Insights and Analysis

Marking 20 Years in Mongolia

October 9, 2013

By Meloney C. Lindberg, Tirza Theunissen

This week in Ulaanbaatar, celebrations are in full swing to mark The Asia Foundation’s 20th anniversary in Mongolia. In 1993, we opened our resident office in the building that is fondly remembered as the “Log Cabin,” becoming one of the first international nongovernmental organizations to enter the country at the dawn of Mongolia’s democratic transformation.


This year, The Asia Foundation celebrates its 20th anniversary in Mongolia. It works with the Mongolian government, parliament, judiciary, civil society, and the private sector to forge partnerships to combat corruption and improve transparency. Photo/Tenzing Paljor

“We had two chairs and a desk which we shared until we could find enough furniture for a full office, which wasn’t easy in those days of scarce everything,” said Sheldon Severinghaus the Foundation’s first country representative and recipient of Order of the Polar Star in 2009, the highest state honor bestowed by the Mongolian president on foreign nationals.

In a note to Asia Foundation President David Arnold, Mongolian President Elbegdorj, who was himself an early Foundation grantee, wrote: “The Asia Foundation has played a tangible role in the success of Mongolia’s peaceful transition. It has helped Mongolia to design and conduct reforms in many sectors of our society.”

The Foundation’s initial programming focused on forging strong relationships with individuals and nascent organizations, and supporting them in establishing the building blocks of a democratic Mongolia, including in drafting the 1992 Constitution. Our early programming sought to create opportunities and provide exposure for Mongolians to different approaches, models, and institutional arrangements in the U.S. and throughout Asia on topics such as the rule of law, judicial and parliamentary reform, independent media, civil society, and human rights.

Log Cabin

In 1993, The Asia Foundation opened its first resident office in Mongolia in this building, which is fondly remembered as the “Log Cabin.”

Over the years, we have worked with many innovative leaders in different fields, and as part of our preparations for the 20th anniversary we conducted a series of interviews with 20 Mongolian leaders, which we’ve published in a new book, available on The Asia Foundation’s website. Many of the leaders are former grantees of the Foundation who now occupy influential positions in Mongolian society. The support they received from the Foundation in the formative stages of Mongolia’s transition to a democracy and market economy was for many a life-changing experience. As one leader, who was selected by The Asia Foundation to go to the U.S to study the American legal system, recalls: “I learned many things, and the knowledge, the information, the contacts have been useful throughout my lifetime. It was a very crucial moment in my life.”

We also just released a second anniversary publication and slideshow that document our current work with government and non-government partners on programs promoting and bolstering transparent, accountable, and participatory governance at the national and sub-national level; urban services improvement; environmental protection and responsible resource use; civic engagement; women’s empowerment; regional cooperation; and educational through programs such as Books for Asia and the Merali Scholarship program.

We kicked off our 20th anniversary celebrations on Monday with a roundtable discussion organized by the National Committee on Gender Equality with more than 20 women’s organizations to share recollections on the start and development of the women’s movement in Mongolia with the support of The Asia Foundation and how the Foundation can continue to partner with women’s organizations going forward. The event was followed on Tuesday by a Citizen’s Hall, co-hosted with the Office of the President, which brought together national and local government actors, civil society stakeholders, and local citizens from the pilot areas where we are working to promote civic engagement. The participants discussed the first year of implementation of the Integrated Budget Law and shared their experiences to increase citizen participation at the local level. On Wednesday, together with the Ministry of Environment and Green Development, we hosted a discussion on smart consumption, one of the most critical issues facing Mongolia today, involving  ways consumers can foster green and sustainable development in Mongolia by the choices they make in what to buy, or not. Also on Wednesday, the American Center for Mongolian Studies (ACMS) launched a new partnership with the Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia program under which ACMS will manage book distribution and connect to its librarian training program.

On Thursday, the Foundation will unveil an exhibition entitled, “What do good governance and transparency look like?” Organized by the local non-profit, Young Women for Change, and funded by USAID, the exhibition showcases works from of young amateur photographers that capture the efforts being undertaken to promote good governance in Mongolia.

On Friday, our Mongolia office will be joined by the Foundation’s executive vice president, Suzanne Siskel, to host a reception at the Ulaanbaatar hotel to thank our many partners with whom we have worked closely over the last 20 years, and without whom Mongolia would not be the democracy success story that it is today.

Meloney C. Lindberg and Tirza Theunissen are The Asia Foundation’s country representative and deputy country representative in Mongolia. They can be contacted at [email protected] and [email protected] respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and not necessarily those of The Asia Foundation.

1 Comment

  1. Yes, TAF did a tremendous job for Mongolia.

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