Mongolia offers vast opportunity
Mongolia’s economy is booming and Royal Roads University faculty are keen to help students and alumni become a part of it.
Members of the Royal Roads community are invited to travel together to Mongolia in September to immerse themselves in the culture. Spearheaded by professors Charles Krusekopf, Geoff Archer and Mike Thompson, the trip will engage people in the urban and rural realities of Mongolia to look at challenges and opportunities in the rapidly growing country.
“This trip is an opportunity to brainstorm and experience the culture,” Krusekopf says. “It’s a case study for the opportunity to start a longer-term effort to engage (Royal Roads students in this country).”
Krusekopf first worked in Mongolia 20 years ago as an intern in the U.S. Embassy. The country captivated him and in 2002 he founded the America Center for Mongolian Studies (ACMS) to provide international scholars a home base from which to conduct research and study in Mongolia. The non-profit organization is focused on supporting the development of Mongolia studies and academic exchanges in Inner Asia.
That connection is what appeals to Archer and Thompson. They will be travelling to Mongolia to see if there is an opportunity to expand Royal Roads’ successful Micro Business Catalyst Project, currently running in Africa, to another country. To date, 20 families have been empowered to launch small businesses in Tanzania, helping them support their families and communities.
The growth rate of the economy makes Mongolia a very appealing place to establish a micro-finance program, Archer says. Mongolia is experiencing a mining-led economic boom, with a more than 17 per cent real GDP growth rate in 2011. With that development comes environmental and social problems that the Royal Roads interdisciplinary team aims to explore for opportunities as well.
Mongolia is the least densely populated country in the world. It is governed by an open, democratic government and free market economy. There is wide spread access to the Internet and 97 per cent of the population is literate. All of that combines into an opportunity for Royal Roads students and alumni to get involved in a quickly changing world, Archer says.
“When businesses are growing at a rate like that, it would be a great thing to be a part of it going forward,” he says.
The group will spend approximately four days in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar learning about Mongolian culture, and meeting with local entrepreneurs and organizations supporting entrepreneurship. The group will then head to the countryside for three days to learn about traditional Mongolian culture. Approximately half of the population lives in rural areas in round felt tents called gers. Livestock rearing is the main industry in these areas.
“The rural areas are very beautiful open areas, but they have very little infrastructure,” Krusekopf says, noting this can be as much of a challenge as an opportunity. “The question is how do you support livelihoods in this environment?”
The group will also be able to witness the traditional Sea-buckthorn harvest. This multipurpose native plant has been proposed for uses including mine site rehabilitation and processing for export. Royal Roads Masters’ in Science Environment and Management Kristen Dale is in Mongolia this summer studying the use of the plant to remediate inactive mine sites.
Benjamin Lee, a Bachelor of Entrepreneurial Management student, is helping to organize the trip. Without the opportunity through Royal Roads he never would have thought about going to Mongolia, but after learning about the country he is eager to see it himself. The value of the opportunity both to Royal Roads and potentially for people in Mongolia is not lost on him.
“It’s life changing being able to travel to different countries and see what’s going on and take what was learned in class and truly apply it to helping people,” Lee says.
The cost is estimated at $4,000, including airfare from Victoria/Vancouver, accommodation, meals, travel and support in Mongolia. Tentative travel dates are set for Sept. 8 to 16 and the trip is limited to 15 people.