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30 Stories to Celebrate 30 Years in Mongolia

November 15, 2023

By Mark Koenig, Naran Munkhbat, Namuun Otgonbaatar, and Tricia Turbold

A leading gender equality and human rights activist, Enkhjargal Davaasuren, who serves as executive director of the MONFEMNET National Network, recently sat with us and reflected on her collaboration with The Asia Foundation Mongolia over the past 30 years. She recalled the advocacy work that led to the historic Law on Combating Domestic Violence in 2004:

As a result of the passage of the Law on Combating Domestic Violence…the fight against domestic violence was legalized as a state responsibility. If this first stand-alone law had not been adopted, there would have been no next steps in legal reform and no comprehensive legal system to protect victims of domestic violence.

Enkhjargal Davaasuren, who was the legal advisor for the National Center against Violence at the time, speaks at an event advocating for the Law on Combating Domestic Violence, 1999. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

Stories like these, documenting a rich history of effective programming and collaboration in Mongolia, are again seeing the light as The Asia Foundation celebrates 30 years in Mongolia with our #30years30impacts campaign.

The Foundation opened its resident office in Ulaanbaatar in 1993, after several years of cooperation that began immediately after Mongolia’s transition to democracy in 1990. From these earliest days, as democratic Mongolia was taking shape, The Asia Foundation was a reliable partner for technical assistance, academic and cultural exchanges, research and analysis, and other contributions to help leaders in government and civil society set the country on the right course. Thirty years later, much has changed, and Mongolia, despite its challenges, has an incredible story of progress to tell.

The first Asia Foundation Mongolia office, in Ulaanbaatar, 1993. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

The Asia Foundation has also changed in 30 years. Our core mission is the same: improving lives and expanding opportunity through partnerships with a wide range of Mongolians in government, civil society, the media, local communities, and the private sector. But the Foundation has always sought to grow and improve as an organization. Recently we have been expanding our engagement with stakeholders through social media, and we’ve had a dedicated team member focus more time on how we can communicate our work more effectively. We’ve also added a full-time monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) manager to help us better understand our impact in Mongolia, collect evidence to improve program strategies, and continue to support a culture of learning.

These new strategies have helped shape our 30th anniversary celebration. Our #30years30impacts social media campaign has been telling stories of partnerships, programming, and successful outcomes. Finding, curating, and telling these stories through a series of infographics, posters, and images has combined our efforts to better understand our history with an evolving communications strategy to tell these stories in a compelling and contemporary way.

The process started with archival research, brainstorming with past and current staff, and interviews with a wide range of partners to identify key Foundation projects of the last 30 years. Then we painstakingly winnowed, from a short-list of 46 possible stories, 30 that our team thought best captured our work. Finally, we gave careful thought to how best to communicate our work in a clear and simple manner that balances facts and data with the voices of our trusted partners, collaborators, and beneficiaries.

The campaign has highlighted the wide-ranging positive impacts that our programming has had in Mongolia. For example, Ganbat Tserendolgor recalled how a waste-management project drastically improved garbage collection in his district and the lives of the surrounding community:

When our garbage was not collected for months, people had no choice but to burn it or dump it at a nearby site, which contributed to the growing size of these nearby dump sites. Now the garbage is collected regularly and on time for our khoroo, and it is easy for us to plan to take the garbage out to the street for collection dates.

Khaliun Ganzorig, a participant in our continuing Let’s Read project, recounted how attending a reading workshop exposed her to the benefits of reading to children. The experience inspired her to become a community reader, and she now regularly volunteers to read to children during storytime events at a community center in one of Ulaanbaatar’s ger districts.

As soon as I saw the application for the Community Readers program, I wanted to challenge myself to promote the importance of reading with young children. This motivation stemmed from witnessing the remarkable development of my daughters over the past two years. My daughters became more social and open to playing with children and adults at the community center.

Some of the earliest participants in the Books for Asia Program in Mongolia, 1996. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

More recent participants at a storytime in Ulaanbaatar for our Let’s Read project, which is an evolution of our Books for Asia Program, May 2023. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

This effort to understand and communicate our own history has proven to be a remarkably effective way for our current staff of more than 40—quite a few of whom were not yet born when the Mongolia office opened—to consider what makes us effective, to sharpen our future work, and to build the pride and motivation to continue contributing to Mongolia’s development. The stories reinforce the effectiveness of our approach, which has always emphasized working with a range of partners to solve complex issues. One of our partners, Undral Gombodorj, director of the Democracy Education Center NGO, shared her observations from a CSO empowerment project that promoted government transparency and accountability:

We were able to showcase that citizens and NGOs can work together to improve the transparency of government activities. The local government has started trusting NGOs, which has enabled close cooperation. For example, relevant information on the capital city’s governing bodies has been made available to citizens, which is excellent progress.

The Asia Foundation’s first country representative in Mongolia, Sheldon Severinghaus (in necktie, center), attends a CSO capacity building training in Baganuur District, Ulaanbaatar, in 1999. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

A citizen participation program in the early 2000s. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

Our #30years30impacts campaign culminated in a celebration with more than 200 friends, colleagues, and partners. The diverse group included civil society activists and government ministers, journalists and M.P.s, entrepreneurs, and civil servants united by a common commitment to Mongolia’s development. In speeches at the event, including remarks by Speaker of Parliament G. Zandanshatar, they offered both congratulations for past accomplishments and hopes for further contributions in Mongolia. The Asia Foundation hopes to remain a welcome partner in Mongolia for many years to come, and the reflections of our #30years30impacts campaign should serve to strengthen our resolve and sharpen our strategies for the future.

Zandanshatar Gombojav, speaker of the State Great Khural (Parliament) of Mongolia, delivering the opening speech at the 30th anniversary reception. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

Country Representative Mark Koenig shaking hands with Zandanshatar Gombojav, speaker of State Great Khural (Parliament) of Mongolia, at the 30th anniversary reception. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

The Asia Foundations Khaliun Boldbaatar (right) and Enkhbayar Davaajav (center) presenting the certificate of appreciation to Ganzorig Vanchig, founder of the Down Syndrome Association Mongolia, at the 30th anniversary reception. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

The Asia Foundation Mongolia staff pose for a group photo after the 30th anniversary reception. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

Mark Koenig is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Mongolia; Naran Munkhbat is a monitoring, evaluation, and learning manager; Namuun Otgonbaatar is a senior project officer for media and civil society strengthening; and Tricia Turbold is director of people, operations, and fundraising. They can be reached at [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], and [email protected], respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, not those of The Asia Foundation.

Related locations: Mongolia


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