil Registration and Information for a temporary residency permit or a short-term residency permit. 

Temporary Residency Permit

The applicant must present to the State Centre for Civil Registration a request issued by FIFTA. FIFTA will issue such a request to any agreed foreign investor immediately. Permits are generally issued within a couple of days and are valid for a period of time from three months to one year. A temporary residency permit can be renewed an unlimited number of times. Each renewal will re-validate the permit for a period from three months up to one year, as requested by the investor. 

Short Term Residency Permit

This non-renewable permit is issued to foreigners who plan to spend no more than 90 days in Mongolia. Applicants are required to present a written request from a Mongolian or foreign organization stating the activity in which the person will be engaged and the reason the permit is needed. In case of an exploratory visit by a potential investor, a letter from the home company will suffice. 

Entry Visas

Investors may apply for single-entry and multiple-entry visas at the Foreign Ministry’s Chancellery Building in Ulaanbaatar or at Mongolian diplomatic missions in other countries. 

Single-Entry Visas

A single-entry visa is valid for three months from its date of issuance and entitles the bearer to enter and stay in Mongolia for 30 days. A letter of invitation or applicable work papers are required. This type of visa is issued at the Ulaanbaatar airport or land border-crossing point. 

Multiple-Entry Visa

A multiple-entry visa entitles the bearer to enter and exit Mongolia an unlimited number of times and is valid for a period of six months to one year. For the issuance of this type of visa, an official letter stating the reason for travel and a copy of the certificate of the organization must be submitted by the investor. 

(Source: FIFTA)

Infrastructure facts

Airports – Mongolia has 81 airports, of which 31 can be used year-round. Only eight are paved. 

Roads and highways – Mongolia has 1,531.7 km paved roads.

Railway – Mongolia has 1,750 km of rail track, mostly a north-south line reaching from Russia to China, with spur lines to the copper mining city of Erdenet and the coal mining city of Baganuur. A short line goes from the eastern city of Choibalsan to Russia. 

Registered trucks – 25,473 (1998)

Major infrastructure projects (1997-1999)


Mongolia energy sector project – US $45,500,000

World Bank

Mongolia coal project – US $35,000,000

Transport rehabilitation project – US $32,313,000 

Asian Development Bank

Telecommunications – US $24,381,000

Power station rehabilitation – US $38,277,000

Ulaanbaatar heat efficiency project – US $29,487,000

Provincial towns basic urban services project – US $7,695,000

Road development – US $22,499,000

Ulaanbaatar airport project – US $37,524,000


Road construction (1996)  – (Yen) 11,590,000

Rehabilitation of power plant IV (1995) – US $46,000,000


Rehabilitation and extension of UB telephone network – (F Franc) 25,000,000


Telecommunications – (DM) 10,000,000

South Korea

Thermoelectric power plant in the Gobi desert – US $8,000,000

Upcoming major infrastructure projects

Asian Development Bank 

Improving Ulaanbaatar heat efficiency (until 2002) – US $39,785,000 


Building of rural schools – US $20,000,000

In 1998 Tg, 208 billion was invested in Mongolia, of which Tg 57.2 billion was on construction/major improvements

Source: State Statistical Bulletin

Construction trends in Mongolia show that in-country production of materials has suffered greatly. 

Building doors and window

Tg 417.8 million in 1989

Tg 2.9 million in 1998 

Bricks (million pieces)

172.8 (1989)

18.9 (1998) 

Cement (in thousand tons)

512.6 (1989)

109 (1998)

On a positive note, sales of furniture went up

Tg 34.7 million in 1989

Tg 185.2 million in 1998

US-Mongol Construct 2000: Building a New Democracy was published by USAID. It helped lay the foundations for a construction boom in the mid-2000s.

Media Coverage:

Construction Business Review: Creating Overseas Market Opportunities for U.S. Companies

“Support for incoming and outgoing trade missions are among the business outreach and support services offered by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Global Technology Network (GTN) program. USAID, in turn, draws heavily on expertise from the International executive Service Corps (IESC) in organizing and implementing these trade missions.

In January 2000, a USAID supported, IESC-assisted, incoming trade mission from Mongolia was instrumental in introducing Mongolian businesses to the American construction industry. Dubbed “U.S.-Mongolian Construct 2000,” the “reverse” trade mission brought representatives from 15 Mongolian construction firms to meet one-on-one with American companies in Dallas, Seattle and Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska. The Mongolian trade mission began in Dallas, where the group attended the National Association of Home Builders’ Show (NAHB) – the largest event of its kind in the country. Next, they traveled to Seattle for the Evergreen Gateway Building Products program. In Alaska, the group learned how U.S. construction companies handle building on permafrost and deal with extreme cold weather conditions. According to the U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia, Alphonse F. LaPorta, ‘Mongolia is at the center of a region undergoing substantial infrastructure upgrading, as the market economy takes hold.'”


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.
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.
It doesn’t hurt when your neighbour (China) is experiencing an economic boom as it drives down poverty rates.

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


© David South Consulting 2018