By Bulgan Batdorj
Mongolians born in the 1970s and 80s experienced the country’s transition from communism to democracy in 1990 at a relatively young age. This is a generation that grew up during shaky economic times and a shifting cultural landscape. Despite lacking modern technological conveniences in their early years, they have witnessed the rapid evolution of mobile phones, among other advancements.
Today, younger generations of Mongolians are slowly but surely taking charge of the politics and economy in Mongolia. It is exciting to explore the trends and implications of this generational shift and to see how this generation will shape the future of our country.
The Reign of the “50s-60s Generation”: 1990s to 2020
The economy underwent significant changes during the 1990s as Mongolia transitioned from a centrally planned system to a market-oriented one. This shift led to the privatization of many state-owned factories. Due to the general public’s lack of understanding of stock ownership and valuation, a select few were able to acquire these factories at a fraction of their true value. In the early days of the transition, many Mongolians managed trade between Russia and China, while later on, trade routes diversified. Those who were involved in businesses related to agriculture, trade, and factory ownership gained a significant economic advantage.
In politics, the early years following the democratic revolution saw frequent changes in public figures. However, not long after, key politicians emerged, securing seats in parliament election after election. Some of these individuals came from families that held prominent positions during the communist era, with parents or grandparents serving in high-ranking roles, while others were part of the Golden Sparrows, the democratic revolutionaries in Mongolia. It is important to note that business and politics were closely associated, with many individuals holding positions in both spheres. Most of these individuals were born in the 1950s-60s, putting them in their 30s-40s during the revolution in the 1990s, which gave them the opportunity to take advantage of the changes both during and after the revolution.
In early 2021, Oyun-Erdene Luvsannamsrai, a member of the younger generation born in the 1980s, was appointed Prime Minister of Mongolia, marking a significant milestone in the generational shift (author’s comment: not necessarily developmental or leadership shift) in Mongolian politics and businesses.
With New PM, a New Generation Taking Charge in Mongolia https://t.co/FNOIKqjPfl
— The Diplomat (@Diplomat_APAC) January 28, 2021
This trend of generational shift is also visible in other spheres, such as business and sports, where a generation that was fully educated during the early democratic era is now taking charge.
The Struggle of Generational Power Transition in Politics
The generational transition in Mongolia’s political sphere has brought about its fair share of challenges for both the MPP and DP parties. However, the DP has been grappling with internal divisions, leadership disputes, and shifting political alliances, which have cost them parliamentary seats and weakened their support base. The DP, as one of the main political two forces since the 1990s, has been crucial in balancing and shaping the political landscape.
In an attempt to unite the party, the DP elected a new leader, L Gantumur, on January 19, 2023, marking a generational shift from the 50s-60s cohort to the 70s. Another strong representation of the 70s is the HUN Party. This party, with many members representing the 70s generation and younger, positions itself as technocrats, reflecting the evolving preferences and priorities of the Mongolian electorate. The public (or emerging electorates) is growing weary of both the MPP and DP’s familiar faces and political tactics and thus is receptive to this party. The party has one seat in the parliament but is a vocal contender and opposition in the absence of the ex-opposition. Despite Mongolians jokingly referring to the 70s as the “lost generation,” this group has made a strong impact in both the political and economic realms.
New Generation of Businesses in Mongolia: A Fusion of Tradition, Innovation, and Sustainability
Shark Tank Mongolia is a reality show, that is running its fourth season and airs on Mongol TV. This is in the same format as the American, the original show, where the Sharks listen to and evaluate business pitches from Entrepreneurs seeking investment. This season four’s five sharks, most were educated in the USA all at prestigious universities and have shown an appetite for IT business.
Based on last year’s investment, the businesses that got the biggest investment are in the IT sectors for 2022 according to Bolortseren.
— Bolortseren.eth (@bolortseren) January 11, 2022
In addition to the booming IT industry, I would like to mention some new-generation businesses that combine traditional and modern elements. The Husug brand , for example, uses wool, felt, and leather materials and employs women and people with disabilities. Michel and Amazonka are two Mongolian sisters who create pret-a-couture clothing that showcases the fusion of traditional Mongolian styles with modern designs. Another noteworthy brand isha Lhamour, run by a western-educated founder, which makes organic skincare products using Mongolian-sourced ingredients such as seabuckthorn, yak milk, and sheep’s tail fat, while also employing marginalized people.
When you visit Mongolia next time, I highly recommend that you not only stock up on cashmere products but also explore these unique and innovative businesses that are blending Mongolia’s rich cultural heritage with modern technologies and sustainable practices.
Navigating the Challenges of the Next 30 Years
The generational transition in Mongolia is a slow but steady process that is taking place across all areas, including sports (arts, opera, ballet, movies, writers, activists, influencers, opinion makers and NGOs) and society at large. The younger generation is gradually taking over from the old, with some doing so with elegance, while others do so with pride or resistance. The trend in the shift of leadership is towards foreign (western) educated graduates who value technocracy, sustainability, and a modern taste that values tradition.
While the struggles that Mongolia faced in the past 30 years were not easy, the challenges that lie ahead are even greater, with globalization, climate change, and extreme geopolitical shifts posing significant challenges to the country’s economic, social, and environmental well-being. To overcome these challenges, Mongolia needs a new kind of leadership that is not only connected to our two neighbours but also to the world and its people. The country needs leaders who understand the complexities of a globalized world and are committed to creating sustainable and inclusive economic growth that benefits all Mongolians.
As younger generations take on more prominent roles in politics and the economy, they (hopefully) bring fresh perspectives and innovative solutions to address the unique challenges of the 21st century. The emergence of new political forces and leaders, coupled with the potential for economic transformation, signals potentially a crucial turning point for Mongolia. This shift offers an opportunity for the country to harness the energy and the vision of the upcoming generation to build a more inclusive, prosperous, and forward-looking society.
PS: I remember that Open Society conducted a scenario exercise for Mongolia some time ago, prior to the OT project. I believe that another such exercise could be highly beneficial for the country’s next 30 years of development.