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Health + Human Development Communicator | 1991 – 2017

27 Years Contributing as a Health and Human Development Communicator | 1991 – 2017

Preface

Whilst studying at the University of Toronto in the 1980s, the seeds were sown for much of the work that followed in the 1990s and 2000s. And what came together was the ability to undertake innovative communications initiatives using media and the latest digital tools. I had a strong interest in what constituted a modern, healthy society, and this eventually led my studies from psychology to sociology to history and eventually medical history. Along the way, I further developed my keen interest in communicating, writing for student media and broadcasting on student radio. I also organised various student organisations, from Erindale College’s first Peace Club, to its Amnesty International chapter, and eventually ran on a reforming ticket for the Students Adminstrative Council (SAC) at U of T. I undertook primary research for a history professor (Sidney Aster) working on a book, looking into the British Government’s efforts to organise food supply shipments during World War II (the biography of Lord Salter, Power, Policy and Personality: the Life and Times of Lord Salter, 1881-1975), and catalogued the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) collection for the University of Toronto (Robarts Library). Being U of T, I also had the privilege of making amazing contacts and meeting some of the brightest Canadian minds of the time (for example, Professor Edward Shorter, co-author of Shock Therapy: A History of Electroconvulsive Treatment in Mental Illness).

Power, Policy and Personality: The Life and Times of Lord Salter, 1881-1975 by Sidney Aster. The Papers of Lord Salter are held in the University of Cambridge Churchill Archives Centre. “Personal and political papers; with notes and correspondence collected by Professor Sidney Aster in the course of writing the official biography of Salter.”

The 1990s were an exciting time because it was possible to blaze new trails with emerging digital technologies. And this led to highly influential work with the United Nations and the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). This included an opportunity to head up the communications office for the UN in Mongolia just at the moment in the late 1990s when the Internet was coming online, and undertaking an influential role heading the launch of a child health portal for the prestigious Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital (GOSH)/Institute of Child Health (ICH), just as the NHS was undertaking its Modernisation Plan in the early 2000s.

By the mid-2000s, whilst consulting for the United Nations in Africa, Asia and Central Asia, I was offered a new opportunity in 2006/2007 to work with the then-Special Unit for South-South Cooperation (SSC) based in New York. It became clear there was a disconnect between what was happening within the United Nations and what was happening on the ground in the global South. The rapid take-up of mobile phones was transforming how people communicated and led their lives. Elsewhere, the wider mobile and information technologies space was generating new business models and creative ways to use communications tools to do things and make a living. All this was very stimulating and chronicled in the e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions and Southern Innovator Magazine for the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC).

Timeline

1985/1989: Graduate from the University of Toronto with a BA Honours in History (including medical history) and Political Science. One of my final year papers addressed medical quackery involving the drug laetrile as a cancer cure and how the medical establishment and regulatory authorities, in their attempts to prevent its use, in fact played into the prevailing anti-establishment political climate and distrust of institutions and the government.

1989/1991: Begin work as a Unit Coordinator for a chemotherapy ward of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre (previously Princess Margaret Hospital/Ontario Cancer Institute) in Toronto. First training in health informatics and witness first-hand new computer initiatives to quantify workload on the ward to better allocate resources.

1991: Investigative journalist, health and medical reporter for Today’s SeniorsHospital News, and writing for many other magazines and newspapers, including The Toronto Star and Canadian Living Magazine, drawing on my first-hand experience working in a hospital/research institute and my contacts. Covered impact of early 1990s Canadian austerity crisis on health system/healthcare as well as innovative responses to better use resources. This included covering the roll-out of the World Health Organization’s Healthy Cities initiative (Taking Medicine to the People: Four Innovators in Community Health for Canadian Living Magazine), and medical education reforms (for The Toronto Star in Take Two Big Doses of Humanity and Call Me in the Morning). Interviewed the project head for a new innovative initiative to provide online resources for patients from the Metro Toronto Reference Library, which was later incorporated in Toronto’s University Health Network.Other stories covered included: Changing Health Care Careers A Sign of the TimesCritics blast government long-term care reformsCut services to elderly, says doctors’ survey… but leave our salaries alone!Feds call for AIDS, blood system inquiry: Some seniors infectedGovernment urged to limit free drugs for seniorsHealth care on the cutting block: Ministry hopes for efficiency with search and destroy tacticsHealth Care in DangerNew legislation will allow control of medical treatmentPrivate firms thrive as NDP ‘reinvents’ medicarePsychiatric care lacking for institutionalised seniorsSeniors falling through the health care cost cracksSpecialists want cancer treatments universally availableStudy Says Jetliner Air Quality Poses Health Risks.

1992/1994: Editor and Writer for the Hannah Institute for the History of Medicine, including its newsletter, better connecting Canadian medical history scholars. The archive of newsletters is held at the Wellcome Collection Library in London, UK: http://0-www.bmj.com.libsys.wellcome.ac.uk/search~S7?/tNewsletter+%28Hannah+Institute+for+the+History+of+Medicine%29/tnewsletter+hannah+institute+for+the+history+of+medicine/-3%2C-1%2C0%2CB/frameset&FF=tnewsletter+hannah+institute+for+the+history+of+medicine&

1994/1996: Editor-in-Chief for Watch Magazine, an innovative youth culture and media start-up partly funded by the Government of Canada. Watch Magazine played an important role in Toronto’s recovery from the economic collapse brought about by the combination of the late 1980s crash and government austerity policies. By engaging youth (high school-aged writers, editors and creatives), Watch Magazine showed their energy and perspective could jolt the city back to life, despite the negative media portrayal of youth at the time.

“As one of those high school kids and the guy who wrote (most of) this article, I’d like to say thanks to David [South] for all his hard work on Watch magazine! I learned a lot from him and it was a great experience.” William White

In 1995 I worked as a Senior Media Reporter for the Financial Times‘ newsletters New Media Markets and Screen Finance. I covered the rise of new media, including the Internet and cable and satellite television channels. Also covered new film-financing schemes funded by the European Union and the rise of new media in the Nordic countries. Stories included:

Channel Regulation: Swedes Will Fight Children’s Advertising All The WayFrom Special Report: NMM (New Media Markets) Spotlight On The Emergence Of Satellite Porn Channels In The UK.

1996/1997: Features Editor for Id MagazineId‘s investigative journalism unearthed many firsts, from covering the prototype experiments with e-cash and the cashless society in its hometown of Guelph, Ontario (Cashless Society Put to Test in Ontario Town, The New York Times, Sept. 30, 1997), attempts by far-right groups to organise at high schools, reporting from Port-au-Prince on the United Nations’ mission in Haiti, and the social impact of Canada’s expanding sex economy during the austerity and recession years of the 1990s (Special Report: Sexual Dealing – Today’s Sex Toys Are Credit Cards & Cash). 

1997/1999: Communcations Coordinator and head of communications for the UN Mongolia mission in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (1997-1999) under the Partnership for Progress.

1997: Begin a two-year assignment as head of communications for the UN/UNDP Mongolia mission (1997-1999). Called “one of the biggest peacetime economic collapses ever”, I was thrown into the deep end as part of the UN’s efforts to rescue Mongolia from this severe crisis. I established the award-winning UN/UNDP Mongolia Communications Office (a high-profile and lively hub staffed by media professionals) and quickly developed and launched the award-winning UN Mongolia Development Portal (www.un-mongolia.mn) (called a “role model” for the United Nations). I developed and launched the mission’s first newsletter, Blue Sky Bulletin (distributed by post, online and by email to subscribers), as well as the first Mongolian Human Development Report, the Mongolian AIDS Bulletin (after attending the Fourth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacificin 1997, and meeting and being inspired by UNAIDS head Dr. Peter Piot, the Bulletin was used to kick-start Mongolia’s response to an unfolding STDs/HIV/AIDS crisis), the UN’s and Mongolia’s first online magazine, Ger, while also overseeing the country’s largest bilingual online and offline publishing operation. InStarting from Scratch: The Challenge of Transition, I document the challenge to re-start Mongolia’s data and statistics collection after it was wiped off the mainframe computers that once stored it during the Communist period (a cautionary tale for our times if there ever was one!). InFreedom of Expression: Introducing Investigative Journalism to Local Media in Mongolia, I give an account of a workshop for Mongolian journalists keen to learn more about the discipline of investigative journalism and how important it is in a democracy. In Partnership for Progress: UNDP in Mongolia, I painted a picture of Mongolia’s country conditions in 1997, what was at stake, and how the UN was responding. Stabilized, by 2012 Mongolia was being called the fastest growing economy in the world, and was contributing troops to UN peacekeeping missions.

1998: Develop and launch Mongolia’s first web magazine, Ger. Lead two international media tours of the country, one in 1997 (Scandinavian media), and the other in 1998 (women journalists). Many stories were generated from the two international media tours and were compiled in books published by UNDP, including  In Their Own Words: Selected Writings by Journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999 (ISBN 99929-5-043-9). Read an example story here: The Milk of Kindness Flows in a Peculiar Land A Steppe From Nowhere by Leslie Chang (The Asian Wall Street Journal, 15 August 1998).

1999: Publish many books on Mongolia’s development, including In Their Own Words: Selected Writings by Journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999 (ISBN 99929-5-043-9) and the Mongolian rock and pop book (ISBN  99929-5-018-8). Whilst working for a UK-based international development consultancy, I prepared papers for the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AMFAR), the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the Harvard Institute for International Development (HIID), for various UN agencies including UNCTAD and UNAIDS, and coordinated the preparation of the report and launch strategy for the World Bank’s Task Force on Higher Education and Society (2000).  

The One World Youth Conference Series initiated by UN/UNDP Mongolia shows it is possible to engage policy makers and connect them with youth, playing a key part in the development of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the UN’s winning of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001: https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:wv2Sujc7lBoJ:https://search.archives.un.org/uploads/r/united-nations-archives/1/3/3/1333b60aed62bd81200b36cf45674a5b7815b8f1974c1313cf797017db506170/S-1096-0264-21-00011.pdf+&cd=6&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk

Mongolia’s Follow-up to the UN Global Conferenceshttp://lawsdocbox.com/Politics/78172933-I-should-like-to-thank-you-for-your-kind-letter-dated-25-september-1999.html

“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.” From A Survey of Country Office Web Sites April 2000 by UN HQ New York. 

1999/2000: Consulting for a UK-based international development consultancy and for the United Nations in Kiev, Ukraine

2000: My work in Mongolia is covered and cited in various books published after 1999, including Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia by Jill Lawless (ISBN 97814-5-964-5783)Modern Mongolia: From Khans to Commissars to Capitalists by Morris Rossabi (ISBN 9780-5-209-38625), and Dateline Mongolia: An American Journalist in Nomad’s Land by Michael Kohn (ISBN 9781-5-7143-1554)Ukraine. Work on the strategic re-launch of the UN Ukraine web portal and advise on the communications strategy for the UN Resident Representative/UNDP Resident Coordinator. This is also the year in which the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were launched and the new development portal reflected this in its structure and content.

2001: UN wins Nobel Peace Prize jointly with its Secretary-General Kofi Annan, citing the Prize was “for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world.”

2001/2003: Project Manager in charge of Web Strategy for the GOSH Child Health Portal at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust/Institute of Child Health. 

2001: Begin work on the development of the award-winning GOSH Child Health Portal for the National Health Service (NHS). As part of the NHS’ Modernisation Plan, it was called a “role model” for the NHS and one of the “three most admired websites in the UK public and voluntary sectors,” and was developed and launched under heavy public and media scrutiny. Each stage of the Portal’s development would coincide with a high-profile media launch. For example, the Hospital’s 150th birthday celebrations included Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and pop star Madonna.

2002/2003: Win the Childnet Award in 2003 for the Children First website (supporters were Prince Harry and Cherie Booth QC). Children First’s content was developed in partnership with the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). Awarded additional funding from the PPP Foundation (now AXA Research) (see Research Review 2001: A year of excellence and innovation and Research Review 2002: Building on success). The GOSH Child Health Portal grew its “hits” from 1,472,302 in February 2002, to 7,715,107 in June 2003

“The GOSH/ICH web site to date has been a notable success. Not only has it met a majority of its objectives … and achieved recognition as ‘exemplary’ among NHS resources, but it has also generated a number of spin-off projects, including Children First (as a successor to GOSHKids) and The Virtual Children’s Hospital. …

“In a context in which less than 25% of all projects realise even 50% of their benefits, the satisfaction of 75% of the original objectives .. must rank as a significant achievement.” Consultant’s evaluation of the GOSH Child Health Portal in 2003. 

2003/2004: Live and work in Jerusalem, Israel. Travel extensively around the country during the hudna

2004/2006: Consulting for the United Nations in Mongolia, South Africa and Turkmenistan.

2007/2017: Consultant and Editor and Writer for the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) (formerly the Special Unit for South-South Cooperation). Both an e-newsletter (Development Challenges, South-South Solutions) and a magazine (Southern Innovator) are produced chronicling the impact of mobile and information technologies on the global South, and the rise of a 21st-century innovator culture as a result. Both media substantially raise the profile of the global South, Southern Solutions, and the 21st-century global innovation culture, while also being cited as an influential resource in the UN’s adoption of an innovation and South-South Cooperation agenda for its programming and priorities.

The thinking behind this work can be found in two sources:

1) Innovation: Applying Knowledge in Development by The UN Millennium Project, “commissioned by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to develop a practical plan of action to meet the Millennium Development Goals. As an independent advisory body directed by Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, the UN Millennium Project submitted its recommendations to the UN Secretary General in January 2005. The core of the UN Millennium Project’s work has been carried out by 10 thematic Task Forces comprising more than 250 experts from around the world, including scientists, development practitioners, parliamentarians, policymakers, and representatives from civil society, UN agencies, the World Bank, the IMF, and the private sector” (Innovation: Applying Knowledge in Development, UN Millennium Development Library, Taylor & Francis, 17 June 2013).

2) Two editors for the e-newsletter and magazine, Cosmas Gitta and Audette Bruce, authored a paper jointly with Professor Calestous Juma (a well-known scholar and leading figure in the study of innovation at the Belfer Center) in 2005 for the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs titled, Forging New Technology Alliances: The Role of South-South Cooperation.

2007: David South Consulting begins work on the e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions for the then-Special Unit for South-South Cooperation (SSC) at the United Nations. The e-newsletter is distributed by email to an influential global subscriber audience working in international development and the United Nations, as well as distributed online via various platforms.

2008: Reader response experiment begins with crowd-powered news website NowPublic. Initial proposal for the development of book or magazine on innovation. Awarded grant for Cuba study tour by BSHF. 

2009: Adjust e-newsletter content based on reader responses. Begin posting content on Twitter platform.

2010: Begin development of the new global magazine Southern Innovator with the then-Special Unit for South-South Cooperation (SSC) at the United Nations and a design team in Iceland led by Solveig Rolfsdottir, one of Iceland’s top graphic designers and illustrators. 

The magazine was produced to the UN’s design standards, as well as abiding by the UN’s Global Compact. With production in Iceland, the magazine could be designed and laid out using 100 per cent renewable energy sources.

Launch David South Consulting as Senior Partner working with talented global professionals.

Develop and launch the new branding for David South Consulting and its website, davidsouthconsulting.com, all designed by Solveig Rolfsdottir

2011: Launch the first issue of Southern Innovator Magazine at the Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) in Rome, Italy.

It is called “a terrific tour de force of what is interesting, cutting edge and relevant in the global mobile/ICT space…”. Launch www.southerninnovator.org website (now www.southerninnovator.com) and social media including Twitter account @SouthSouth1.

To avoid censorship and interference, Southern Innovator‘s editorial operations were based in London, UK and its design studio was based in Reykjavik, Iceland (a high-ranking country in the World Press Freedom rankings and a former top place holder in the UNDP Human Development Index). Using a women-led design studio, it developed a design vision that could communicate across borders using clear graphic design and high-quality images. For example, when it launched in 2011, infographics were rare in development publications and at the UN; now they are commonplace. It also tried to be as  ‘green’ as possible. The studio was powered on 100 per cent renewable energy (in particular, geothermal energy); the hard copy of the magazine is printed on paper from sustainable forests.

2012: Launch second and third issues of Southern Innovator Magazine at the GSSD Expo in Vienna, Austria.

Called a “Beautiful, inspiring magazine from UNDP on South-South innovation.”

With 201 Development Challenges, South-South Solutions stories posted on the NowPublic platform, a total of 336,289 views by 2012 had occurred, according to the NowPublic counter (Closed in December 2013, the stories published on NowPublic were able to reach a large, global audience, receiving 201,109 views as of 27 June 2010, and reaching 420,151 views by 31 July 2013. The stories were cited in many other media resources and also in books. This includes Export Now: Five Keys to Entering New Markets by Frank Lavin and Peter Cohan (2011) and The Canadian).

2013: Launch fourth issue of Southern Innovator Magazine at the GSSD Expo in Nairobi, Kenya.

Called “fantastic, great content and a beautiful design!” and “Always inspiring.”.

2014: Launch fifth issue of Southern Innovator Magazine at the GSSD Expo in Washington, D.C. U.S.A. The Twitter account @SouthSouth1 called “ one of the best sources out there for news and info on #solutions to #SouthSouth challenges.” Final issues of e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions published.  

The two publications proved influential on a number of fronts, being early to draw attention to the following: the rising use of mobile phones and information technology in development, the world becoming an urban place, innovative food solutions including the nascent insect food sector (now a big thing), altering perspectives on what is possible in Africa, the use of data science to innovate development, and tracking the growing number of technology hubs and the fast-growing start-up culture in the global South. The publications were cited for shaping the new strategic direction adopted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (the UN’s leading development organisation) and its first youth strategy, and the development of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As the world’s first global innovator magazine, Southern Innovator’s design had to be appropriate for a diverse audience. It has drawn praise for being both “beautiful” and “inspiring”, while its use of sharp, modern graphic design and infographics inspired others in the UN to up their game when it comes to design.

2015: Develop scale-up plan for Southern Innovator Magazine. The UNOSSC was promoted from being a Special Unit to an Office. It also had its budget increased. 

South-South cooperation and innovation have now become the key methodology for the UN’s delivery of its programmes and projects. In 2015, China pledged US $2 billion to “support South-South cooperation” and called for the international community to “deepen South-South and tripartite cooperation”. In development parlance, they have been “Mainstreaming South-South and Triangular Cooperation” in their plans.

The current policy vogue for innovation in developing and developed countries can trace its roots back to some of the early work done by these two publications (and which was further amplified by the annual Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo), which often would feature innovators from the two publications, spreading the innovation message around the world). Both publications had set out to inspire and “champion a global 21st century innovator culture”. And they have done this, as can be seen from concrete evidence and anecdotal responses from individuals and organizations alike.

By 2015, davidsouthconsulting.com is ranked in the Top Million Sites in the world by Alexa (at 920,811). 

2016: Many books have been published citing stories from the e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions and Southern Innovator Magazine. They include: Beyond Gated Communities edited by Samar Bagaeen and Ola Uduku (Routledge: 2015), Chile in Transition: Prospects and Challenges for Latin America’s Forerunner of Development by Roland Benedikter and Katja Siepmann (Springer: 2015), Export Now: Five Keys to Entering New Markets by Frank Lavin and Peter Cohan (John Wiley & Sons: 2011), Innovation Africa: Emerging Hubs of Excellenceedited by Olugbenga Adesida, Geci Karuri-Sebina and João Resende-Santos (Emerald Group Publishing: 2016), New Directions in Children’s and Adolescents’ Information Behavior Research edited by Dania Bilal and Jamshid Beheshti (Emerald Group Publishing: 2014), A Sociological Approach to Health Determinants by Toni Schofield (Cambridge University Press: 2015).

Many papers have been published citing stories from the e-newsletter and the magazine. They include: Afro-futurism and the aesthetics of hope in Bekolo’s Les Saignantes and Kahiu’s Pumzi by Mich Nyawalo, Journal of the African Literature Association, Volume 10, 2016, Issue 2,Autonomous Systems in the Intelligence Community: Many Possibilities and Challenges by Jenny R. Holzer, PhD, and Franklin L. Moses, PhD, Studies in Intelligence Vol 59, No. 1 (Extracts, March 2015), Decoding the Brand DNA: A Design Methodology Applied to Favela Fashion by Magali Olhats, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina Florianopolis, 2012, Edible Insects and the Future of Food: A Foresight Scenario Exercise on Entomophagy and Global Food Security by Dominic Glover and Alexandra Sexton, Institute of Development Studies, King’s College London, Evidence Report No 149, September 2015,Evaluation of Kenyan Film Industry: Historical Perspective by Edwin Ngure Nyutho, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Nairobi, 2015, Evaluation of the Regional Programme for Africa (2008-2013), UNDP Independent Evaluation Office, 2013, High-level Committee on South-South Cooperation Seventeenth Session: Framework of operational guidelines on United Nations support to South-South and triangular cooperation: Note by the Secretary-General, 22-25 May 2012, New York, The New Middle Class and Urban Transformation in Africa: A Case Study of Accra, Ghana by Komiete Tetteh, The University of British Colombia, 2016, Propagating Gender Struggles Through Nollywood: Towards a Transformative Approach by Nita Byack George Iruobe, Geonita Initiative for Women and Child Development, 17 July 2015,Reberberation: Musicians and the Mobilization of Tradition in the Berber Culture Movement by TMG Wiedenkenner et al, The University of Arizona,  2013, Recasting ‘truisms’ of low carbon technology cooperation through innovation systems: insights from the developing world by Alexandra Mallett, Innovation and Development, 5:2, 297-311, DOI: 10.1080/2157930X.2015.1049851, Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2015,“Slam the Slums”: Understanding architecture through the poor by Malini Foobalan, November 26th, 2009, Song Lines: Mapping the South African Live Performance Landscape: Report of the CSA 2013 Live Mapping Project Compiled by Concerts South Africa, Samro Foundation, 2013, Strategic Framework of the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation, 2014-2017, Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Office for Project Services, 27 to 31 January 2014, New York, Using Mobile-Enabled Devices for Engagement and Monitoring of Patient with Chronic Disease: Hypertensive Case by Akinwole A.K., Yekini N.A., Oloyede A.O., Ojo O., International Journal of Scientific & Engineering Research Volume 10, Issue 4, April 2019 (ISSN 2229-5518), Wearing Your Map on Your Sleeve: Practices of Identification in the Creation and Consumption of Philippine Map T-shirts by Pamela Gloria Cajilig, paper presented at the 6th Global Conference (2014): Fashion: Exploring Critical Issues, Mansfield College, Oxford, United Kingdom, 15th to 18th September 2014, Young Girls’ Affective Responses to Access and Use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Information-Poor Societies by Dania Bilal et al, New Directions in Children’s and Adolescents’ Information Behavior Research, Library and Information Science, Volume 10, Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2014, Youth Empowered as Catalysts for Sustainable Human Development: UNDP Youth Strategy 2014-2017, United Nations Development Programme, Bureau for Development Policy.

2017: Invited to speak at the Workshop on Innovations in Service Delivery: The Scope for South-South and Triangular Cooperation in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Able to see first-hand how many of the ideas developed in the e-newsletter and the magazine Southern Innovator were being implemented in a country. Work featured in new book Busted: An Illustrated History of Drug Prohibition in Canada by Susan Boyd (Fernwood Publishing, 2017, ISBN 978-1-55266-976-1).

2018:

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

© David South Consulting 2018

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Ger: Mongolia’s First Web Magazine (And A Pioneering Web Project For The United Nations) | 12 January 2016

Ger Magazine was hosted on the http://www.un-mongolia.mn website from 1998.
  • Editor-in-chief: David South (1998-1999)
  • Logo design: P. Davaa-Ochir

“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)

Ger Magazine was launched on September 9, 1998 (Ger is the Mongolian word for both the traditional tent dwelling and home). The theme of youth in the transition was explored by a combined team of Mongolian and foreign journalists. The Ger Magazine project had basically three goals: first, raise the quality of journalism in the country, secondly, introduce the country to a wider global audience and, thirdly, by being the country’s first online magazine, prove the internet was an effective way to communicate.

Issue 1

Issue 1 of the magazine investigated what life was like for youth during the transition years (post-1989). Stories tackled the struggle to find work in the free market, the booming pop music scene and how it is leading the way in business entrepreneurship, reproductive health, the basics on Mongolian culture, and vox pop views from Mongolian youth.

Issue 2

Issue 2 of the magazine investigated modern life in Mongolia during transition. The team of journalists were hitting their stride by this issue. Stories probed the proliferation of bars and the problem of alcoholism, corrupt banking practices and the loss of savings, how the young were the country’s leading entrepreneurs, Mongolia’s meat and milk diet, “girl power” and the strong role played by women, the burgeoning new media, the rise and rise of Buddhism, and Mongolia’s dynamic fashion designers (this article inspired foreign fashion designers to embrace the Mongolian ‘look’ in the next season’s designs).

Editor-in-Chief: David South, UNDP Communications Coordinator
EditorA. Delgermaa, UB Post newspaper
TranslationA. Delgermaa
Photography: N. Baigalmaa, David South
Design and layout: B. Bayasgalan, UN Homepage Webmaster

“This is the second issue of Ger. We have chosen the theme “Modern Life” to introduce people outside of Mongolia to the complexities of life in today’s Mongolia – the good, the bad and the ugly as a cowboy film once said. Ger is a project that draws upon the best journalists of this country. Under democracy Mongolia enjoys a flourishing free press, with over 800 officially registered newspapers for a population of 2.4 million! Ger has chosen A. Delgermaa of the UB Post newspaper to edit this issue. The UB Post is one of two English language newspapers in Mongolia and is owned by the Mongol News Company, a publisher of five newspapers, including the daily Today newspaper. Ger is a project to improve the quality of journalism in Mongolia, while introducing the people of the world to Mongolian journalists and this wonderful country. We hope you enjoy this issue of Ger. Please send us your comments. 

Ger is not an official UNDP publication but a project to improve the quality of journalism. Opinions expressed in the magazine do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the United Nations Development Programme. Articles may be freely reproduced so long as credit is given and the editors are notified. Ger is published in English and Mongolian. 

Contributors

Ms. A Delgermaa: A reporter with the UB Post English weekly newspaper, which enjoys a good reputation among readers. Delgermaa is a young journalist and started her career in 1997, after graduating from the English Department of the Foreign Service School, Mongolian National University. She is a regular contributor to UN publications and has been published by Inter Press Service. She thinks Mongolia needs more psychologists to give courage to those many who are yearning for a better life. Like many young Mongolians she also wants to study abroad, to learn how journalism is practised in other countries.

Ms. N. Oyunbayar: Also a reporter with the UB Post newspaper, Oyunbayar, is a graduate of Ekaterinburg University in Russia, where she qualified as a Russian language teacher. She left her pupils in Sukhbaatar aimag, where she was born, some years ago and decided to undertake a personal crusade against wrongdoing by becoming a journalist for the UB Post. She is an award-winning journalist and a member of the Mongolian Free Democratic Journalists Association. She loves to cook and enjoys learning about new cuisines. 

Ms. T. Mandala: A historian and journalist, she is a reporter with the “Weekend” weekly newspaper. She has been a journalist for two years, has written several interesting interviews with politicians, including the Mongolian parliamentary speaker R. Gonchigdorj and MPs Da. Ganbold and E. Bat-Uul. She explores issues like life after death and she wants to be a public defender in a court one day. 

She is a successor of her grandfather Khodoogiin Perlee, who is a famous historian in Mongolia. And studies religion, especially Buddhism and Shamanism. 

Mr. D. Dorjjav: A psychologist and a lecturer at the Administrative Management Department of Mongolian National University, he is married and has two girls and a boy. He is currently working on his doctoral thesis. His wish is to help people to open themselves up and discover their abilities. His plan for the future is to contribute to the psychological understanding of life in Mongolia. Dorjjav’s hobby is to talk to people and exchange opinions.

G. Enkhtuya: Born in the year of the pig (there are twelve years in the lunar calendar), a professional in marketing, trading, journalism, she is currently studying law in the Institute of Legal Studies, Mongolian National University. She is also a reporter for Odriin Sonin independent daily newspaper, once the largest state-owned newspaper until the start of 1999. She likes to cook when she is liberated from her official duties.

Jill Lawless: An Honourary Foreign Member of the Mongolian Free Democratic Journalists Association, Jill has been the editor of the UB Post newspaper since 1997. Jill regularly contributes to Agence France-Presse, Far Eastern Economic Review, Deutsche Welle and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. She is happiest riding camels in the Gobi desert. 

Michael Kohn: Michael is the editor of the Mongol Messenger and contributed to the first edition of Ger. He is a regular contributor to Associated Press and the Far Eastern Economic Review. Michael is an avid traveler and is an expert on hitchhiking across Mongolia.  

Ms. N. Baigalmaa: Photo journalist for Onoodor (Today) newspaper, the number one independent newspaper for three years. “Photo journalism is always interesting. I really enjoy taking action photos.” She is fed up of taking photos of static photos of people standing or sitting and has devoted her life to photo journalism. One never boring thing for her is her two sons and a girl. Sometimes she loses her sports jacket to her oldest son, now taller than her.”

Impact

The stories have been featured in many books on the country, and the magazine was recommended as a good resource by the Lonely Planet guidebook. 

This was not only the first publication of its kind in the UN, it was also a pioneering online venture and remarkable for a country lacking the advantages of wealthier countries.

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.”

Citations

A Complete Guide on Celebrations, Festivals and Holidays around the World by Sarah Whelan, Asteroid Content, 2015

Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media by Jeff Summer, Gale Group, 2001

Mongol Survey, Issue 8, The Society, 2001

Mongolian Culture and Society in the Age of Globalization by Henry G. Schwarz (editor), Center for East Asian Studies, Western Washington University, 2006

Nations in Transition: Mongolia by Jennifer L. Hanson, Infobase Publishing, 2003

Teen Life in Asia by Judith J. Slater, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004

World Press Encyclopedia: A Survey of Press Systems Worldwide, Volume 1 by Amanda C. Quick, Gale Group, 2003

Some of the team behind Ger:

Editor-in-Chief: David South

Logo Design: P. Davaa-Ochir

Layout and Online: B. Bayasgalan

Contributors: A. DelgermaaMichael KohnJill LawlessPeter Marsh, and N. Oyuntungalag.

Read the Wikipedia entry here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ger_magazine

Read the full content by searching the www.archive.org wayback machine via the http://www.un-mongolia.mn website: https://web.archive.org/web/19990420090143/http://www.un-mongolia.mn/

Ger Magazine contributor Jill Lawless’ book Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia here: https://wildeasttravelsinthenewmongolia.wordpress.com

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

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

© David South Consulting 2021

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Mongolia Update – Coverage Of 1998 Political Changes | 1999

Editor and Writer: David South

Researcher: G. Enkhtungalug

Publisher: UNDP Mongolia Communications Office

Published: February 1999

Background: Mongolia Update – Coverage of 1998 Political Changes was a one-off special edition of Mongolia Update to help explain a politically turbulent year where three governments and three prime ministers came and went. At the time, Mongolia was in the grips 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. The success of the peaceful transition stands in stark contrast to many other international interventions post-2001. 

Mongolia Outlook 2012: World’s Fastest Growing Economy (Publisher: Eurasia Capital), 31 January 2012.

This is an unofficial publication of UNDP. Views presented in this document do not necessarily reflect those of UNDP. Mongolia Update is provided as a service to those who are interested in the rapid changes taking place in today’s Mongolia. A note about Mongolia Update: The Mongolia Update has proven to be one of the more popular documents produced by the UNDP Mongolia office. Since the autumn of 1997 UNDP has been able to offer two more frequently updated sources of information: the UNDP homepage and our monthly newsletter, the Blue Sky Bulletin (available from our office if you are not already receiving it). Please use the United Nations Homepage at http://www.un-mongolia.mn to keep abreast of the latest political, economic and social developments in Mongolia. Mongolia Update is an unofficial document of UNDP and is designed to periodically keep our partners outside of Ulaanbaatar apprised of issues in the country. 

A year of political divisionsWho is who in the cabinet
A government of technocrats

Background — a year of political divisions

Divisions in the ruling Democratic Coalition Government in 1998 led to the fall and rise of three governments and three prime ministers. From the beginning of 1998 cracks within the Coalition intensified. A number of Democrats were dissatisfied with the system whereby the Prime Minister and the Cabinet were not parliamentarians, but “experts” appointed from outside and perceived to be aloof from Parliament. On January 15, 1998, after several weeks of wrangling Parliament ruled that under the Mongolian constitution MPs could serve as Cabinet ministers. It was to prove a fateful decision for the year-and-a-half old M. Enkhsaikhan Government.

A faction within the Coalition Government became more vociferous, with its complaints that the Democrat’s election promises would not be fulfilled without better coordination between the Government and the Parliament. Things came to a head when the General Council of the Mongolian National Democratic Party (MNDP) called for the resignation of its own Government. The move was led by the 35-year-old Speaker of the Parliament and MNDP caucus leader Ts. Elbegdorj – a natural Prime Minister in a Government of MPs. After a joint meeting of the ruling councils of the Mongolian Social Democratic Party (MSDP) and the MNDP, Prime Minister Enkhsaikhan handed in his resignation to Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) President Bagabandi. The new Prime Minister, Ts. Elbegdorj, was sworn into office on April 23, vowing to chart the same economic course as his predecessor. While trying to form his Cabinet, Elbegdorj quickly ran into trouble.

The opposition MPRP was emboldened, exploiting the fissures in the Democratic Coalition. They started to launch attacks against the new Government. Elbegdorj’s attempts at forming a Cabinet were delayed as one candidate after another was rejected.

The Cabinet was not composed until May 28, when 28-year-old CH. Saikhanbileg became Education Minister – the fifth nominee put forward for the post. The new Government faced an opposition boycott of Parliament by the beginning of June, in the wake of the merging of a state bank with a private bank amidst charges of conflict of interest. On July 25 Ts. Elbegdorj and his entire Cabinet resigned after losing a no-confidence vote in Parliament. The Elbegdorj cabinet continued to work as an acting Government. The murder of prominent democrat and minister of infrastructure S. Zorig shocked the nation October 2. Poised to become a candidate for Prime Minister, Zorig was axed to death in his apartment by two assailants. The crime remains unsolved and grabbed international headlines in what had been seen as the most peaceful country making the transition from communism to democracy. In November the Constitutional Court ruled MPs holding Cabinet posts as unconstitutional. This effectively reversed the aforementioned Parliament decision of January 15, 1998. Throughout the year opinion polls showed a growing weariness and disillusionment creeping into the body politic over the political indecision.

By December a compromise Prime Minister was found, in the form of the mayor of the capital city, Ulaanbaatar. On December 9 Prime Minister Narantsatsralt took office. As 1998 turned into 1999, Narantsatralt was still trying to have his Cabinet approved by both the Parliament and the President.

External economic turmoil started to have its affect on Mongolia in 1998. Many thought the country could ride out the Asian crisis unscathed, but Prime Minister Ts. Elbegdorj admitted in June it was unavoidable. Copper prices, Mongolia’s largest foreign currency earner continued to plummet to record lows. Prices for cashmere and gold, major exports for Mongolia, also declined. The picture for the domestic economy had some bright spots in 1998, with inflation under control and an expansion in the informal service sectors. The Government’s Green Revolution campaign was able to significantly boost the production of vegetables by encouraging home gardening. The economy was still supported by foreign aid, which totaled US $205 million in commitments for the year.

Instability in Russia has also had an impact on Mongolia. For example, in May Russian coal miners blocked the Trans-Siberian train that passes through the capital Ulaanbaatar on its way to China. In August a severe benzene shortage prompted the reintroduction of rationing. At its worst all gas supplies for the country were pulled back to the capital, leaving many stranded and unable to drive cars and run gas-powered electricity generators. The delays were due to job actions by Russian workers. Russia accounts for 30 per cent of Mongolia’s imports and 13.5 per cent of its exports. On the plus side, foodstuffs from Russia became cheaper with the decline of the rouble.

Who is who in the Cabinet

Prime Minister R.Amarjargal, 38 year old Moscow educated economist. He graduated from Economic Institute of Moscow as an economist and a teacher in 1982 and  earned a master’s degree at Bradford University in 1994-1995. 

1982-1983, he was an instructor in Mongolian Trade Union, 1983-1990, he worked as a teacher in Military Institute, 1991-1996 has served as Director of the Economics College. He was a popular Foreign Relations Minister before resigning with the entire cabinet on July 24, 1998. A member of MNDP, he speaks fluent Russian and English.

Finance Minister Yansangiin Ochirsukh. Born in Ulaanbaatar, economist Ochirsukh graduated from the Mongolian National University and did postgraduate work at Columbia University in the United States. He worked as a lecturer and researcher at the University before moving to the Mongol Bank, where since 1997 he has been in charge of foreign exchange and reserve policy. A member of the Mongolian Social Democratic Party, he speaks Russian, English and Chinese.

Minister of External Relations Nyamosoriin Tuya, 40, was born in 1958 in Ulaanbaatar. Studied in the Institute of External Relations in Moscow, Russia in international journalism. From 1984 to1985 she studied French culture and civilisation at the Sorbon University and did a Masters degree on the ” Theory of Democracy” at Leeds University, England. Ms.Tuya speaks English and French. Married with two sons and a girl, she worked as editor of the foreign programming service of Mongolian Radio. After 1996, she was working as Head of the Department for Common Policy at the Ministry of External Relations.

Minister of Environment Sonomtserengiin Mendsaikhan, 39, was born in Ulaanbaatar, and completed degrees at the Mongolian State University and the State University of Irkutsk, Russia in mathematics. S.Mendsaikhan speaks German and Russian. Married, he has a daughter. Started his career as a math teacher at an Ulaanbaatar school, he also worked as a lecturer at the Mongolian State University and later become general secretary of the Social-Democratic Party. From 1992 to1993 he worked as a manager in the Unuudur (Today) private newspaper. From1993 to 1997 he worked as a private company director, and in 1997 he was assigned as advisor to the Parliament’s Speaker.

Minister of Defence Sh.Tuvdendorj, 32, graduated from the Army Academy of Mongolia and the Otgontenger Language School. He worked as an army officer, technician and laboratory engineer at the State Telecommunications Utilisation Committee. He started a political career in 1994, working as secretary in charge of local affairs. In 1997, he was elected as general secretary of the Mongolian National Revolutionary party.

Minister of Agriculture Choinzongiin Sodnomtseren, 46, was born in Ulaanbaatar and is married with three children.After attending Mongolian State Agricultural University, he acquired a Ph.D. in Saint Petersburg, Russia. He also has a Ph.D. degree in veterinarian sciences.

While spending many years of his career on research studies, he worked as a lecturer at the State agricultural University. Sodnomtseren became later Principal and Rector of the State Agricultural University.

Minister of Health and Social Welfare Sodoviin Sonin. Born in Ulaanbaatar in 1956, S.Sonin graduated from the Medical University of Irkutsk and Mongolia’s State Administration and Management Development Institute. A doctor and professor of medicine, he has taught surgery at the Mongolian Medical University, worked at the Central Clinical Hospital and served as a department chair at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. Since 1991 he has headed the Asian Development Bank-backed Health Sector Development project. Sonin, who speaks Russian and English, does not belong to any political party.

Minister of Infrastructure, Gavaagiin Bathuu, 39, born in Hujirt county of Uvurhangai province. Married with two sons and a daughter, he graduated from the Economics Institute of Harikof, Russia as an auto engineer and economist. He speaks Russian and English. He started his career as a repairman and dispatcher at the state auto-engineering company.From 1986 to 1992, he worked at the Ministry of Infrastructure as an officer and senior officer and from 1992 to 1996 he worked as Director of Shunklai Company. Since1996 he was working as a head of the Department for Road and Transportation at the Ministry of Infrastructure.

Minister of Justice, Logiin Tsog, 47, was born in Ulaanbaatar. He graduated from the State University in Irkutsk, and from the Social Science Academy in Russia. A lawyer with high education in politics, he speaks Russian and English. He worked as the prosecutor for the department at the Ministry of Justice. From 1988 to 1989, he worked as inspector at the Mongolian Revolutionary Party’s Inspection Committee. From 1990 to 1991, he was assigned as the Head of the Standing Committee of the State Baga Hural (parliament of that time) on legal issues. From 1991 to 1996 he was general director of the “Golden Button” Co. Ltd and in 1996 he was elected as general secretary

Minister of Enlightenment A.Battur was born in 1965 in Hovd aimag. Battur is a career diplomat who graduated from Russia’s Institute for International Affairs and completed a postgraduate course at France’s Institute for International Affairs. He worked as an attaché in the Foreign Ministry between 1989 and 1992, and spent 1992 to 1996 as the cultural attaché at the Mongolian Embassy in France-where he also worked with UNESCO- before returning to senior administrative positions at the Ministry in 1996.

A member of the Mongolian National Democratic Party, he speaks English, French and Russian and is married with two children.

A government of technocrats

By January 15, 1999 Mongolia had its first complete Government in six months. All nine members of the Mongolian Cabinet have been approved and appointed. Like Prime Minister Narantsatsralt, they are not Members of Parliament. Since all nine Cabinet Ministers were chosen for their experience, many expect a more stable course to be charted for the remainder of the Democratic Coalition’s term in office (until 2000). However, the new Government might experience the same sort of complaints the Enkhsaikhan Government received, when Parliament accused those ministers of being aloof. It is also unclear if the MPRP will continue to offer a vigorous opposition. For the time being its seems the political forces have exhausted themselves and there is a genuine desire for stability in 1999. The new Government is expected to follow the same reform directions of the two previous Democratic Coalition Governments and details will emerge over the coming weeks.

Further explore this turbulent period in Mongolia’s history here: Wild East 17 Years Later | 2000 – 2017

UN Mongolia Annual Report 1998
The UNDP Mongolia Communications Office oversaw a busy online and offline publishing programme from 1997 to 1999.

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

© David South Consulting 2018

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A Steppe Back?: Economic Liberalisation And Poverty Reduction In Mongolia

Paper delivered to the School of Politics and Government, Birkbeck College, University of London, London, UK, 2000

“… the neo-liberal claim that transition is most successful in situations where state organs wither away is highly problematic. The state, it seems, is required as a fundamental regulatory formation in transition (Pickles and Smith 1998: 15).”

By David South

This paper will explore the profound weaknesses of economic liberalisation as a tool of poverty reduction in the developing world. I have chosen to explore the experience of the Northeast Asian nation of Mongolia; a country sandwiched between Russia and China which has been held up as an example of how economic liberalisation policies and strong personal freedoms can help a country make the transition from a command-based Communist country to free markets and democracy (UNDP Mongolia: The Guide 1997-1999). I argue that the slate of policies that constitute economic liberalisation (or “shock therapy”) in the 1990s – privatisation, price liberalisation and a free-floating currency – are, by themselves, poor mechanisms for the alleviation of poverty; that in fact they increase poverty rates and leave a legacy of weak institutions that are either unwilling to or incabable of helping the poor. The author will also draw on firsthand evidence gained while working in the United Nations mission in Mongolia for two years.

Economic liberalisation policies have been inhibited from alleviating poverty by the cultural legacy of Mongolia’s economic development, which has de-emphasised private property and a money-based economy and placed a high emphasis on wealth being held in herds of animals and goods exchanged by barter.

Mongolia, with its relative isolation and small population of 2.4 million (Human Development Report Mongolia 2000: 55), has been seen as a self-contained petri dish by economic liberalisers hoping to incubate a robust transition to free markets and democracy that can serve as an example to other post-Communist states.

Mongolia’s journey towards neo-liberal ideas is unique. Unlike many other developing nations, Mongolia’s lively democratic movement that emerged at the end of the 1980s actively sought out these policies, and has enjoyed strong and widespread public support for them (though this has ebbed and flowed with the economic fortunes of the country). The 1996 election was fought and won by the Democratic Coalition based on these policies; the Coalition won 50 of the 76 seats in Mongolia’s parliament, and voter turnout was more than 90 per cent (Far Eastern Economic Review 1997: March 27). Thus, this is not a case of international institutions forcing upon a country policies against its wishes: the door was opened and the economic liberalisers were effectively invited in for a big bowl of fermented mare’s milk.

However, it is also a country in which economic liberalisation has failed to deliver anticipated reductions in poverty for the majority of the population, and a strong case exists that it has made things worse.

As the Human Development Report Mongolia 2000 states:

In recent years however, the predominant vision has been neo-liberal. Backed by some international donors, reformers have argued that the best thing the state can do is to largely withdraw from the economy – by rapidly privatising state enterprises, and dismantling as many regulations and controls as possible, and allowing market forces to determine the production and allocation of goods and services. (Human Development Report Mongolia 2000: 13)

Liberalisation policies in Mongolia: A potted history

With the fall of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s, Mongolia woke up to find itself without its financial benefactor for most of the 20th century, Russia, and in the grip of a severe economic decline (Rossabi 2000: 9).

But a new “big brother” was at hand. In 1991, economic liberaliser Jeffrey Sachs arrived in Mongolia (Fortune 1998: December 7). The arrival of Sachs and his ideas were to have a profound impact on the lives of Mongolians. He gathered a group of well-educated Mongolian economists to test economic liberalisation theories.

Smith and Swain neatly summerise the source of economic ideas for the transition states:

The roles played by Francis Fukuyama (1992), formerly of the US State Department, and Jeffrey Sachs (1990), as policy adviser … translated this agenda into the all too familiar programme of so-called ‘shock therapy’. Shock therapy has been based on the view that capitalism could be … imposed by fiat and that the unleashing of the power of capital will inevitably allow the institutions, regulations, habits and practices associated with the ‘normal’ functioning of a capitalist market economy to emerge (Smith and Swain 1998)

The economic liberalisation project in Mongolia can be split into two distinct phases. The first more tentative phase under the Communist government extended from 1990 to 1992 and included privatisation of some state firms, the issuing of stock-market vouchers to most of the population and a failed attempt to enter the foreign currency markets (as a result of which 80 per cent of the country’s reserves were lost). This phase coincided with a new constitution, democratic elections and significant improvements in personal freedoms.

The economic liberalisation project encountered serious difficulties from the start, and when all aid and subsidies from the Soviet Union were removed, the economy collapsed, with inflation spiralling to 320 per cent (Human Development Report Mongolia 2000: 13). Pro-economic liberalisation factions in the Communist government lost influence and the reforms stalled from 1992 until 1996, when they were re-started with a vengeance with the election of the Democratic Coalition. The Coalition was assembled from a hitherto fragmented opposition by the Washington-based International Republican Institute and mimicked the policies of the American Republican Party, including distributing a Newt Gingrich-style “Contract with the Mongolian Voter.”

The second phase of reforms, under Democratic Coalition Prime Minister M. Enkhsaikhan, was launched with the removal of price controls on fuel and electricity, increasing prices by 50 per cent (Rossabi 2000: 11). This phase of economic liberalisation also ran into difficulties, but its most successful policy achievements have been the privatisation of public housing, the removal of trade tariffs and the reining in of inflation.

Poverty and economic liberalisation

Prior to the introduction of economic liberalisation, there was no extreme poverty in Mongolia, though it is difficult to gauge relative poverty since this information was not gathered. Rossabi notes, however, an extensive public welfare system was spread throughout the country:

The Mongol economy required substantial subsidies from the Soviet Union. This command economy produced inefficient industries, few consumer goods, and scant increases in the size of the Mongol herds. The one-party system limited dissent and contributed to human rights abuses. On the other hand, the government provided extensive medical, educational, and welfare benefits to the young, women, the elderly, and indeed much of society. A growth in population, a longer life span, and high rate of literacy were byproducts of such state policies. (Rossabi 2000: 6)

All research data has shown an increase in poverty levels for a large portion of the population after 1990. Estimates vary wildly, but the United Nations Development Programme reports that 38.4 per cent of urban dwellers – and 32.6 per cent of rural residents – were poor in 1998 (Human Development Report Mongolia 2000: 23). School attendance is down, regional disparities have become more extreme, with the capital experiencing a boom fuelled by international aid (this totalled US $180 million in 1998 (Mongolia Update 1999: 27) and an expanding service sector. Provincial towns and smaller communities have seen local state-run businesses collapse, communications weaken, and a leaching of the population, either to the countryside to herd animals or to the capital to seek work.

To cite one graphic anecdotal example of the process, a consulant for the Asian Development Bank told a 1998 donor agencies meeting of the irony of going into former factory towns, and telling the well-educated residents to turn to small crafts and itinerant vegetable growing rather than restarting the existing factory.

Mongolia’s transition: theoretical dilemmas

As Pickles and Smith note in their work of political economy Theorising Transition: the Political Economy of Post-Communist Transformations, it is a profound mistake to ignore the distinctive evolution of each of the former Communist states. Mongolia’s attempts at transition to a market economy have been deeply marked by its cultural legacy, in spite of attempts to transcend this. While Ohmae may assert that “This movement up the ladder of development has nothing to do with culture and everything to do with the region’s ability to put the right policies, institutions, and infrastructure in place at the right time (Ohmae 1994: 21),” culture is crucial. It is simplistic to depend on a “stock set of policies to enable the supposed transition to capitalism at the end of the twentieth century to be achieved (Pickles and Smith 1998: 10).”

As Pickles and Smith add about post-Communist Eastern Europe:

Treating post-communist Eastern Europe as a whole fails to recognise the ever-present diversity of some 27 states and 270 million people. Even at the end of the nineteenth century, such political-economic diversity was central to what was unfolding in the region … The diversity of historical experiences was replicated under state socialism, and while we would not argue for some form of historical determination, the state socialist economy in part relied upon these spatial divisions of labour and forms of social organization and institutionalised practices, albeit that large-scale attempts at forced industrialisation were made to eradicate the legacies of ‘peasant societies’ and uneven capitalist development. (Pickles and Smith 1998: 12)

Historically, Mongolia had never experienced capitalism, even in its most basic and embryonic form. Prior to the 1921 revolution which made Mongolia the world’s second Communist country, the vast majority of its citizens were divided between two occupations: nomadic herding, and the herding of souls as Buddhist monks. There was a small trading community, including a tiny community of Jewish traders – a legacy of the long-gone silk route that once plied its way through the Mongol Empire. But modern, urban, industrial capitalism as was present at this time in Europe was nonexistent in Mongolia. Concepts of capitalism, market economics and private property were introduced anew after 1990.

Urbanisation, modernisation and industrialisation were wholly communist concepts in Mongolia prior to 1990. The traditional nomadic way of life measures wealth in terms of the size of the herd and places a high value on the ability to roam unencumbered by private property divisions and the ability to trade animals for other goods (though these needs are simple since a nomadic herder can only carry around a limited quantity of possessions).

Economic liberalisation policies have, ironically, only exacerbated this trend, driving more of the economy into barter relations and actually pushing a portion of the population out of urban areas and into subsistance herding in order to survive (Partnership for Progress 1998: 2-3).

Mongolia also offers some anomalies to theories of economic and democratic liberalisation. Lewis contends that democracy gives a nation a distinct economic advantage. “Average wealth, the degree of industrialisation and urbanisation and level of education are perceived to be much higher for countries which are democratic, education being of particular importance in this respect (Lewis: 1997).”

Yet as Fortune magazine noted, “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 1998: December 7).”

The role of the state

Broad, Cavanagh and Bello see a strong argument for clear state direction in underdeveloped economies in the beginning stages, before allowing market mechanisms to dominate:

The South Korean economy’s resumption of growth after a brief period of stagnation at the onset of the 1980s and Eastern Europe’s slowdown after rapid growth in the 1960s confirm a more complex truth than the purveyed by free-market ideologues. Communist economies may propel societies through the first stages of development, but further growth into a more sophisticated economy necessitates a greater role for market mechanisms. (Broad/Bello/Cavanagh 2000: 392)

Strong state direction in economic development has been abandoned in Mongolia (it remains to be seen whether the re-election of the former Communist party in the summer of 2000 will alter this), and it can be argued that the over-dependence on market mechanisms has been premature.

In fact, “the neo-liberal claim that transition is most successful in situations where state organs wither away is highly problematic. The state, it seems, is required as a fundamental regulatory formation in transition (Pickles and Smith 1998: 15).”

The absence of this regulation in Mongolia means that where once economic transactions were transparent, they have now gone underground. The example of cashmere exports (one of the country’s major foreign-currency earners) is particularly interesting. In 1998 the Mongolian government, faced with ever-dwindling tax revenues, introduced a tax on cashmere exports, ostensibly to protect the domestic cashmere-manufacturing industry. Whatever the true intention, the result was catastrophic for government revenues. Recorded exports fell by more than 98 per cent, to US $306,000 in 1998 from US $16 million in 1997 (Far Eastern Economic Review: 1999). The trade went underground and a handful of customs officials could not make a dent in a border as vast as Mongolia’s. It is a graphic example of how weak the central government had become, unable to raise revenues when necessary.

Economic liberalisation also tends to pull economic activity into the capital, as has been witnessed across the transition states. Centrifugal forces leave great swathes of poverty in rural areas and drain marginal urban centres of their skilled workers (Pickles and Smith 1998: 17). Mongolia is no exception to this pattern (Rossabi 2000: 10).

Forces outside the market

After investigating the role economic liberalisers in non-communist developing nations, Robert Bates found that market-oriented economists routinely overlook the role politics and political power plays in wealth distribution:

One reason that market-oriented economists tend to deny the centrality of politics to the development process is that they tend to discount problems of distribution. Those who adhere to the efficiency-and-growth position counter that if development produces a maldistribution of income, those who are losers in the short run could become winners in the longer run … From this viewpoint, governments are not just irrelevant to the development process, the actually impede it. (Bates 1988: 239-240)

There is scant contemporary research into the role of clan or family elites in modern Mongolia, but Rossabi, a Mongolia historian, believes they wield significant influence to this day, and have glided from communism to capitalism with ease (Rossabi 2000: 12). He asks, “Has there been sufficient turnover in the political elite, or does it represent the same consitutency as in the past? Has it expanded sufficiently to make itself more broadly representative of the Mongol population, including the herders and the countryside in general?”

In search of a purpose

Mongolia today is undergoing a basic economic dilemma familiar to Ricardo. It is at once transforming political and economic relations while also exploring what advantages it has to offer to the world markets, that old chestnut of absolute and comparative advantage. To date, its absolute advantage has been to be the source of raw materials, the two key foreign currency earners being copper and cashmere wool (Human Development Report Mongolia 2000: 30).

Its large herds of animals (some 34 million) are under-utilised as foreign-currency earners, and for the most part provide food for domestic consumption. One of the main reasons for this has been the rudimentary livestock techniques that exclude these vast meat and dairy resources from foreign markets (while the herds are raised without any use of chemicals, there is no quality control – a service once provided by the state before 1990). The distortions to the economy caused by these policies are highlighted in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 1985, agriculture accounted for 14.3 per cent of GDP, and industry was 31.8 per cent. By 1998, agriculture (now mostly nomadic herding) accounted for 32.8 per cent of GDP and industry shrank to 24.1 per cent (Human Development Report Mongolia 2000: 56). The economy had contracted and was more focused on meeting basic domestic food needs.

Mongolia has a number of strengths it can draw on, however, with its impressive steps at building democracy and personal freedom chief among them. Lewis categorises former communist states into two groups, with group two taking an undemocratic route. Mongolia would rank in group one, since these countries have: “relatively rapidly established a reasonably viable constitutional order and multiparty system, having held free elections, seen unequivocal changes of government and generally established civil liberties (Lewis: 1997).”

The economic model used by the Democratic Coalition was the United States; Mongolia’s new leaders, dismissed other Asian nations – with their stoic, thrifty populations taking direction from the state – as poor examples for Mongolia. Like the US, Mongolia’s nomadic heritage values freedom and individual effort over the state, assert government advisers such as Tserenpuntsag Batbold, an economic adviser to the Mongolian prime minister’s office.

Batbold is sanguine about finding a purpose for the country’s economy: “I’m always thinking about this, but I can’t give you an answer. This is exactly why we have to create a nondistortive economic environment, one which will show us the true comparative advantages of this nation (Asian Wall Street Journal 1997: May 27).”

Yet the process has been a difficult one. At a June 1998 international investors’ conference in Ulaanbaatar, the World Bank variously called Mongolia the “gateway to Russia”, the “gateway to China”, and the “gateway to Central Asia” (UB Post: 1998), giving the impression that both the global institutions and the Mongolian government would try anything in a desperate search for a purpose for the country’s economy. In fact, efforts in the 1990s to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) have not been fruitful. In 1999, FDI stood at US $70 million; it was US $200 million for all of the 1990s (Human Development Report Mongolia 2000). The belief that foreign private companies would pay for the country’s infrastructure improvements has run up against a wall: most foreign companies find it hard to see the benefits in investing in a country that only has a market of 2.4 million people and very high start-up costs.

By 1998, even Sachs was striking a pessimistic note. He told Fortune magazine he disagreed with the pace of reforms and insisted infrastructure improvements – more roads, improved livestock breeding, investment in information technology – were the only things that would improve the country’s economy (Fortune 1998: December 7).

Conclusion

Political power in Mongolia has switched from the hegemonic control of the Communist Party (and its overlords in Moscow) to be dispersed amongst a plethora of actors, including international aid organizations. Economic liberalisation has destroyed the state’s ability to guarantee a minimum standard of living. However, it has also expanded the number of small businesses in the country, and the GNP generated from the private sector has grown from 10 per cent of the total in 1990 to 64 per cent in 1999 (Human Development Report Mongolia 2000: 31). In spite of this, poverty rates remain stubbornly high, undermining assertions that free markets alone will generate wealth for the disadvantaged.

Unfortunately, Mongolia has significantly misdiagnosed the origins of prosperity in its current role model, the United States. Economic liberalisation policies cling to simplistic notions of the evolution of capitalist markets in the US, ignoring the complex relationship between state-funded or regulated infrastructure development and economic growth. Post-communist countries have been ill-advised on what policies will actually reduce poverty rates. These societies do not fit into conventional ideas of underdevelopment; on the whole their populations are highly literate and skilled. While products produced by these countries may not be able to compete head-on with more technologically sophisticated equivalents in Western markets, there is little evidence that wholesale destruction of these industries will spurn economic growth and reduce poverty.

Pax Chaotica: A Re-evaluation of Post-WWII Economic and Political Order

In The Interests Of The Exploited?: The Role Of Development Pressure Groups In The UK

The Sweet Smell Of Failure: The World Bank And The Persistence Of Poverty

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

© David South Consulting 2017