Stefanie: Dear Baigal, you’ve worked for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation Office (SDC) in Mongolia for several years. Why did you decide to join us, a relatively small donor organisation with a modest budget?
Baigal: Mongolia is going through challenging times, transitioning from a centrally planned country to a free market economy. It is painful to see that foreign debt is mounting. Today, it makes up a large portion of our GDP. I would have felt slightly guilty working for some organisation like the World Bank or ADB. I like the fact that the Swiss Cooperation Office provides grants for development projects. I feel privileged to be a part of our country’s development for better livelihoods for people, especially those who are the most vulnerable. I like to be part of this specific Swiss approach, building up institutional and personal capacities, which – I think – will secure their future in a more sustainable way.
Stefanie: I am very proud to have colleagues like you in our office, who identify with Swiss approaches and values. Thank you so much. Could you share with our readers what you’ve been working on for the last few years? Why is it still relevant for your country?
Baigal: I am now overseeing the Climate Change and Environment Portfolio of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation in Mongolia. However, I mainly worked in the agriculture and food security (AFS) domain up until the beginning of this year. Most projects designed, planned, and commenced in the AFS domain in the last seven years were formulated and executed by me. Also, the one and only waste project currently within SDC worldwide – as far as I know – is also within my project portfolio. I was also lucky to be overseeing the Small Actions and Culture portfolio. Through these projects, I gained so many amazing insights into my country’s cultural heritage.
Currently, our country is going through a difficult political time, as most of this beautiful country’s revenue is from mining which, unfortunately, is not being equally distributed. We would have so many different opportunities for creating an economy based on something other than mining. With a little focus and help, we can see results, such as Mongolia becoming self-sufficient in vegetable production or traditional nomadic herding embracing digital tools and embedding those tools into the recently formed governance structure. People are becoming more consciously aware of their surroundings and environment, becoming prouder of their homeland, displaying talents and abilities.
Stefanie: You are absolutely right; there are initiatives and excellent results in the agriculture sector. You have dedicated yourself to your work, and your great commitments have contributed to different and sustainable development; for example, through the Green Gold and Animal Health project, supporting herder households to be more responsible and sustainable. Actually, you have contributed to a whole system of rangeland management with amazing results. May I ask you which project was your favourite?
Baigal: First of all, I like to see tangible results, something you can touch and see. Logframes designed for me need to have numbers and percentages. Even the qualitative results should be tied to some figures; otherwise, it will feel like I’m making something up. I would never claim to be an expert in any of these fields, though. It’s important for me to see results that will ensure that people’s income, health, and attitudes will change so they will be empowered in a way that will enable them to independently sustain their livelihoods without being dependent on someone, a system, politics, handouts, or charity. The arts and small actions are just the icing on the cake, bringing happiness and joy from seeing all of this amazing talent and creativity. All of the projects I’ve worked on are my favourites. For example, through our VEGI project, you can see a kid munching on carrots grown at their kindergarten or families from the ger district displaying an array of produce from their gardens full of different vegetables. As a result of the Green Gold project, you can see a craftsman displaying his products, showing a picture of the herder who supplied the leather, identified through a QR code. Now you can see yak and camel products on the production lines of most textile companies, and milk supplied by herders. Seeing all of this provides me with job satisfaction, knowing that I was somehow a part of it all.
Stefanie: If you had the money and the power to decide what to do, what would you do with it? Where do you see the upcoming problems for the youth?
Baigal: When you’re involved in development projects, you see problems such as inconsistency in service provision. The quality of products can be good by the end of the project, when closely handheld, but the quality diminishes as soon as the project ends. You see it a lot in Mongolia; when a restaurant opens and the quality is perfect in the first few months, t but when you come back in a year’s time, it somehow slips. It’s such a pity! It feels like there’s no consistency, or – I don’t know – people lose interest in their business. If I had money, perhaps I would try to look into this problem, maybe with continuous quality assurance training, or maybe an incentive scheme to regularly encourage those who maintain their quality. For youth, I see the same thing might be a problem. If it continues in a similar way, it will be difficult in the long run; they will lose too much time before they’re successful in another area of business. It would be nice if the importance of keeping quality consistent was understood by all youth as early as possible. If employers provided this training to all newcomers at the beginning of any young employee’s career, it could result in a little bit of improvement in the future.
Stefanie: Thank you so much for sharing your rich and amazing experience, thoughts, and ideas with us. Would you still like to say anything else to our readers?
Baigal: I would like to thank all Swiss taxpayers from the bottom of my heart for your generosity, which allows for a lot of improvement in this world, some of which I have personally witnessed here in Mongolia working at the SCO. Most impacts are not even captured in our reports and documentation, but it does truly provide for many intended and unintended positive results. We see many lives change for the better even after some projects end, and interactions with SDC stay in people’s memories for many years. I extend this gratitude on behalf of all Mongolians, without any doubt, and thank you all in Switzerland for the good you are spreading in the world.
Stefanie: Dear Baigal, thank you very much. I wish you all the best for the future!