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The Final Frontier? BAM in Mongolia

Mongolia is seen as the “Final Frontier” for many people. It stirs up images of the horse herds that still run free across her open steppes. From the harsh arid climate of the Gobi Desert in the south, to the pristine lakes in the frozen north that border Russia’s Siberia, the climate has forged a hardy, resilient people who work hard, play hard, and practice a survivalist hospitality.

Into this climate, Mongolia in 1990 opened her borders to doing business and trade with the rest of the world. Freedom of religion was written into her new constitution. A free market economy emerged. People were asking for the tools to cope with a new and growing economy. From 2000 to 2012, Mongolia’s resource-rich countryside has fueled what is now reported to be one of the fastest growing economies of Asia.

Into this setting business as mission entrepreneurs are finding opportunities to work with Mongolians to help them build their country on the solid foundations of faith and the hope that does not disappoint. BAM workers seek to close the gap between rich and poor; to disciple Mongolia’s young population with values which will encourage them not to buy into the despotism of capitalism, but that will build a sustainable future.

Introduction to Mongolia

Mongolia is the little known country with the big influence. It became most well-known in history in the 1200s because of Genghis Khan (Chingis, as pronounced by most Mongolians). He was the ruler who united the tribes and conquered much of Asia, ruling the largest empire the world has ever known. His grandson Kublai Khan met Marco Polo and the West was introduced to this powerful nation.

Later the Chinese would take back not only their country from the Mongols, but Mongolia as well. In the 1920s Russia helped liberate Mongolia from Chinese rule. For the next 70 years Mongolia and the Soviet Union had strong political, economic and social ties. Read more

Lessons from the Edge: Human Resources

Insights from a BAM Practitioner

‘Julia’ has been a business owner in Mongolia for 12 years.

Investing in people is challenging, but worth it
My husband likes to quote his habitat for humanity friend on this: “It is easy to build houses and so hard to build people”. Houses stay put where you build them and people are always changing – but the costly things are the precious ones. I have tried to be somewhat friendly with my employees and try to model respect, servant leadership, and creating a healthy work environment. I have also had to balance that by being firm in my approach and following up with consequences. Finding a healthy balance between respect and the friend who is the boss has been a key. Some of our oldest, most mature workers, have come back to me years later and thanked me for this model that they now understand but didn’t when they first worked for us.

Tread carefully with strongly held cultural-values
We’ve had lots of problems with staff not wanting to report to younger colleagues, or do certain jobs, because of their status in the culture. I used to think it was good to push them into this to learn humility. Now I think it is more respectful of the person to work with them in this up to a point. It is only the Lord who can work humility in people. I still have to consider the good of the business but as much as possible I try to work with my employees until they are ready for more. When I find someone willing and secure enough to take on cross-status challenges, I try to reward them and treasure their maturity with more responsibility and privilege.

It’s worth paying for good talent
We always paid minimum wage until the last two years when I found an over-qualified and competent worker. I just about broke the bank to get her a somewhat acceptable salary and she was worth her weight in gold! We never have to worry about our books going in the red with her around. I have learned that when you find a good worker it is well worth it to really do all you can to take care of them. I can’t afford not to, even if it is a stretch.