Young Mongolian entrepreneurs ‘activate’ the economy

Unedited version of an article on the UNDP’s Activated2030 initiative in Mongolia to bolster the economy in a sustainable manner. Original can be found here.

In late 2017, the UNDP launched Activated2030. This program identifies prevailing attitudes and entrepreneurial tendencies among young Mongolians. The UNDP hopes to improve general perception of startup culture and to encourage youth entrepreneurship.

According to the UNDP, “nearly 1 in 3 Mongolians are considered youth — between 15 and 34 years old — more than 1 in 5 of them are unemployed, and nearly a third of all Mongolians live in poverty.”

Additionally, though young Mongolians are confident in their future earning potential, 2 out of 3 Mongolians say they rarely implement their entrepreneurial ideas. Those who try say they often fail.

To better gauge the enterprising tendencies of young Mongolians, Activated2030 administered the online version of the “General measure of Enterprising Tendencies” test, or GET2. This test provides an estimate enterprising potential of individuals.

GET2 measurES need for achievement, need for autonomy, calculated risk-taking, creativity, and drive and determination according to participants’ responses to agree/disagree questions. In Mongolia, GET2 was administered via the website http://www.activated.mn.

According to the report, the average score on the Mongolian GET2 was 34.3 out of 54. 50% of participants scored less than 33. This indicates that young Mongolians have low to medium entrepreneurship tendencies.

Eleven key findings resulted from the test. “(1) The concept of entrepreneur, entrepreneurship and enterprising are new in Mongolia and do not directly translate into Mongolian language. (2) Young people in Mongolia have low to medium enterprising tendencies. (3) Practical skills and knowledge are lacking. (4) Networks are weak. (5) Challenges around trust exist. (6) A mindset gap exists between older and younger generations. (7) Failure is not accepted as part of the learning experience. (8) Access to capital is a barrier. (9) The legal environment is not conducive to enterprising activities. (10) The education system does not actively support the development of enterprising skills. (11) The government is not considered an enabler.”

Munkhbat Munkhjargal, currently a university student, discussed these obstacles that he and other youths face when trying to implement startups.

“The market is very small and it’s really hard to make something work here. I see a lot of startups failing. […] It’s also hard to incentivize people to start businesses because of simple flat statistics – 3 million people, of which 1.5 million are living in the city, but due to poverty, only 500 thousand people are able to purchase your product. Within that 500 thousand, your niche market, depending on what kind of product you’re marketing, could be 5 thousand to 10 thousand.”

Nevertheless, initiatives supporting startups have risen to prominence. Since the early 2010s, youth were inspired by international entrepreneurship movements. These youths helped create a vibrant ecosystem. This includes entrepreneurial events such as “Seedstars Ulaanbaatar” or networking activities like “TEDxUlaanbaatar.”

Various NGOs have also provided support for young Mongolians entrepreneurs. One such NGO is Startup Mongolia.

Startup Mongolia has hosted Startup Weekends all over the country since 2011. It cooperates with several organizations, including the government, several universities, the World Bank, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and the Korean Fund for Green Development.

Enkhbolor Gantulga, a community leader at Startup Mongolia, further described Startup Weekend. “Startup Weekend is a 72 hour program. It starts on Friday evening. They learn how to pitch their idea, how to create an effective PowerPoint, how to research information that is available to start their business. It’s a safe-to-fail environment where they learn a lot of things, so even if they don’t receive funding on Sunday, they leave equipped with the knowledge of the necessary elements of building businesses.”

Startup Mongolia also supports budding entrepreneurs through other means. For example, they created a Mongolian-language glossary of the top 100 keywords used in entrepreneurship, eliminating the understanding gap.

They are additionally creating a Startup Academy to equip those who don’t have a bachelor’s degree with relevant skills and knowledge. They are also designing an online platform to connect startup owners to their fellow entrepreneurs and potential investors.

National universities have also collaborated with outside organizations to establish startup or innovation labs. The National University of Mongolia (NUM) and The Mongolian University of Science and Technology (MUST), for example, partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the “MIT- Mongolia Initiative Project.” This project was put on hold in 2016 due to lack of funding.

Entrepreneurship can sometimes lack financial support because it is misunderstood. “Even the word ‘entrepreneurship’ – some people would say that an entrepreneur is someone who started their own business, they’re successful, et cetera,” said Enkhbolor. “But many times I’ve seen someone – for example, a barista – that has a spirit of entrepreneurship. They’re trying to spread the culture of coffee, to give people knowledge, to create the environment, to build the community. ‘Entrepreneur’ and ‘startup’ don’t necessarily mean creating a business, but being that person full of spirit, the right mindset, a vision, and aspirations who makes a true impact on the community.”

The findings of Activated2030 also echoed Enkhbolor’s sentiments about entrepreneurship extending beyond the scope of business establishment. “A focus purely on entrepreneurship and the development of enterprises or business is too limited. Being enterprising means being able to get things done, something that everyone needs to do. To start a business, be a successful employee, or be an active family member or citizen, people need to be able to move from ideas to actions, they need to be enterprising.”

UNDP Mongolia aims next to increase entrepreneurial tendencies, skills, and knowledge of young Mongolians with the help of the government, NGOs, and education programs. “This work is striving to set the foundations for collaboration and a transformation. However, it is important to acknowledge effecting real change and developing the enterprising tendencies, skills, behaviors and activities of young people in Mongolia will take time.”

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