The Coming of a Digital Economy in Mongolia

I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the front cover of the New York Times last year with the story of a Mongolian boy, titled “boy genius of Ulan Bator,” in the September 13th, 2013 issue. At age 13, he had built a sensor system to keep his sister out of harm’s way from cars in Mongolia, and at age 15 he received a perfect score on an online MIT class (MOOC) that was offered to 150,000 students globally.

As I got to know him during his studies in the past year at MIT, I came to realize that if we can as a country, support young children through technology promotion and innovation, we may very well be able to expand from our dependence on the mining sector and natural resources, and begin to diversify into human resources and services. The potential of the children in Mongolia looks bright but the environment for them to succeed must exist.

During business school, I began to learn more about the tech sector in the US and emerging markets. However, this is not about what I learned, but what I have seen that has inspired me to think of ways to help my country. During my time in Boston, I attended an event at a non-profit organization called “Mass Challenge”. The offices I walked into were basically open spaces in a warehouse, consisting of an assortment of long tables, desks, and workspaces. Their aim there is simple: Create a competition for start-up companies, choose the most promising ones, and provide the resources for them to reach the next level in their endeavors. By providing offices, communal space and advisory services, the best companies will be positioned to become very successful. Emerging markets across the globe such as parts of Africa have already solved some of their socioeconomic problems through technological innovation, as a Wall Street Journal article highlighted the benefit and future potential of local start-ups solving local issues such as power outages. With this in mind, I feel that Mongolia would greatly benefit from the creation of a tech incubator, and I hope to take part in this initiative. Given the early stage of our technology sector, there may be challenges, but with the support of the community, I believe that we can accomplish it.

When one thinks of the digital age in Mongolia, it may be taken with a bit of a surprise given that we come from a nomadic background and still considered a frontier market. Currently, the GDP of Mongolia stands at around 10 billion dollars. To put this in perspective, over the past few years tech companies such as Uber, Whatsapp, Dropbox and Palantir have all received valuations of more than 10 billion dollars each. With this in mind, if just one Mongolian child can create a start-up company that ultimately succeeds, he or she may just be able to double the GDP of the entire country. It’s a difficult task to ask, but by starting somewhere, we can start getting the attention of people who can help. In the last few years, Mongolia has become a tourist destination for its beautiful nature, transcending culture and nomadic heritage. While some of the world’s foremost engineers, founders, and academics come to Mongolia, giving them an insight into the tech potential may lead to partnerships in the future. So I hope as we look forward to the future and think of ways to diversify the economy, the idea of locally created technology helping the local economy should not be too far fetched for any country including Mongolia.

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