Co-Creating New Mongolia Through Digital Technology and Innovation
- Tanaka Shinichi Chief Representative JICA Mongolia Office
Mongolia is a well-known country, recognized by many for its historical significance as the site of the largest empire in world history, established by Genghis Khan. Recently, it gained attention as the filming location for a popular Japanese TV drama.
This vast and landlocked country boasts abundant natural beauty, with a land area approximately four times the size of Japan, and can be reached by five-hour direct flight from Japan.
Following the trend of Eastern European countries, Mongolia turned to democratization and a market economy in the early 1990s. Since then, JICA has actively supported this process.
Despite having a population of approximately 3.4 million people, Mongolia has a significant number of individuals who have studied in Japan and proficient in the Japanese language, making it a country with a favorable attitude towards Japan.
Mongolia, known for its abundant natural resources such as coal and copper. However, its economic structure is heavily dependent on these mining resources, resulting in an unstable macroeconomic situation. To achieve a more resilient economic structure, the development of industries other than mining has become a crucial challenge.
In its pursuit of economic diversification, Mongolia is working on promoting the digital industry as a priority industry in addition to agriculture, livestock farming, and tourism. Given its landlocked location and relatively small market size, replicating the manufacturing industry development seen in Southeast Asia, driven by global enterprises and advanced country companies like automobile manufacturers, is not easily feasible. Therefore, the digital industry is attracting attention as a promising industry. It offers advantages such as easy expansion to international markets, as it does not require the import/export of physical goods, and it allows for business penetration with minimal initial capital investment.
Mongolia possesses a wealth of talent to support the digital industry. Mongolians excel in mathematics and demonstrate a strong entrepreneurial spirit. Additionally, in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, three Japanese-style technical colleges (Kosen) have been established, where Japanese language classes are also offered. In recent years, many graduates have found employment as engineers in Japan.
Based on this background, JICA is engaged in various initiatives in Mongolia's digital field.
First, JICA implements the MONJA program, an entrepreneur support program aimed atnurturing startups that drive Mongolia's digital industry and expand social businesses. This program includes an acceleration program conducted in collaboration with Mongolia's leading telecommunications company, MOBICOM, and the Mongolia Japan Human Resource Development Center.
Second, JICA organizes the DXCUP, a business plan contest for students that have leverages digital technology. Taking inspiration from Japan’s Deep Learning Contest for students in technical colleges (Kosen), Mongolia now conducts its own business plan contest focusing on digital technology.
Moreover, JICA conducts job placement seminars for digital field professionals, facilitates business matching between Japanese and Mongolian companies (held respectively in Japan and Mongolia), and promotes the utilization of big data in the public and private sectors acquired through E-Mongolia, the foundation of Mongolia's e-government initiative.
Through these efforts, we hope to see the digital industry become a major industry in Mongolia and digital technology adoption spread throughout the country.
When I engage with the youth in Mongolia, their strong desire to contribute to their own country and future generations is evident. Mongolians also possess a vibrant entrepreneurial spirit, which has led to the emergence of numerous startups and NGOs.
Addressing the social issues that Mongolia faces requires robust collaboration and cooperation among Mongolians. However, efforts in this regard have not been as extensive as desired. In light of this situation, in order to fundamentally address the social issues in Mongolia, it is essential for companies including startups, NGOs, and educational and research institutions to bring together their resources such as technology, ideas, networks and even funding, to co-create on innovative solutions, and to work collaboratively. As a specific program for this purpose, we are implementing the Mongolia Open Innovation and Co-creation for SDGs (MICS) 2023 program.
This program aims to bring together a wide range of stakeholders from both Mongolia and Japan. In August, we conducted the MICS kick-off event, which resulted in the birth of ten collaborative projects that seek to address societal issues in innovative ways. Moving forward, through the promotion of this initiative, we aim to achieve Mongolia's SDGs by broadly sharing the outcomes and significance of innovation, co-creation, and collaboration by diverse stakeholders.
Digital technology, being a cross-cutting technology, holds the potential for versatile applications across numerous fields and has the power to facilitate leapfrog development in developing countries. In a context where social challenges are becoming increasingly complex and public funding for development is limited, there must be a growing necessity for initiatives like MICS
I believe that by promoting initiatives like MICS and harnessing the potential of digital technology within them, we can make significant strides in addressing societal issues at their core and achieving the SDGs.
Furthermore, from December 7 to 9, the Mongolia IT Mission for Japanese digital companies will take place. This event is organized by JETRO and co-hosted by the Mongolia Japan Human Resource Development Center and JICA, will include following several key activities; the interim report meeting for MICS (featuring pitches from the ten collaborative projects), the 3rd MONJA final report meeting (featuring pitches from three startups that have undergone the acceleration program), and the 3rd DXCUP (featuring pitches from approximately ten student teams). If you are interested in participating, we encourage you to join this mission. For more information, please refer to the following link.