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Eurasia Young Professionals Get Crash Course in Mongolia Natural Resources

Young professionals focused on natural resources in Eurasia need hands-on experience. They want to execute critical assessment of past policies, generate their own solutions and learn from senior professionals. They want to visit extraction sites and get face time with miners, officials, and locals, who wrestle with resource-related challenges on daily basis.

But in the past, very few of international and domestic initiatives and capacity development programs provided opportunities for young professionals from the region.

To address this gap, the Canadian International Resources and Development Institute and the Natural Resource Governance Institute hosted a flagship peer-to-peer learning and scenario-based group exercises workshop in Ulaanbaatar for over 20 young professionals from Afghanistan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Mongolia.

The workshop gathered a wide spectrum of participants representing key mining, finance and environmental ministries, state-owned and private mining companies and civil society, including young journalists.

Course members began their training at an abandoned coal mine in Ulaanbaatar’s Nalaikh district. This formerly well-managed mine had devolved into a deadly artisanal operation. Since 1990, when the mine was abandoned, over 230 people died there and more than 500 were rescued, according to official Mine Rescue Unit statistics. This dramatic example helped participants to understand the difficulties of a mine’s post-closure phase.

“Seeing how environmental pollution severely damaged the soil and led to health risks for people residing and working in the area was truly heartbreaking,” said Mandukhai Kherlen, a public relations and media specialist at state-run Erdenes Oyu Tolgoi LLC.

The next site visit was to was Tavan Tolgoi, home to the world’s largest coking coal mine. Tavan Tolgoi offered an opportunity for participants to compare three different modes of ownership: participants visited the Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi mine; a mine owned by the publicly-listed Mongolian Mining Corporation; and the local government-owned Tavan Tolgoi LLC (known as “small Tavan Tolgoi”).

Participants were able to interact with miners and local authorities, getting out of the conference rooms and learning from those most impacted by extraction. Visitors from mining and finance ministries, mining and consulting corporations, and civil society organizations, including media, found the mine site visits extremely useful. All these young professionals had been worked on policy documents concerning Tavan Tolgoi mine. Other participants had conducted the most up-to-date independent study on the corporate governance of the Erdenes Mongol LLC, the largest state-owned enterprise in Mongolia.

The final day of the workshop was devoted to a group exercise on negotiating community benefit agreements, based on an agreement reached by Rio Tinto, the Mongolian government and Umnugovi Province communities on Oyu Tolgoi. Participants were divided into three role-playing groups: the mining corporation, the national government and civil society. Canadian and Mongolian experts in community benefit and impact agreements supervised each stage of the simulated negotiation. A rare rainy day in the Gobi Desert contributed to more intense discussions and esprit de corps inside a ger, the traditional nomadic Mongol dwelling.

The workshop provided a learning environment that these young professionals don’t usually enjoy—one in which they were able to engage with peers in collaborative critical thinking and receive expert feedback.

We hope senior officials in the Mongolian government and other major international projects invest in practical learning for young professionals who will make up resource governance institutions. More critical engagement and hands-on experience for young professionals make better policy gatekeepers in Eurasian resource-dependent countries.

Mendee Jargalsaikhan is CIRDI’s project coordinator and Ph.D. candidate at the University of British Columbia. Dorjdari Namkhaijantsan is NRGI’s Mongolia manager.