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thinking business in mongolia

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In countries with long histories of people setting up in business, the ‘felt risk’ factor in so doing is often appreciably less than in countries with no such history. Of the latter, one example is Mongolia. 


It is difficult to relate the conflicts that go through people’s minds here, especially among those who have never before made such a step. I guess all cultures run scripts in our minds that tell us what is and what isn’t possible. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign slogan, ‘Yes we can!’ was radical, but it was not as radical as it might have seemed to the millions who voted for him. Why? Because it arose from a frontier culture which says that opportunity is always knocking at our doors. Even if the script is not entirely true, enough people believe it to be true for it to be effective. 


In Christ, of course, all things are possible, since our lives are in Him who conquered death and rose again through the very Holy Spirit who energises our lives in Him. And as this Gospel narrative penetrates our every fibre, then things which were formerly impossible become merely hurdles to be stepped over in His power. This is as true for Christians starting in business here as it is for any other aspect of discipleship.


But in Mongolia, the negative scripts run deep indeed. In living memory, people had a reality that was dictated for them by those who knew better, or at least thought they did. Twenty years from the fall of Communism here, its script still runs. People want to be told how things will be for them, not because they are lazy (though some are), but because the idea of taking responsibility for one’s situation can be daunting, and even frightening. And of course, Communism decried the very idea of people taking responsibility for their situations, since that meant taking something that belonged to the State, and within that, to the ruling elite. And to step out of line in this or any other way was punishable in ways that many in the West can hardly imagine. Stalin’s statue is long gone from here, but his ghost lingers.


Add to that the principal religious influences on the cultural architecture here. Shamanism, sometimes referred to as the ‘natural’ religion of Mongolia, similarly dictates to people a narrative about their lives and destinies, but this time through the interaction of the shamans with the spirit world. Fortunes are read, omens are interpreted, and blessings or curses invoked. The narrative reads something like: ‘This is how the spirits have dealt it to me.’ Buddhism here metes out its own kind of fatalism: ‘This is how it is, because this is the stage I’ve reached on my journey to nirvana,’ although it is not so articulated. Fate sits heavily on the culture here: people don’t just believe in it; they act it out. 


More widely, it is difficult to imagine that Buddhism has done or can do anything for the economic development of this country. For its central premise is that true human peace consists in the negation of desire and ultimately, non-existence. 


At a practical level, the challenges are great too. Official corruption and personal tax avoidance are endemic. Teaching people that paying their taxes is right and good whether or not the government repairs the roads is no small task. And businesses however small can be seen as easy targets for cash-hungry officials.


And big challenges are up ahead too. Mongolia’s enormous and largely untapped natural resources are slowly opening up and coming to market, and many international players are staking their claims here - China and Russia not least. China’s ambitions particularly are causing disquiet. A question that all this raises is, ‘Will Mongolia rise to the challenge of developing the value chain within its own borders?’ It is one thing to sell one’s mineral wealth abroad, for others to add value to: the receipts from that are not to be sniffed at. But what about the value-added processes such as refining, processing, manufacturing, and so on? Will Mongolia develop these industries, thus enabling it to bring its resources to market at higher prices? 


And where does Biblically-based micro-enterprise development sit in all this? For many people, there will be opportunity to work in the mines and other units that are now being opened up. While these opportunities are good in themselves, they don’t directly answer this question. And the mines, while providing direct employment for many, will not employ all. 


There will, of course, be people outside the employ of the mines. But everyone empowered through Biblically-based training of this sort will be empowered to make a difference, in their families, churches, communities, and so on. They can capture some of the value that would otherwise be exported. And they can add to it themselves, by servicing the incoming mining majors and others. These companies will need supplies, and if local businesses can rise to help meet the demand for those supplies, then so much the better. 


Furthermore, in Kingdom terms, the value that is created is not just economic, because Biblically-based micro-enterprise training espouses a completely different way of being and doing. It is at its heart transformational, impacting aspirations, attitudes to customers, staff, tax and so on. All these are means in which believers can find in Christ that all things are possible. And in the face of the powers and authorities that have said down the ages: ‘No you can’t,’ they can stand with dignity and reply, ‘Yes we can!’ ...As some indeed are now doing. Pray for them.


Tags: mongolia, micro-enterprise development, poverty


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