Posts tagged ‘mongolia’

A Glimpse of Microfinance and Urban Poverty in Ulaanbaatar

Kiva loans being promoted at Transcapital

Munkhbayar, the Kiva Coordinator, promoting Kiva loans at Transcapital

Last week I started visiting some of Kiva’s borrowers with Transcapital, one of Kiva’s field partners that I’m working with here in Mongolia. While it was really encouraging to see Transcapital’s enthusiasm for Kiva at the head office as well as its various branch offices around Ulaanbaatar (UB), the new insights I’ve gained on urban poverty—both from these visits as well as just day-to-day life here—have left me perplexed so far, with far more questions than answers.

A short term solution?

Narantuul market, the largest outdoor market in UB

Narantuul, the largest outdoor market in UB (above), and what you’ll find there (below)

vendors at Narantuul market

Our visits began with a stop at Narantuul market, the largest outdoor market in UB where a number of Transcapital’s clients have retail outlets. At a first glance, Narantuul is a colourful and vibrant marketplace where vendors sell everything from food and candy, to winter coats, scarves, belts, jeans, baseball caps, cardboard, and more. It’s the place where Mongolians often go to find cheaper wares, which makes sense considering some of the staggering prices I’ve seen at Ikh Delguur, the State Department Store. We spoke to Bayasgalan, the proud owner of a shop selling winter coats and clothes, a long time client of Transcapital’s, and a Kiva borrower.

Bayasgalan and her clothing shop

Bayasgalan and her clothing shop

Other vendors watched us with curiosity as we chatted with her, and the mood at the market was lively despite the cold. But my translator friend, whose family had sold candy there, explained to me as we left that pretty much all the vendors there need continual loans to in order to sustain their businesses. Without loans, they can’t operate; but even with loans, they struggle to get ahead… which is anything but encouraging.

Harsh working conditions

Kharkhorin market (above) and some of the items for sale (below)

Kharkhorin market (above) and some of the items for sale (below)

vendors at Kharkhorin market

The next day, we visited Kharkhorin market, UB’s second largest outdoor market, located on the other side of the city. The wares there were slightly different: I saw lots of shoes, but also an eclectic collection of hardware parts, sinks, ropes, tools, and other random second-hand items.

Saranchimeg was busy selling her winter boots when we stopped by

Saranchimeg was busy selling her winter boots when we stopped by

We had trouble locating one of the two borrowers we had to meet, so we wandered around for some time looking for her. In the meantime we met and chatted with Saranchimeg, who had used her loan to increase her supply of winter boots. We had been outside for about 45 minutes by the time we finished chatting with her, and I thought my fingers and toes might fall off. It must have been around -25oC that day with the sharp wind whipping through the stalls. But my thoughts were with the market’s vendors who stand out there all day long, day in and day out. My translator friend assured me that, just because they’ve lived in Mongolia their whole lives, it doesn’t make the cold is any easier for them to bear. I was humbled by how hard they work.

The reality for taxi drivers

Batbileg, a taxi driver, in the car he purchased with the help of his loan

Batbileg, a taxi driver, in the car he purchased with the help of his loan

We also visited with some taxi drivers. While a male taxi driver may not be one of the sexiest loans on Kiva’s website, you should know how hard these people work to support their families, just like anyone else. And for what? Being a taxi driver is a tough way to make a living in UB: A one-kilometre ride will earn a driver about 1,500 Tugriks (or 1.07 USD).

I need a ride, someone... Anyone?

I need a ride, someone… Anyone?

Moreover, the competition is stiff. Since cars have become ubiquitous in Mongolia’s capital, everyone has become a taxi driver. It’s an overhang from the early days of capitalism, when cars were not that common and the city’s residents would help each other out by giving rides. Now, you see people on the streets with their hand out all the time, and it usually only takes a few minutes for a car to pull over.

Another borrower we met lived in one of the outer ger districts, the slums of the city which lack basic services like running water and sanitation. He was middle-aged and had taken out a housing loan, but he told us that he had been a driver under the socialist regime. He explained that he had had much difficulty in finding employment in his profession. Recently, though, he has started applying for driver jobs again. It’s a mystery to me how he has managed to make ends meet over the years.

Survival of the fittest?

an elderly lady I often see selling gum and candy on the street, even on the coldest winter days

an elderly lady I often see selling gum and candy on the street, even on the coldest winter days

It’s easy to think that people don’t work because they’re too lazy, or because they simply refuse to accept lower-paying positions. This may be true in some cases. But there may also be more to the issue than meets the eye. Mongolia had its Revolution and transition to a market economy in the early 1990s and it seems the transition was difficult for those who were brought up and educated in the socialist era: Many of their skills and experiences have not translated well in the new economy. While a lot of the leadership I’ve seen in white collar jobs are shockingly young—in their late 20s or early 30s—street and market vendors tend to be in their 50s or older. And for many of them, their wares include no more than a couple handfuls of gum and candy, which can’t possibly bring in that much at the end of the day.

some people sell fruit, others sell services such as the use of a telephone or a scale (like this lady here)

some people sell fruit, others sell services such as the use of a telephone or a scale (like this lady here)

Maybe skills training is needed to support these people… or maybe it’s not that simple. Imagine being in your 40s or 50s and getting trained (or competing for jobs) alongside people who are a whole generation younger than you. And the longer you stay out of the workforce, the less confidence you generally have to return to it. One colleague of mine surmised that perhaps self-employment is the way to go for these people.

The fork in the road

Of course, this reflects only one facet of urban poverty here. Another, and perhaps larger, driver is the massive migration of traditional nomadic herders to the capital, as zuuds—extremely harsh winters—have killed off the millions of animals on which they depend for their livelihoods.

Mongolia has gone through some incredible changes over the past several years, thanks to the discovery of the largest unexploited reserve of copper, gold and silver in the world. Roads have appeared where they previously didn’t exist; herders have disappeared from the streets of UB; shiny new buildings have gone up; inflation has gone through the roof. It’s poised to be one of the fastest growing economies in the world in 2013.

There is immense potential for large-scale economic development and poverty alleviation in Mongolia. Microfinance is helping to tie things over, but how the country handles big issues such as corruption will ultimately determine whether the spoils will be shared by many. So far, everything I’ve taken in only seems to have raised more questions. I’ve only scratched the surface in terms of grasping the complex economic factors at work in this country, much less understanding the solutions.

28 March 2013 at 09:00

Update from the Field: Nomadic lifestyles, road trips + cultural perspectives

Compiled by Isabel Balderrama | KF17 | Ecuador

Welcome to this week’s Update from the Field! In the past few days we’ve had blog posts come to us from all corners of the world. From hearing about the prevailing Nomadic lifestyles of the people of Mongolia, to Kenya, where we journey along on an adventure-filled trip to meet a Kiva borrower in person. After touching down on Palestine and meeting a group of women that have successfully formed a cooperative, we are whisked away to the islands of Samoa where we are treated to two excellent videos illustrating life in this mysterious-to-some archipelago. From there, we come back to the Asian continent where we find two fellows located in two very culturally dissimilar countries, Ukraine and Indonesia, comparing and contrasting their experiences with borrower privacy. Hope you enjoy this week’s trip around the globe courtesy of this ever-audacious group of Kiva Fellows!

Continue Reading 28 May 2012 at 09:00 4 comments

Nomads: How Much Longer?

Jon Hiebert | KF 17 | Mongolia

This family was surprisingly connected. They showed me that the solar panel could charge their cell phones, and yes, they have reception here!

As we drove hundreds of kilometers on this “Mongolian highway” (dirt road), the only thing that broke the vast nothingness was animals and the occasional ger (Mongolian nomadic tent).  We were headed to a city called Kherlen in the Eastern Mongolian province of Dornod, where  I was scheduled to check in with five borrowers to verify some information.

While bumping along in the middle of nowhere, we saw a man on a motorbike coming from a different middle of nowhere, and our driver stopped to have a chat.  After we got going again, I asked my coworker/translator, Tsolmon what that was about.  He told me our driver wanted to stop at a ger where I could ride a horse!  I was happy to hear this news, as I needed to stretch my legs.  So, we drove and drove off the “main” road to find this horse.  After a lot of confusion and bickering between the two Mongolians I was with, we came across a ger — who knows if it was the ger — but I don’t think it matters all that much.

(more…)

21 May 2012 at 15:00 4 comments

Update from the Field: Colorful Markets, Microfinance for Students + Springtime Flowers and Celebrations

Compiled by Allison Moomey | KF16 & KF17 | Bénin

Springtime has arrived and fellows around the world are celebrating the resfreshing new life springing from the ground. From millions of tulips in Turkey to smelling family members and friends in Mongolia, fellows have been busy embracing the unique cultures of their host countries. Join Isabel as she explores Ecuador’s colorful markets, Natalie as she discovers an innovative mirofinance program run from a high school, and Kim as she celebrates the colorful fields of flowers in Turkey. Finally, see how the debut of spring is enjoyed around the world with Jon in Mongolia, Chris in the Ukraine, Jen in Cambodia, Natalie in Cameroon, and Kiyomi and Emmanuel in Mexico.

Continue Reading 23 April 2012 at 09:00 4 comments

Hello Spring: It’s Time to Celebrate

Compiled by Kiyomi Beach | KF17 | Mexico

Whether shaking off the chill of winter, welcoming the rainy season, or experiencing any other climate change, the spring can definitely be a time to celebrate. Some countries celebrate big which can mean local business owners have a surge in income from selling items related to the festivities. Sales for new clothes, fabrics for costumes, candies, and specialty foods increase, which give some Kiva borrowers an extra reason to celebrate.

While we may all be familiar with some holidays or festivals, each culture celebrates what may seam like a familiar holiday differently. Some countries have celebrations that are uniquely their own, with the common threads being are family and fun. Lets see how a few of the fellows celebrated.

Continue Reading 20 April 2012 at 09:00 4 comments

Update from the Field: Non-Financial Services, Employment Discrimination + The Dark Side of Sustainable Tourism

Compiled by Chris Paci | KF16 & KF17 | Ukraine

The Quirimbas Archipelago from above - Micaela Browning, Mozambique

The Quirimbas Archipelago from above - Micaela Browning, Mozambique

It’s been a busy week here on Kiva Stories from the Field! Most of our KF17 fellows have been in the field for two months by this point, and they’ve been drawing on their wealth of on-the-ground experience to unpack some of the more complex and troubling aspects of life in their host societies. In a series of fascinating posts, our fellows tackle employment discrimination in Indonesia, the dark side of sustainable tourism in Mozambique, and the difficulty all Kiva Fellows face in keeping sight of our end goal of poverty alleviation – not to mention our most harrowing borrower verification story yet. But there’s plenty of lighter fare this week too. Tag along with our fellows as they join a football club in Togo, help a new partner post its first Kiva profiles in Cameroon, and teach us about the inspirational non-financial services that Kiva’s field partners provide. (more…)

2 April 2012 at 09:00 4 comments

My mid-fellowship crisis: What am I doing here?

Jon Hiebert | KF 17 | Mongolia

I woke up on Friday morning just like every other morning.  Slightly pleased with the late start of 9:00 a.m., I still felt awkward getting dressed in my business suit. Then I enjoyed my Choco Chips cereal with milk in bed while getting mentally prepared for another day of laptop projects.

Lookin’ good but a little anxious in my suit.

To get to the office, I walked the tiled sidewalks only recently freed from a four-month coat of ice. I went upstairs, set up my Macbook in Transcapital‘s clean, newly-renovated office in the city center, and continued with my work. I was excited to be working on a report that will help transition another microfinance institution (MFI) from pilot program to full-fledged field partner. It’s still being assessed by Kiva Headquarters. This is just one of a number of projects I’m working on for Kiva, in addition to projects I’ve been asked to complete by the MFIs here. Today will be a productive day, I thought to myself.

But other thoughts started crowding my head.  I really need a haircut, I haven’t shined my shoes in four days, I should really get another winter hat so I don’t have to wear my old blond fox one every single day.  I also found myself being more and more affected — and even disillusioned — by the city’s office culture.  Of course, I work with wonderful people here — but I found myself losing track of why I’m in Mongolia in the first place. (more…)

26 March 2012 at 11:59 4 comments

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