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     Volume 5 Number 8, August 25, 2011


Stories from the field:  Mongolia 2011 


Ten credit union professionals from across Canada left for Mongolia on August 5 as participants in the Canadian Co-operative Association's 2011 credit union coaching mission to that country. Six of the coaches were returning to the country for the second time; the other four were first-time visitors.


The coaches met in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar -- referred to by visitors and locals alike as UB -- then divided into pairs and spread out across the country: from the Gobi desert in the south to the  border with Kazakhstan in the southwest to Bayan-Ulgii, the country's westernmost province; from the northeastern province of Khentti, said to be the birthplace of Chinggis Khaan, to Mongolia's ancient capital, Kharkhorin, in the centre of the country. Each pair of coaches worked with two credit unions before returning to Ulaanbaatar on August 18.


The coaches were joined on August 14 by Lydia Makuch Phillips, CCA regional director for Asia and the Americas, CCA communications manager Donna Balkan and CCA volunteer co-ordinator Sarah Feldberg. 

Donna and six of the coaches -- Dale Boisclair, Ken Doleman, Bruno Dragani, Scott Hughes, Ramune Jonusonis and Gary Seveny -- shared their stories in  CCA's The View From Here: Mongolia 2011 blog. In this issue of International Dispatch, we provide excerpts of their blog postings. To see the full blog, go to www.theviewfromhere-mongolia2011.blogspot.com.





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Participants in the 2011 credit union coaching mission to Mongolia.Top row, l to r: Scott Hughes, Bruno Dragani, Sophie Ethier, Gary Seveny, Ramune Jonusonis. Bottom row l to r: Sarah Feldberg, Trudy Rasmuson, Karen Howatson, Megan Sinclair, Ken Doleman, Dale Boisclair, Donna Balkan.

Random thoughts from Mongolia
By Dale Boisclair


I'm back in Mongolia on a follow up visit to my original coaching assignment last year. This time around I'm working with Scott again and we're out in the remote western area of the country working with small rural credit unions. Our role is to offer whatever advice we can to assist credit unions and co-operatives in their struggle to lift people out of poverty through the co-operative model.


I'm writing this now, but it won't actually get posted until I'm back in an area with internet access. No such luck here. "Here" is the Soum (small town) of Tsengel, which is a small hamlet of approx 1,000 people in the far western aimeg (province) of Ulgii. I flew into the Aimeg capital of Bayan-Ulgii on Wednesday on the once weekly flight. Scott and I, our interpreter, a few Mongolians and WAY too many pushy, rude and loud, middle-aged European tourists landed on a dirt strip at a small post-Russian airport only five hours late from UB. The tourists and literally mountains of their hiking gear were whisked away by waiting guides and Scott and I were picked up by our contact in Tsengel and made our way approx 80 km overland by land cruiser. A very looooong 80 km on dirt roads that ranged from fairly smooth, to rough, to VERY rough to just two vague outlines in the dirt and grasslands. 


 Dale (far right) and Scott meet with the credit union in Tsengel


Last year I was in a business class hotel in UB for the entire time. This time though, it's a little different. So far there's electricity but it's sporadic and the wiring has a definite ancient Russian flair. I'm staying in what can charitably be called a hotel - at least that's what the Mongolian sign says - but it feels more like a dilapidated hunting lodge. There are four rooms with four single Russian army cots in each room and a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. There's a small alcove in the hall that has two wash basins but there's no door for privacy and there's no running water - just a pot that the cook fills with hot water in the morning. The rest of the "facilities" consist of a VERY basic outhouse out back, but because we're on the border of Kazakhstan all the toilets are "squat" toilets so the outhouse just has a strip of flooring removed in the middle - no actual commode. Oh well, my legs get a good workout while I'm balancing to.... never mind! Throw in a large communal dining room where we hang out in the evening and the Kazak family (yes, the entire family) that takes care of the kitchen and runs the place and it's like something out of Three Cups of Tea.


So....... no running water, sporadic electricity, no internet (although all the Mongols and Kazaks are running around with smart phones and seem to have no trouble with cell coverage!) and accommodations that at best can be described as rustic. Pretty crappy, right? I should be hating it, eh? Well, nothing could be further from the truth! Yes, I'd REALLY like an actual toilet and some nice hot water but if this is the price to be paid for seeing some of the most stunning scenery I've ever experienced, or visiting a far off exotic land I've only ever seen in National Geographic, then sign me up! 


Today we spent the morning in meetings with the chairman of the board of the local co-op. An amazing man doing incredible things for his Soum. The co-op has an education program to teach better land use techniques and is actively pursuing a new crop management and animal husbandry program to increase yields and finally store fodder and grain over the winter so this Soum won't be devastated by another harsh winter. He's also running the local credit union, a herdsman co-op and has programs running to test new crops. Amazing. And let's not forget the hotel - it's owned and run by the co-op too.


 In the afternoon we toured a new water irrigation system, looked at his crop management area and then spent an hour with a local Kazak family that's been hired to maintain one of the crop areas. No tourists, no "put on" hospitality, just a very nice family offering us their home and their hospitality. They're obviously very poor by our standards but rich beyond measure in so many ways we no longer appreciate or understand. They work hard but their tie to the land, their family and their community sustains and nurtures them and they warmly shared whatever they had available - as is the custom throughout this region. Freshly boiled milk tea, several kinds of cheeses, warm bread and sweets.


I honestly didn't know what to expect when I arrived. This area borders China and Russia and is only 18 km from Kazakhstan. Most of the population is Kazak and Muslim, not Mongolian and Buddhist. No matter what I expected however, what I found were hard working people going about their daily lives. No Muslim extremism here, just quiet reserved people with a smile for a foreigner and warm hospitality for a weary traveller. And as always, I was reminded that no matter how far you travel the people you meet will have far more in common than differences. 


CLICK HERE to view Dale Boislclair's interview about the mission with a Mongolian TV station.

Credit Union success stories
by Bruno Dragani

 Bruno Dragani (right in the foreground) meets with his fellow coaches and interpreters in Ulaanbaatar before heading off to his assignments in Khentii province.


Ken Doleman is my partnering coach and he was here last year.  We were fortunate to meet up with one of the credit unions he worked with last year.  By coincidence the Chair of the board is Oyuna and our credit union hosted her during the women's mentoring program about two years ago.  It was a great visit and I was able to see the results of the coaching that Ken provided to the credit union and the work that Oyuna took back from Coastal Community Credit Union.  It's an amazing success story.  In just nine months of very hard work, the team was able to meet many of their goals and improve overall performance.  Loan growth of 48 per cent, reduced loan losses, increase in fee income, 106 per cent increase in net income, 8 per cent increase in paid in capital, and an increase in members.  Most of this was attributed to education programs provided by the staff and a focus on some good goals that Ken was able to help them out with. 


We also got to meet with the credit union members One was a pharmacist who over the years went from a one room shop and no employees to owning the entire building, expanding to groceries and renting the extra spaces to others.  She now employs 15 people; she strongly encourages them all to open memberships at the credit union.  She has very low employee turnover and guarantees the employees loans when they want to borrow to achieve their personal goals.  We were introduced to an employee who recently borrowed to purchase material to build a ger (a felt tent known in English as a yurt), her first home.


Bruno's coaching partner, Ken Doleman (right), meets with Auggie, a member of the credit union.


Auggie is a young man who owns his own general contracting firm.  We met him at a project that he was about to finish.  We learned that he employs 26 full-time employees and another 20 on-call staff.  He renovates buildings and apartments and also builds the furniture to outfit the space.  It's pretty high-end stuff.  We will get the opportunity to see his finished work when we get back to UB.  Oyuna was surprised to learn how many people he is employing and the extent of his business.  Just a reminder of how important it is to know your members and visit their businesses.


Lastly, we met a member who produces mayonnaise and ketchup in a very small industrial kitchen and sells them to food markets.  She employs four people and they sell about US $14,000 to US $16,000 a month of the product.  That's a lot condiments for a meat-eating nation.
First day at BEH SCU
By Gary Seveny 


It was a really cold night making sleep a little sporadic. The ger camp has tourists and travelers coming and going each day. It is a pleasure talking to them about their vacations in Mongolia and where they are from.


Through the night, someone tried to get in my ger at about 4 am. I awoke and spoke that this was my ger and the person left without a word. My ger door doesn't close properly and I tie a string around the bolt and frame to keep the door shut. I had shown this problem to the owner last night and she will have her father fix the door today while I am out.


I was the first to get to the showers this morning at 6:30 am. The showers have a very small heater mounted on the wall that heats the water as it flows through to the shower head. Yesterday it did not work very well and I had a cold shower. Today it work marvelously and I had a hot shower. Actually too hot. However, when the outside temperature is in the 45 F range, you take all the heat you can get to get the chill out of your bones. At about 9 am the temperature will rise to about 60 F and get better by mid day around 78 F.


Gambold (the credit union's accountant) was the most punctual Mongolian we met. He was always at least 10 minutes early. We spent the day from 10 am to 6 pm at the credit union actually doing the work we had planned and the staff were really anxious to co-operate with us.


Dash, the manager of BEH SCU, one of the credit unions Gary Seveny and Trudy Rasmuson worked with in central Mongolia.


At the end of the day, Dash took us to see a few sites and then we returned to our ger camp for dinner and an early night to bed. 
Scott and Dale join a credit union
By Scott Hughes 

Our first day with the credit union in Ulgii was a great introduction to the size, scope and aspirations of this fairly young credit union.  Seemingly well managed with a healthy governance structure and balance sheet, the questions focused on methods for member growth and competing with other local banks.  Given the regulatory restrictions on direct advertising for credit unions in Mongolia, we raised some ideas about news stories of credit union events, member referral reward programs and community project support as other ways to spread the good message and increase new member acquisition.  These ideas were definitely new and there was a healthy dose of scepticism from the Baiteric staff, but with continued persistence in describing how these can be effective and relating the Canadian experience they softened with time.
Scott Hughes (left) receives a mug for becoming a member of Baiteric Credit Union.
In a move to directly impact new member acquisition, Dale and I signed up for accounts in the credit union and place our funds into both member share accounts and deposit accounts.  The excitement was tangible as our host Mr. Sauhan (Baiteric's accountant) leapt to prepare paper work and diligently request passport and other identification.  A proud moment it was as he handed over our new member mug (a Baiteric imaged coffee mug - a gift for each new member) and the pass book for our new accounts.  The event demanded a christening of the mugs and a celebration of the account opening so a round of vodka ensued to mark the occasion.  This, combined with our horsemeat snack (seemed always available) set us up for a great rest of the morning!

We lunched at the nearby Turkish restaurant (were we really that far west?) which seemed the only place in Mongolia which does a nice grilled chicken.  Leaving the tough questions for the next day when the President would join us, we toured the town further, checked out the local museum and joined our Baiteric compatriots for dinner at the other nice restaurant in town.  They begged off early to attend yet another gathering related to the same wedding as Saturday night with promises to meet again in the morning.
Ramune and Karen meet with the Mungunbiileg Credit Union 
 By Ramune Jonusonis


Today we had our first session with the Mungunbiileg CU. Karen and I met with three ladies from their Board of Directors: Inkchin, Tumro and Soogee (I apologize in advance for my feeble attempts at spelling Mongolian names).


They presented the history of their CU and some of its structure. The remainder of the day was spent asking more detailed questions about their practices and procedures, membership base and future plans.


We began relaying some information which they found particularly interesting: promotion of children's savings accounts, risk-rating models and risk-based pricing.


Working in Mongolia is a funny thing. Although Tuul (our interpreter) is doing a fabulous job, I am sure that some things get lost in translation. For example, Karen or I will say one sentence and then Tuul will translate, speaking for two or three minutes. Alternately, we will ask a question, Tuul will relay it to the Board. The Board will then discuss it rather passionately for five minutes, and Tuul will respond "Yes" to us. It's hilarious to think about, sometimes.


After a brief tour of the Sainshand city post-dinner, we went back to our dark hotel rooms. The electricity had been out since approx. 1 pm. So, to keep ourselves busy, we did some yoga. Tuul was interested and wanted me to show her some of the yoga that I do back home. So Karen supervised and commented on our form (from her water yoga experience), while we wriggled and balanced and downward-dogged in my candlelit room. Considering the A/C wasn't working, it was a pretty good replication of a hot/moksha yoga experience!
Helping to see
by Ken Doleman 

There is a valley 210 kilometres east of UB, that leaving payment behind, winds about the same distance north. It is a wide expanse, bracketed by mountainous steppes. At the northern end along the Onon River lies Binder soum (soum is akin to a rural municipality) which is the soum center - and fabled home of the Great Emperor Chinggis Khaan. 


An intensive day's work at the soum's credit union is behind us. After a refreshing swim in the Onon our good natured host and credit union leader Nasaa (his `short` name) is anxious to share the treasured history of his homeland.

Moving across the plain, we arrive at the first of two monuments we will visit. One of three bodies of water mentioned in the Secret History of the Mongols yet remains. Such is the deep history of this place. We are standing on the spot where 805 years ago (don't get me started on the difference between a country and a civilization), a Mongol named Temujin was proclaimed Chinggis Khaan, uniting the Mongol tribes and forever changing the course of history across Asia and Europe.

 Monument commemorating Chinggis Khaan's birthplace


A marker from an American archaeological expedition attests to the authenticity of the site. Most striking, is the inscribed stone monument that rises to dominate the small fenced compound - dedicated by the Mongolian people. At the moment it is an eerily quiet place, the sun readying to set.  


Distracted, I now notice our host has prepared a toast for each present - in true Mongolian tradition, with a popular vodka. We toast, yet it somehow seems an insufficient expression of respect. I have nothing with me, save the better part of the generous toast provision... so I do what pilgrims might do. Walking over to the monument, pour out my drink on it. This appears to resonate with our group, as they follow suit. 


We now move to a small hill, with the valley spreading out before us. This was the birthplace of Chinggis Khaan in 1162. "Imagine what this would have looked like," I ask my host and interpreter, "when Chinggis and his army were here." Their eyes lit up as we filled in possible details of the scene. Yes, it would have been epic!  


The next afternoon we are asking Nasaa and his staff to see again... this time it is their credit union's future. And it is much more than a visioning exercise. It yields concrete strategic goals, objectives and accountabilities. They are a committed and talented group, serving their growing membership well. And the hospitality we experience is both genuine and generous. 


Did I mention I am now somebody's hero? Yes, thanks to being allowed the honour of drawing the winning grand prize entry in a yearlong campaign run in conjunction with the credit union's fifth anniversary celebrations. Evidently the old herder and I are now friends for life. I hope he enjoys his motorcycle... 


It may be challenging, but being an international development coach is an enriching experience. Personally, I think every Canadian credit union CEO should do it. As I leave Binder soum though, I just can't seem to get Bob Seger's refrain from Turn the Page out of my head.

A co-op in the "real Mongolia"
By Donna Balkan


"Now you're going to see the real Mongolia," Sarah said to me as we left UB for the countryside.


Our destination was the Batkhani Uguj co-operative in Erdenesant soum, a co-op which was founded just three months ago and already has 90 members. Its home is an abandoned building that had been donated by the soum (municipal authority); the building was in very poor repair, and it was renovated with the help of Australian international development funding. The co-op was created to provide livelihoods for some of the unemployed women in the community, and to give herders an opportunity to have the products of their livestock processed and sold. Felt is one of the co-op's primary products, since it is used to cover gers (the tents that most herders live in) as well as slippers, bags, jewelry and other items. The co-op also does weaving, makes items out of horse and camel hair, and even sells such food products as khuushuur (fried pancakes filled with mutton) and airag (fermented mare's milk, a very popular drink in rural Mongolia). It also has a small store which sells basic goods and some vegetables.



Donna Balkan and Sarah Feldberg join members of the co-op in front of their newly-renovated building in Erdenesant soum.


We were welcomed by Tsolmon, the co-op's manager who explained that she, like many of the members, had been unemployed before starting the co-op. She gave us a tour of the co-op where we learned about the arts of feltmaking and weaving.  While we were walking around, a herder came in wearing a del, a traditional costume which is rarely seen in the city, but is quite common in the countryside. The herder brought in a new supply of felt for the co-op to turn into ger coverings, slippers and other products.


It was then time for lunch, and we quickly learned that Mongolians are probably the most hospitable people on earth. There were a few special guests, including Ms. Bumbuyan, the vice-governor of the Erdenesant soum, probably the equivalent of a Canadian deputy mayor. 


The table was laden with all the traditional delicacies I had read about before coming to Mongolia: a platter laid high with various dairy products such as cheeses and dried curds. Khuushuur, which were delicious. Rice. And even some vegetables and fruits, which are not that common in rural Mongolia. It was obvious that we were honoured guests, and we enjoyed the meal immensely. There was salty Mongolian milk tea, and my first taste of airag, which actually was better than I had expected, although it was very rich and I could only drink a little.  After lunch, we all gathered in front of the co-op for photos, then headed off with the entire group to visit Altan, a herder who is a member of the co-op board. A visit to a herder's ger is always a highlight of travelling in Mongolia, and I was looking forward to this new experience. But that's another story...

This publication is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

Cette publication est réalisée avec l'appui financier du gouvernement du Canada accordé par l'entremise de l'Agence canadienne de développement international (ACDI).