Notes from the Field

Books for Mongolia

May 20, 2009

The story of Bat-Erdene, who lives in remote eastern Mongolia, chronicles the impact that the Books for Asia program has made here. Growing up in the late 1990’s, Bat-Erdene was thirsty for knowledge and information about the world around him. The books that were distributed through The Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia program were among the scarce English language resources he had access to through his school.  With the support of these resources, Bat-Erdene learned English, earned his graduate degree in Ulaanbaatar, and went on to become elected as a local governor. Today, he runs the branch office of a nation-wide youth initiative. 

Books for Asia – known here, among Mongolians, simply as “the books program”—is The Asia Foundation’s longest running program in Mongolia. Since 1993, Books for Asia has donated over 500,000 books and educational materials.  For many people, especially in rural areas, the books distributed were their first access to crucial English language resources.

While the literacy rate in Mongolia is relatively high compared with other developing nations, the education system lacks means for students.  In 2004, the Government of Mongolia declared English as the official second language of the country. In response, The Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia program has played an essential role in fulfilling demand for English language resources.

The Asia Foundation’s distribution of books in Mongolia has soared from 45,000 in 2005 to more than 100,000 in each of the past two years. The program’s impact is being felt in all 21 aimags (provinces) and 326 soums (districts) across the country.  Mongolia is a sparsely populated and vast country; 2.8 million people live on 1.5 million square kilometers of land.  Through a first-of-its-kind “mobile library,” books have been delivered to every district in Mongolia with assistance provided through an innovative public-private partnership with Khan Bank.

In addition, for maximum impact, the books program is fully integrated with other Asia Foundation projects in Mongolia. It’s a big part of  our nation-wide environmental program, and the Foundation has delivered books on science and the environment to two-dozen Regional Environmental Learning Centers with a growing list of partners, including GTZ, FAO, UNDP, and WWF.

Tugsuu is The Asia Foundation’s Program Officer in Mongolia. She can be reached at

View all posts by Tugsjargal Anand



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