Young citizens are at the forefront of change

Article update: Last year, World Learning supported youth through a series of “Ideas into Action” design sprints, which are one piece of World Learning’s Technical Approaches on Civic Engagement and Advocacy. These citizen-centered sprints provided a streamlined framework through which youth analyzed local issues, devised potential solutions, and created action plans — all during fast, two-day workshops. In follow-up, three participants shared the impact of the design sprints on themselves and their community. Scroll down to hear what they had to say!

Throughout the world, it is often youth who are driving democratic reform, economic growth, and social change in their communities and countries. Using a combination of traditional civic tools such as protests and campaigns and more innovative approaches like social media memes, passionate youth are activating their networks to tackle climate change, foster equity in education and health systems, and create new employment opportunities. Through this, they are harnessing their energy to promote a new set of norms and policies to include more diverse voices and populations.

While social media has allowed more inclusive mobilization by reaching youth from farther areas, many movements are still concentrated in capital cities. Youth in more remote areas are often excluded from national campaigns, funded trainings and activities, and other government services. They lack access to the essential information and tools, cannot afford expensive travel, and are unable to leave home responsibilities for the extended time it takes to reach the capital.

Group in Dundgovi, Mongolia, present their concept poster on creating an easy e-commerce platform for local small businesses.

This discrepancy in access to programs can be seen in Mongolia. In April, hundreds of youth gathered outside the government palace in Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, to protest high levels of inflation, political corruption, inefficient government spending, food shortages, and unemployment. Protests heavily relied on youth already in the capital, while a large number of youth outside the capital were unable to participate due to the prohibitive amount of time and cost to reach Ulaanbaatar from their respective aimags.

World Learning began tackling this challenge in 2016 through its Leaders Advancing Democracy-Mongolia Program (LEAD). Participants worked with communities to design and implement projects that addressed key areas in need of support and change, such as the environment, poverty, and anti-corruption. These projects benefitted more than 9,000 people directly, and more than 4 million people indirectly. According to an external evaluation, the program “contributed to greater social inclusion of traditionally excluded communities,” and also “encouraged those communities to make their voices heard in decision-making.”

Following the success of LEAD, alumni called for more localized, shorter trainings while maintaining a focus on socially excluded communities. This led to the creation of the “Ideas into Action” design sprints.

This citizen-centered model provides a streamlined framework through which youth analyze local issues, devise potential solutions, and then bring these solutions to action all during fast, two-day workshops. In the process, youth use human-centered design principles to rapidly learn local decision-making processes, identify key networks, and complete the project cycle. Ultimately, the goal is to give participants the tools and platform to freely learn and create their own innovative, implementable solutions.

In Mongolia, LEAD alumni throughout the country were trained as facilitators and oversaw the sprint methodology in their communities. The combination of the streamlined structure of the sprints, with the guidance from local facilitators, allowed World Learning to reach youth in even the most rural and often excluded aimags, such as Bayan Ulgii, Mongolia’s only Muslim- and Kazakh-majority aimag.

Mongolian youth in Orkhon brainstorming, clustering, and prioritizing local challenges.

Over time, it became clear that many of these complex and multifaceted challenges could not be solved through a two-day workshop. The program goals therefore shifted from being results-based to process-focused. As a result, the design sprints provided a much-needed opportunity for youth to explore issues in-depth, learn new perspectives, and discover how to collectively mobilize citizens, government networks, and private-sector resources to create positive change.

Feedback from participants in the design sprints showed this was the first time many had full control — and the critical skills needed — to solve problems in their local communities. The mix of participants from public and private sectors helped groups see issues from different angles and perspectives. The flexible nature of the sprints also allowed participants to think critically about issues important to them and have autonomy over how to solve them.

“I learned that when we dig deep into the root causes of the issue, it is easier to understand the issue thoroughly and find its solution,” one participant said.

World Learning’s “Ideas into Action” design sprints are one piece of World Learning’s Technical Approaches — Civic Engagement and Advocacy. This work ensures that youth from all areas of the country learn effective tools for activism and support their efforts to create sustainable change in their own lives and communities.




Supporting Inclusive Development in Mongolia: The Legacy of LEAD

By Munguntuya Otgonjargal, Senior Program Officer, and Meghan Burland, Chief of Party, Leaders Advancing Democracy (LEAD) Mongolia

Inclusion has always been at the forefront of World Learning’s approach to creating a more peaceful and just world, and its USAID-funded Leaders Advancing Democracy (LEAD) Mongolia program has been no exception. From the program’s inception in 2016, LEAD has prioritized inclusion as one of the hallmarks of its programming — from the initial program design to outreach and implementation. Now, five years later, the LEAD Mongolia program has just concluded, after supporting thousands of young people in gaining new knowledge and skills in democracy, advocacy, civic engagement, and social inclusion.

On September 10, World Learning hosted the “Legacy of LEAD” event in Ulaanbaatar to highlight the LEAD program’s legacy with an official launch of the Mongolian version of the World Learning “Transforming Agency, Access, and Power” (TAAP) Toolkit. The TAAP Toolkit, originally launched in 2018, is an interactive guide for more inclusive development to amplify the voices, opportunities, and dignity of all people.

With five years of successes and lessons learned, the World Learning Mongolia team aimed to showcase the achievements of the program and provide a useful resource for the development community in Mongolia. The Mongolian translation will serve as an invaluable resource for development practitioners, civil society, the private sector, and government officials across the country. During the September 10 event, World Learning staff and LEAD program alumni highlighted the importance of inclusion and shared real-life examples of how the TAAP Toolkit can be utilized to ensure that all people have a voice in their community or workplace.

Why Inclusion Matters

In August 2016, World Learning staff carried out a Transforming Agency, Access, and Power (TAAP) assessment in Mongolia, paving the way to create an inclusive design for the program and new opportunities for social inclusion over the project’s lifecycle. Before, during, and after this assessment, World Learning met with dozens of individuals and organizations, with a particular focus on gender, disability, LGBTI, youth, rural and nomadic populations and Kazakh minority community members. Not only did these meetings and discussions inform the design of the LEAD program, but they also provided important insights and connections that proved essential to ensuring LEAD had representation from diverse groups.

LEAD’s Deputy Chief of Party, Khulan Dashpuntsag, recalled initial stakeholder meetings during these very early days of the program in 2016. She remembers visiting with members of the deaf community and learning that they were not often consulted on issues that directly affected their daily lives; for example, School №29 in Ulaanbaatar, a school for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, had bells to denote the end and beginning of classes. Most students and teachers could not hear these bells, yet nothing had been done to provide a solution. Through the civic education component of the LEAD program, students and teachers at School №29 worked together with stakeholders to install a lights-based system at the school, which was more suited to students’ and teachers’ needs.

This story and countless others like it demonstrate the importance of inclusion, ensuring that a variety of voices are heard, and that community members have a say in what happens in their own lives. This belief is what drove the World Learning team to incorporate inclusive development practices throughout the LEAD Mongolia program, from design to applications and outreach to technical content.

TAAP In Practice

During the “Legacy of LEAD” event, several alumni of the LEAD program shared how they have used the TAAP Toolkit and inclusive development methods in practice in their professional lives. The alumni came from civil society, the private sector, and government, emphasizing how these methods can be used across sectors to strengthen organizations and promote inclusive practices.

“I hope this approach will open up opportunities for people to participate in civic action.”

LEAD 2019 US Exchange Program Fellow Purevjav Tumendemberel is currently a project officer for the Mongolian Youth Council, a non-governmental organization that empowers young people to become active citizens and leaders. While he noted that civil society organizations can sometimes lose sight of inclusive processes when focusing on the end results of a project, he emphasized the versatility of the TAAP Toolkit in countering this tunnel vision, as the toolkit can be utilized at various stages of development and program planning. “I hope this approach will open up opportunities for people to participate in civic action,” he stated.

Although many people would not think of the private sector when they hear the term ‘inclusive development,’ LEAD 2018 US Exchange Program Fellow Telmen Gerelt explained how inclusive practices can be successfully implemented in the private sector, particularly in relation to hiring and staff development. As the Chief Executive Officer at ARD Credit, Telmen spoke of using TAAP practices to ensure that a variety of his staff’s voices were being heard and that the company’s hiring and human resources practices became more inclusive.

Telmen highlighted updating human resources policies at Mongol Post (a company with over 2,000 employees) to make them more inclusive. For example, the policy changes aimed to reduce or eliminate ways in which women were sometimes discriminated against in workplace hiring processes due to time out of the workforce to raise their children. He also spoke about efforts to improve mechanisms for employee input and feedback in decision-making of the company.

“I want more people to use the TAAP Toolkit, as I have experienced firsthand the positive results that can be achieved. I especially urge the private sector to use this toolkit because when the employees feel included and heard and when the workplace is equally inclusive, employers benefit more,” Telmen said.

Bulganchimeg Bayasgalant, Deputy Director of the National Development Agency and LEAD 2016 US Exchange Program alumna, spoke of the importance of government agencies implementing inclusive practices like those found in the TAAP Toolkit. She used the four phases of TAAP to explain how government agencies can be more inclusive, from initial analysis to inclusive design and implementation. Bulganchimeg provided several examples, including an internship program at the NDA designed to help youth gain more practical work experience and a one-month capacity building program for Mongolian start-ups.

“At the end of the day, we’re trying to broaden our perspectives through this toolkit as everyone is different,” she summarized.

Inclusive Development from Start to Finish: The LEAD Mongolia Experience

LEAD Mongolia became the first project to commit to the TAAP approach to embed inclusion sensitivity in all aspects of the project life cycle. During the past five years, the LEAD Mongolia program integrated all five core TAAP principles throughout its design, implementation, and accountability mechanisms.

After the initial assessment in 2016, three key recommendations were developed:

1. Expand the program’s original target groups to also include the Kazakh ethnic group and internal migrants. Based on this recommendation, the program team strategized and budgeted our program outreach to hold information sessions at locations that are accessible and welcoming for these groups.

2. Consciously focus on deepening participants’ understanding of and sensitivity to the concepts and patterns of inclusion, marginalization and exclusion, and inclusive development across project components. With this in mind, the team designed program content to include at least two technical sessions on diversity and inclusion for each LEAD Mongolia cohort. Through these sessions, participants increased their understanding of inclusion in their communities and were able to initiate projects that improve the overall inclusive environment and awareness in their professional and personal lives.

3. Finally, the assessment found that an inclusive, creative, and ongoing communication strategy is the key to reaching the greatest number of people from diverse backgrounds. All of LEAD’s content was mindfully created with inclusive aspects, such as videos including sign language and/or subtitles and Kazakh subtitles, as well as having image posters with separate texts for the blind community, among other efforts.

Over the years, LEAD Fellows equipped with new inclusion skills have implemented some incredible initiatives within their communities. One of the latest examples is from LEAD 2017 US Exchange Program alumnus, Bekbolat Bugibay. Bekbolat lives in Bayan-Ulgii province, the only Kazakh majority province in Mongolia. He recently finished building a girls’ dormitory for the Bayan-Ulgii branch of Khovd University. Since it is a university for the entire western region, many female students arrive with no place to live and are prone to various challenges. He recognized this issue and started raising funds to build a dormitory for those students, who otherwise would have not been able to get a quality education due to their circumstances. Of the project and the role his LEAD experience played, he said, “The LEAD program had the great advantage of providing equal opportunities to all young people regardless of their background, ethnicity, or where they work or where they live. Advocacy for youth through youth representation was the best approach.”

Stories like Bekbolat’s reminds us why we do what we do and how important it is to keep working to include everyone’s voices. Building a fully inclusive society takes time, and everyone’s effort is instrumental. However, if society can continue to be mindful and open to more inclusive processes, great progress can be made.

The Legacy of LEAD

The Mongolian version of the TAAP Toolkit can be found here.

As Khulan explains, “While the LEAD Mongolia program may be ending, the TAAP Toolkit can continue to be a resource for the development community here for years to come. This is truly one of the legacies of LEAD.”

Launched in September 2016, LEAD Mongolia was a five-year leadership development program — funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by World Learning — that exposed 246 emerging Mongolian leaders to best practices in democracy and good governance, strengthening their ability to advocate for their communities and engage with policymakers. Since its inception, the LEAD program has focused on developing a strong network of young Mongolian democracy advocates who have a unique vision and desire to create positive change in their communities. These changemakers have implemented 26 civic action projects over five years, focusing on LEAD Mongolia’s key policy themes of poverty alleviation and unemployment, environment and urbanization, and transparency and anti-corruption.

Through its partner, the International Republican Institute, the program has also connected young Mongolians with their counterparts in Bhutan, Kyrgyzstan, and Myanmar, highlighting Mongolia’s peaceful democratic transition as an example in the region. The civic education component, implemented by the Center for Citizenship Education, developed and introduced civic education curriculum for teachers and students at the high school level in Ulaanbaatar and all 21 aimags.

LEAD brought together students and young professionals representing different sectors and experiences to take part in civic advocacy and leadership training, exchanges, and community action planning, all aimed at fostering a strong network of young democracy advocates across the country.

The contents of this article are the responsibility of World Learning and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

Six LEAD Mongolia Alumni Share Their Presidential Election Experiences

A woman stands in front of a field holing a sign that says +1 Youth Vote.
LEAD Mongolia In-Country Program Fellow Munkhzul Tsend on election day.

By Meghan Burland, Chief of Party, Leaders Advancing Democracy (LEAD) Mongolia

Mongolia’s June 9 presidential elections marked the country’s third round of voting in 13 months. While voter turnout was historically low, likely due to an increase in COVID-19 cases in the days preceding the election, 59 percent of eligible voters came out to elect former Prime Minister U. Khurelsukh from the Mongolian People’s Party to a six-year term as president.

As with the previous parliamentary and local elections, alumni from the USAID-funded Leaders Advancing Democracy (LEAD) program used their training to support the election process by serving as civil society observers, volunteering at polling stations, and recording voter turnout in real-time.

Observing Elections

As civil society election observers, LEAD alumni helped safeguard the integrity of the presidential vote. Ganzorig Tsedenbal, a 2018 U.S. Exchange Program Fellow, observed the election in Ulaanbaatar as part of a civil society monitoring effort organized by Youth Policy Watch, a local NGO. At his polling station, the process went smoothly, with observers from the three political parties joining the civil society effort, sharing information and ideas. By volunteering as a civil society observer, Ganzorig says he wanted to play a role in ensuring a fair election and felt confident and useful in helping to “prevent any possible violations or fraud.”

Another 2018 U.S. Exchange Program Fellow, Altanchimeg Purevsuren, also observed the election as part of Youth Policy Watch’s effort. However, her observation came with a twist — currently living in Seoul, she observed Mongolians residing in South Korea voting at the embassy in the capital. Having previously worked at Mongolia’s General Election Commission (GEC) for more than seven years, Altanchimeg has substantial experience in elections work, but this was her first time participating on behalf of civil society.

Altanchimeg observed voting at the embassy in Seoul over two days and says there was an exciting atmosphere at the embassy, with voters wearing traditional clothes, bringing their families, and taking photos in front of the embassy and the Mongolian flag.

A woman stands behind two ballot boxes at the Mongolian Embassy in Seoul.
LEAD Mongolia U.S. Exchange Program Fellow Altanchimeg Purevsuren at the Mongolian Embassy in Seoul.

“When voters are coming to the embassy polling station, it is so meaningful for them,” she says. “They were proud of their participation in the election.”

Shirnen Zorigt, a 2020 In-Country Program Fellow, took a different approach by joining a volunteer team to monitor the election for accessibility for people with disabilities and develop recommendations to make voting more accessible in the future. This effort was organized by the Parent Teacher Association of Mongolia (PTAM) and included nongovernmental organizations supporting disability rights, people with disabilities, and other citizens.

As a visually impaired voter, Shirnen went into the observation process well aware of the challenges people with disabilities may face when voting. His goal in participating was to shine a light on these issues and provide realistic proposals for ways government agencies could address these barriers to participation. Shirnen, Ganzorig, and Altanchimeg all note that their LEAD training helped them take a human rights approach in the observation process and focus on inclusion in the elections, especially for women, people with disabilities, and youth.

“If we strive for a democratic and equal society, its most valuable thing must be people,” Shirnen says. “The right to vote and to be elected is the most important thing in the society we are aiming to build right now.”

A man wearing glasses and a lanyard around his neck stands outside.
LEAD Mongolia In-Country Program Fellow Shirnen Zorigt on election day.

For this election, the GEC improved voter education efforts for deaf and visually impaired voters, providing information on voter rights and the election process in accessible formats. In cooperation with the GEC, PTAM also organized trainings on the rights of voters with disabilities for polling station staff nationwide. However, some shortcomings remained, including that political parties did not provide enough accessible information for voters with disabilities and many polling stations were not fully accessible.

Overall, Shirnen says it was a “great step forward” to have a team of voters with disabilities involved in election observation and providing recommendations, as well as having accessibility trainings for polling station staff.

Tracking Voter Turnout

Other alumni contributed to the election by working directly with the GEC to improve the effectiveness and transparency of voter turnout data. Ganchimeg Namsrai, a 2017 In-Country Program Fellow, and Sanjaasuren Munkhbat, a 2018 U.S. Exchange Program Fellow, were part of a team from the LEAD Alumni Association that received support from World Learning and the GEC to implement the “Making Elections Effective and Transparent” (MEET) project.

A woman stands in front of a sign for the Mongolian 2021 election
LEAD Mongolia In-Country Program Fellow Ganchimeg Namsrai on election day.

The project aimed to develop and utilize a comprehensive online platform to track voter turnout and share that information transparently with the public. In previous elections, the GEC released voter turnout four times during the day, with a two-to-three-hour lag. This information was collected via telephone from every polling station nationwide and announced at a press conference. Citizens were not able to access voter turnout data on their own.

To address these issues, the team created a mobile application that integrated data from every election station with internet access; those stations without internet access would provide their data by calling in at set times during the day. The integrated data was displayed on a web platform, where citizens could access the information on any device with internet access. The voter data was disaggregated by location, gender, and age, in contrast to previous elections. As a result of the MEET project, this year the GEC released election turnout data to the public on an hourly basis, with 90–95% accuracy. The LEAD Alumni Association has turned over the platform to the GEC to use in future elections, which will allow for additional analysis of voter turnout and trends.

The data from this year’s election revealed that young people, particularly those between 20 and 30 years old, had the lowest turnout (43.72% for voters aged 20–24 and 46.32% for those aged 25–29). As a young country, the low turnout of youth voters on June 9 indicates that young people need to be more actively involved in future elections to drive change. Ganchimeg believes the government and civil society should work together to develop research-based policies and plans specifically to improve youth participation.

“The active participation of young people in elections is an indisputable basis for their input into public policy and, in turn, for accountability of the elected officials,” she says.

Ganchimeg, as team leader, also notes how important it was to have support from government agencies like the GEC and the General Authority for State Registration to successfully implement the project.

“Working with government agencies as a representative of civil society has been a new experience and success for me,” she says. “I also understood the importance of cooperation and understanding between stakeholders.”

A man points at a large touch screen showing a map of Mongolia's voting districts.
LEAD Mongolia U.S. Exchange Program Fellow Sanjaasuren Munkhbat reviewing voting data.

Sanjaasuren, a data specialist and IT engineer, oversaw and managed the development of the software and technology. While there were some challenges installing the mobile application due to cybersecurity and timing concerns, he says the project was worth it because it offered transparent access to turnout data, which can now be analyzed and used to improve voter participation during elections.

“I think there is no way to solve a problem without revealing it,” Sanjaasuren says, later adding, “Now we have a wide range of data, and we should find reasons and solutions.”

Volunteering at Polling Stations

On the government side, 2017 In-Country Program Fellow Munkhzul Tsend served as the chairperson of a polling station commission in Bayankhongor aimag (province). In Mongolia, polling station commissions are volunteer groups composed of civil servants that have to pass an examination to work in this capacity. Munkhzul had previously volunteered for this commission seven times, in presidential, parliamentary, and local elections. As the chairperson at her station, Munkhzul was responsible for turning over the election documents properly and ensuring preparations are made within the framework of the law. From her perspective as a polling station volunteer, the election proceeded smoothly, with officials following a pre-approved schedule.

There were additional measures taken this year, including regular disinfection of all polling stations, manual counting of all ballots at every polling station nationwide, and using the new MEET application to submit voter turnout data. Munkzhul was also able to use the MEET application to present voter turnout data at the polling station and noted that it enabled them to record voter turnout data in a timely manner, an improvement from previous elections. She also cites her LEAD program experience in providing her with the tools and techniques to manage and lead her team working in the polling station.

The LEAD program emphasizes the strength of the LEAD network and the importance of working together to achieve a common goal, and this was in evidence during the June 9 election. For example, one of the leaders at Youth Policy Watch is also a LEAD Mongolia alumna, and LEAD alumni have observed in their effort for both the 2020 parliamentary and 2021 presidential elections. Altanchimeg learned of her observation opportunity through the LEAD Mongolia Facebook group. The LEAD Alumni Association had previously worked with the GEC on last year’s elections, setting up a fruitful collaboration that continued this year.

Although LEAD alumni participated in the election in different capacities, all emphasized the importance of voting in a democratic society. Sanjaasuren credited learning the fundamentals of democracy during his LEAD experience as one of the reasons he worked to implement the MEET project despite implementation challenges.

Shirnen summarizes it best—voting “may seem like a right, but…it is a civic duty that everyone must fulfill.”


LEAD Mongolia is a five-year leadership development program — funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by World Learning — that brings together young professionals representing different sectors and experiences to take part in civic advocacy and leadership training, exchanges, and community action planning, all aimed at fostering a strong network of young democracy advocates across the country.

This article was made possible through the translation assistance of World Learning Program Officer Munkhkhishig Dashtseren.

The contents of this article are the responsibility of World Learning and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

What 100 Days in Office Taught Eight LEAD Mongolia Alumni

LEAD Mongolia Fellow Soronzonbold Alexandr
LEAD Mongolia Fellow Soronzonbold Alexandr

By Meghan Burland, Chief of Party, Leaders Advancing Democracy (LEAD) Mongolia

In many places, local elected officials are often the people taking care of a citizen’s daily needs — from determining local community development projects to maintaining roads and infrastructure. Additionally, national-level politicians usually get their start at the state or local levels, learning the ropes of government and how to ensure their policy goals and ideas are prioritized. Although local elections often do not receive the same level of attention as national elections, they are equally as important in determining the trajectory of a city, district, or state.

On October 15, 2020, Mongolia held its most recent election for representatives of local councils across the country. These local councils, known as Citizens’ Representatives Khurals (CRKs), are responsible for making and enacting local policies. More than 17,000 candidates from nine political parties and coalitions competed for 8,169 seats in the capital of Ulaanbaatar, nine districts within the capital, 21 aimags (provinces), and 330 soums (sub-provinces).

Eighteen alumni from World Learning’s Leaders Advancing Democracy (LEAD) Mongolia program ran in the election, with eight winning seats in either their provincial, sub-provincial, or district council. Below, all eight reflect on their experience running for office and the first 100 days of their term in office.

Several of the alumni noted that expanding youth engagement played an important role in their decision to run for office. Soronzonbold Alexandr, a 2019 In-Country Program Fellow, was elected to the CRK for the 17th district in Darkhan soum. His motivation for entering politics was to increase youth participation and to improve the living and working conditions of young people in his community. Munkhbat Nergui, a 2017 In-Country Program Fellow and CRK member from Sukhbaatar soum in Selenge aimag, expressed a similar motivation — to increase youth political participation in order to build a “just, open, democratic, and inclusive society.”

Erdenetugs Oroolon, another 2019 In-Country Program Fellow, also highlighted that his experience as an educator further motivated him to run and be a voice for young people at decision-making levels.

“The driving force of society is the youth,” Erdenetugs says. “It is clear that we have to participate today to build the society we will live in the future.”

Erdenetugs Oroolon (left) and Jigmeddorj Batbayar (right)
From left to right: LEAD Mongolia In-Country Program Fellows Erdenetugs Oroolon and Jigmeddorj Batbayar

Youth participation across Mongolia is often low. Ganbayar Monkhor, a 2019 alumnus in a CRK in Sukhbaatar aimag, believes this is likely due to a lack of employment opportunities. One of his goals is to increase employment opportunities for young people in rural areas, to empower them and support them in being productive and active members of their communities.

“We also need to seed a dream for youth that together we can create a brighter future,” Ganbayar says.

Another challenge is the need to increase innovative, new methods for resolving community issues instead of solely relying on traditional ones, says Tudevvaanchig Battulga, a 2019 U.S. Exchange Program Fellow from Zavkhan aimag. As a member of his local CRK, Tudevvaanchig wants to introduce new ideas and solutions to his community, such as training local households on waste management to improve environmental protection in public spaces and ger areas.

According to 2020 In-Country Program Fellow Jigmeddorj Batbayar, a CRK representative in Tuv aimag, young people are needed in government because they often develop daring and innovative ideas.

“Democracy is all about civic participation,” he says, adding, “I think that Mongolian youth should be more active and present as creative members of society.”

In regard to why youth often have low voter turnout, Jigmeddorj surmises it is due to a lack of civic education as well as a negative perception of being active in the community. He says, “We need to equip our young generation with knowledge about society and civic participation in various forms, such as programs like LEAD Mongolia.”

In addition, Batzaya Erdenebat, a 2017 alumnus, says corruption can also play a role in keeping young people out of government. He decided to run for office in Bayankhongor aimag because he believes that problems such as bribery and nepotism are worsening and even beginning to be accepted in society. One of his goals is to improve the integrity of the electoral process by eliminating unethical practices such as promising jobs and distributing gifts and cash. Batzaya says these practices make it harder for young people to get elected despite their knowledge and achievements.

Batzaya Erdenebat (left), Yadamjav Delegpuntsag (center), Munkhbat Nergui (right)
From left to right: LEAD Mongolia alumni Batzaya Erdenebat, Yadamjav Delegpuntsag, and Munkhbat Nergui

Relatedly, he stresses that public trust in the government is declining, which he calls the “biggest challenge to democracy.” To counter this, Batzaya says elected representatives need to act transparently, solicit feedback and suggestions from constituents, and be accountable.

2019 alumnus Yadamjav Delegpuntsag was running for a CRK position for the third time, having been elected to the Chingeltei district CRK in Ulaanbaatar in 2012 and 2016, so he was already familiar with his constituents and they with him and his work. Even so, he worked hard to meet as many voters as possible to present his results from his first two terms and share his goals for his third term. He emphasized the importance of working closely with constituents to drive forward policies and projects, and highlighted his success on road, infrastructure, and construction projects in his district during his third campaign. As an elected official, he acknowledged the importance of his constituents putting faith in him to improve their district, and how it is critical to take responsibility and put that trust to good use.

“A lot of people have trusted me with the task of doing a better job, so I thought I shall try harder to bear the trust of these people,” he says.

Of course, these 100 days have been made even more complex by the COVID-19 pandemic. Several alumni noted the challenge of governing during a pandemic, from having online meetings to not being able to go out and meet directly with constituents. Additionally, members of local government are often involved in efforts to combat the virus. Munkhbat notes the hard work that went into the testing and quarantine process for citizens in Selenge, and how it took the efforts of many people working together to successfully contain the spread of COVID-19 in their aimag.

Many are also working to support constituents who are struggling because of the economic impacts of the pandemic. According to Jigmeddorj, “…the number of people facing financial vulnerability [due to COVID-19] is increasing day by day…we have provided assistance to about 200 families in need of food in our ward.”

From left to right: LEAD Mongolia alumni Tudevvaanchig Battulga and Ganbayar Monkhor
From left to right: LEAD Mongolia alumni Tudevvaanchig Battulga and Ganbayar Monkhor

LEAD’s focus on civic action planning provides participants with the tools and training to advance both advocacy campaigns and community-driven projects, as well as how to work with diverse groups and ensure inclusive processes for change. The LEAD experience helped motivate alumni in their choice to run, and in bolstering their confidence to be transparent, hard-working, and driven elected officials.

Munkhbat explains that the LEAD program influenced his decision to run for office and still plays a role in how he approaches his work.

“I am incorporating what I learned from the program training, meetings, and other participants into everything we do now, and focus on how to bring positive change in my community,” Munkhbat says.

According to Ganbayar, his experience with LEAD helped him “improve in many ways.” He became more confident and was able look at issues from different perspectives.

Similarly, Soronzonbold says taking part in LEAD helped him build key skills needed to succeed as an elected official.

“I learned how to communicate effectively with people, how to solve problems [by] identifying root causes, and how to achieve good results with participatory projects,” he says, adding, “I am trying to apply what I have learned to my work and everyday life, to set an example for others, and to spread the values of democracy.”

LEAD Mongolia is a five-year leadership development program — funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by World Learning — that brings together young professionals representing different sectors and experiences to take part in civic advocacy and leadership training, exchanges, and community action planning, all aimed at fostering a strong network of young democracy advocates across the country.

This article was made possible through the translation assistance of World Learning Program Officer Munkhkhishig Dashtseren.

The contents of this article are the responsibility of World Learning and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government. 

How LEAD Mongolia Alumni Helped Support Free and Fair National Elections This Summer

LEAD Mongolia alumna Enkhbayar Tumurbaatar works as an election observer in June 2020.

By Meghan Burland, Chief of Party, Leaders Advancing Democracy (LEAD) Mongolia

Free and fair elections are often considered a hallmark of democracy. Mongolia was no exception to this on June 24, 2020, when 73 percent of registered voters turned out to vote for the 76 members of the State Great Khural, Mongolia’s unicameral parliament, demonstrating their steadfast commitment to citizen participation in spite of COVID-19 social distancing restrictions and severe weather across the country.

Youth played a significant role in the election, with youth voter turnout at 62 percent for voters aged 18 to 25, an increase from the 2016 youth voter turnout of 50.8 percent. This year’s election also featured an unprecedented number of young candidates running for office as well as youth-led nonpartisan citizen election monitoring efforts.

Alumni from World Learning’s Leaders Advancing Democracy (LEAD) Mongolia program were front and center in election-related activities across the country. As Mongolia prepares for local elections in October 2020, as well as a presidential election next year, LEAD Mongolia and its alumni continue to prioritize increasing young Mongolians’ civic participation and highlighting the work of youth in the country.

LEAD Mongolia is a five-year leadership development program — funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by World Learning — that brings together young professionals representing different sectors and experiences to take part in civic advocacy and leadership training, exchanges, and community action planning, all aimed at fostering a strong network of young democracy advocates across the country.

Below, four LEAD Mongolia Fellows share their experiences of participating in this year’s important parliamentary election and how their LEAD Mongolia training helped to prepare them.

Erdenetugs Oroolon

Erdenetugs’ official campaign photo.

LEAD 2019 In-Country Program Fellow Erdenetugs Oroolon, an elementary school teacher, ran for a parliamentary seat as a candidate from the New Party under the New Coalition in the 6th District, which comprises Dundgovi and Govisumber aimags (provinces). Erdenetugs decided to run in February 2020, after changes to the electoral law increased the number of seats in his district from one to two, creating new opportunities for first-time and independent candidates. The December 2019 amendments returned Mongolia to a multi-member plurality system.

“As a young professional, I thought I could use this election period as an opportunity to engage with the public and create [a] base of supporters,” says Erdenetugs.

However, he notes, this year’s election was not without its challenges, including the constraints of Mongolia’s traditional two-party system, allegations of vote-buying, a need for strengthened voter education and awareness, and COVID-19 restrictions. Due to the pandemic, candidates were not able to engage in traditional voter outreach during the three-week campaign period, making it difficult for newer parties and first-time, lesser-known candidates to gain the necessary support to win a seat. Erdenetugs also highlighted local difficulties, such as a drought in Dundgovi aimag, that required many herders to migrate to more remote areas for better land, making it more difficult to reach these voters ahead of Election Day.

Erdenetugs focused his policy platform on three major issues: decreasing allegiance to the two-party system and creating room for new, independent candidates; implementing equal distribution of wealth in compliance with citizens’ constitutional rights; and creating a corruption-free society. Although he did not win a seat, Erdenetugs had a fulfilling experience, having learned more about his own strengths and weaknesses, as well as gaining new perspectives from his fellow citizens on how to improve governance systems. He plans to run again in the next election.

On how his LEAD Mongolia experience helped prepare him for his parliamentary run, Erdenetugs explains he leveraged the civic action planning and grassroots-level advocacy skills learned during his time with the program to better connect with voters. Most importantly, his LEAD experience provided him with the power to “shift [my] perspective and challenge myself.”

Delgerzul Lodoisamba and Orgil Dugersuren

Delgerzul and Orgil on election day.

LEAD 2016 U.S. Exchange Program Fellow Delgerzul Lodoisamba and 2019 U.S. Exchange Program Fellow Orgil Dugersuren participated in domestic election observation efforts, organized by local civil society organizations Women for Change, Youth Policy Watch, and the CSO Network for Fair and Just Elections. Prior to this year, both had observed elections through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) election observation missions, including for the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections and 2016 parliamentary elections. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic this year, OSCE/ODIHR was unable to deploy a mission, making local civil society observation efforts all the more important.

On June 24, civil society election observers joined observers from political parties and independent candidates at polling stations around Ulaanbaatar. Delgerzul observed during the morning shift, from 6:30 am until 3 pm, while Orgil observed from 3 pm until 1 am, after votes were counted. Both noted how well COVID-19 safety measures were implemented in order not to disrupt the election or discourage voters from showing up to the polls.

As citizens, Delgerzul and Orgil both emphasized the importance of independent election observation efforts to promote transparency and confidence in election results. It is a “great honor,” says Delgerzul, to represent citizens on Election Day and help ensure reliable and fair elections, noting how other LEAD Mongolia Fellows encouraged her to observe this year. For Orgil, he believes citizen participation exemplifies the spirit of democracy and contributes to the further strengthening of Mongolia’s democratic system. However, challenges remain in Mongolia, such as the ability of young, independent candidates to gain equal opportunities; a fluctuating legal environment surrounding elections; and a narrow 21-day window for election campaigns.

Enkhbayar Tumurbaatar

Enkhbayar in her election observer t-shirt.

LEAD 2019 In-Country Program Fellow Enkhbayar Tumurbaatar served as an election observer for the first time, joining the election observation organized by local civil society organizations Women for Change, Youth Policy Watch, and the CSO Network for Fair and Just Elections. Of the overall experience, Enkhbayar says, “it was [a] very interesting and new experience for me to watch the entire election process, how the election law and rules were executed on the ground, the actions of the organizers and other observers that were present.”

In deciding to observe for the first time, Enkhbayar explains that she wanted to understand the electoral system from a new perspective. She adds that, as young person, she wanted to engage and have a meaningful role in the democratic process of her country.

“As a first-time observer, the most rewarding…take-away from me was the fact that I was able to witness and see the reality of the election through my own eyes, rather than hearing about it from someone else or from a media outlet,” she says. “I was humbled and happy to have contributed to the great effort CSOs are making to keep elections fair and right in Mongolia.”

From Enkhbayar’s perspective, the biggest obstacle to running for office in an election is the adversarial element of politics, such as negative campaigning that some parties or candidates may use to bring down the opposition. Running as an independent candidate requires courage, both to campaign without the support of a party and to prepare oneself for political attacks from both opponents and voters. For someone running in a specific political party, the challenge is to demonstrate your capacity to party leadership and prove that you can make substantial contributions to the party. Both of these scenarios can be particularly challenging, sometimes prohibitively, even for LEAD Mongolia alumni, who are “emerging leaders who have the capacity and genuine will to contribute effectively to the development of Mongolia.”

Enkhbayar cites her LEAD Mongolia experience in showing her the importance of civic participation in a democracy, which inspired her to participate as an election observer. Additionally, the strong LEAD alumni network involved in the elections further encouraged her to participate and to gain new knowledge on the electoral process.

. . . .

Overall, all four LEAD Fellows emphasize the importance of youth participation in strengthening Mongolia’s democratic trajectory. As Enkhbayar says, “there is a great need for programs, campaigns, and activities that help demonstrate and have youth feel the real impact and power their participation can bring. A great example of this is the LEAD Mongolia program…if I had not been to LEAD, I would not have understood the importance of my participation.”

As Mongolia prepares for local elections on October 15, Delgerzul highlights how much the younger generation cares about democracy, and how young people are using Facebook and other social media platforms to raise their voices and call for change. Moving forward, Mongolian youth will continue to play a critical role, particularly in civil society efforts to advocate for election reforms, transparency, and increased voter education. As MP candidate Erdenetugs puts it, “people need to be empowered to work hard for their dreams…and fight for the society they want to live in.”

World Learning Launches Virtual Tours Exploring Careers Around the Globe

Bayarmaa Lkhagvador (right), a renewable energy engineer walks through a solar farm in Mongolia.

Imagine stepping into the shoes of a teacher at Mongolia’s only school for deaf students, or an engineer working to find a solution to air pollution — without leaving your home.

Now’s your chance to do just that. Working with a team at Google, World Learning is launching a series of virtual reality tours designed to help young people explore the careers and daily lives of professionals all over the world. On these self-guided tours, you’ll learn how professionals built their careers, the challenges they face, and what skills they need to do their jobs well.

Virtual career tours make it possible for many more young people to gain exposure to real-world work environments. These tours show students the many ways they can apply their skills professionally and offer them insight into what working life is like. “Virtual reality is just beginning to open up new possibilities for learning and experiencing the world,” says Dr. Catherine Honeyman, Senior Youth Workforce Specialist at World Learning. “What I love about these virtual career tours is how they help us get beyond the limitations of our social relationships — you don’t have to personally know an energy engineer to visit her workplace. She has already invited you to come have a look just by using your phone!”

First up, we’re headed to Mongolia to shadow the careers of a few of our fellows from the Leaders Advancing Democracy (LEAD) Mongolia program. LEAD Mongolia is a USAID-funded program administered by World Learning that works to build the next generation of democracy champions through leadership, international exchange, and civic education activities. LEAD Mongolia fellows also work on civic action projects addressing critical issues like unemployment.

These tours can be viewed on any ordinary smartphone or laptop — no special equipment is required. For a fully immersive experience, drop your phone into an inexpensive VR viewer (like the Google Cardboard viewer) and explore the scene just by turning your head!

Career Expedition: Renewable Energy Engineer
Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action, Ministry of Construction and Urban Development
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Click to explore a career as a renewable energey engineer in Mongolia!

Bayarmaa Lkhagvadorj is an engineer from Mongolia who believes renewable energies are the way of the future. Travel with her through Mongolia to see the effects of the air pollution caused by burning coal. Go with her to a massive solar field to learn how solar panels work, and find out how Lkhagvadorj works with a local research center to provide evidence-based recommendations for stronger environmental policies.

Career Expedition: Training Manager
Wagner Asia Equipment LLC
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Follow a day in the life of Khunshagai Baldorj, a training manager at Wagner Asia, a company that provides products and services to the mining, construction, infrastructure, and energy sectors. Find out how she helps employees build their skills through training opportunities, and how she’s provided job training to unemployed Mongolians through her work as chair of the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility Committee.

Career Expedition: Teaching at a School for Deaf Children
School #29
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Meet Tuul Batsuren, a history teacher at School #29 — the only school in Mongolia for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Join Batsuren, who is deaf, in her classroom as she plans lessons and teaches class in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. Then visit her office at the nongovernmental organization that she founded to advocate for her students’ rights to a quality education.

World Learning and USAID Launch New Program to Support Democratic Development in Mongolia

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded World Learning a new $2.5 million Mongolian Young Leaders Program. Secretary of State John Kerry announced the program during his June 5 visit to Ulaanbaatar. It supports U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia Jennifer Zimdahl Galt’s initiative to help build the country’s next generation of democratic leaders.

World Learning will lead the two-year program in partnership with non-profit organizations from both Mongolia and the United States —the Center for Citizenship Education and the International Republican Institute. The Mongolian Young Leaders Program will support promising young leaders from the public, civil society, media, and private sectors to work collaboratively on key policy issues related to environment and urbanization, unemployment and poverty alleviation, and anti-corruption and transparency. Through leadership programs and international exchanges, participants will interact with colleagues within Mongolia and counterparts from the United States and selected Asian countries. The program will also encourage public engagement among high school students by providing new civic education materials to teachers and sponsoring Project Citizen competitions in which students take action to improve their schools and communities.

“Mongolia’s nearly 25 years of peaceful democracy provide hope for countries struggling with authoritarian pasts,” said Carol Jenkins, president for Global Development and Exchange at World Learning. “World Learning and our partners are proud to support a new generation of democratic champions to continue this legacy.”

World Learning is an international non-profit organization working to promote leadership, empower people and strengthen institutions in over 75 countries through education, development and exchange programs. It has been active in Mongolia since 2000 through its Experiment in International Living, SIT Study Abroad programs, and international exchanges.

World Learning Launches Project in Support of Mongolia’s Young, Emerging Leaders

World Learning is proud to officially launch its new Leaders Advancing Democracy (LEAD)-Mongolia Program in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). LEAD-Mongolia is introduced to support U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia Jennifer Zimdahl Galt’s initiative to support the country’s next generation of democratic leaders. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry previously announced this program during his visit to Mongolia on June 5, 2016 as he encouraged young Mongolian leaders to use their voice to further their country’s democratic efforts.

The launch event took place on September 21, 2016 in Ulaanbaatar to celebrate the program’s inauguration and encourage interested emerging leaders to apply.

“We’re honored to partner with USAID on this important initiative,” says World Learning President, Carol Jenkins. “Our project creates a partnership whereby Mongolia’s best and brightest emerging leaders are given a unique opportunity to breathe life into their own vision of positive change. This is accomplished through a variety of leadership programs, international exchanges, and civic education activities.” Carol Jenkins traveled from Washington, DC to attend the event and make remarks alongside U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia Jennifer Zimdahl Galt.

Over the next two years, LEAD-Mongolia will work with 90 emerging leaders from a variety of sectors, connect Mongolian emerging leaders with counterparts in the region, and develop a civic education curriculum for teachers at the high-school level. World Learning is working together with non-profit partners International Republican Institute (IRI) and Center for Citizenship Education (CCE) to achieve these goals.

“We want emerging leaders aged 25 to 40 with enthusiasm and a unique vision for positive change,” explains LEAD Project Director, Adam LeClair. “We’re keen to support the next generation of change agents whose leadership will combat indifference and forge a common vision for the successful democratic trajectory of their country. We also encourage emerging leaders from all paths of life to apply. That’s is why we’ve spoken to organizations representing diverse populations and interests including youth groups, policy advocates, gender-focused groups, disabled persons organizations, LGBTI rights groups, and others.”

World Learning is an international non-profit organization working to promote leadership, empower people and strengthen institutions in over 75 countries through education, development, and exchange programs. It has been active in Mongolia since 2000 through its Experiment in International Living, SIT Study Abroad programs, and international exchanges.