A credit union, a visit to Parliament, a very full day!
Got up this morning after a much-needed night’s sleep and it was time to get down to work. The day started with a visit to Moncord Credit Union, Mongolia’s largest credit union based on membership and second-largest based on assets. Mongolia’s credit union movement is very young, and Moncord — created in 1996 by a group of 16 women who were concerned that women were having trouble obtaining loans for their small businesses — was the country’s first.
It was a visit I was really looking forward to, because it gave me the opportunity to renew my acquaintence with Batta (full name: Battsetseg Togtokh), whom I had met in June when she came to Canada to participate in CCA’s Women’s Mentorship Program, a special training program for women credit union executives from developing countries. She sits on the board of Moncord, and is also the chief executive officer director of MOCCU: the Mongolian Confederation of Credit Unions. When I first met Batta in Ottawa, I knew I was going on the Mongolia mission, so I peppered her with questions about her country, which she seemed pleased to answer. She also taught me my first word (two words) of Mongolian: sain banuu(“hello”).
It was wonderful to see her. There are those that say that Mongolians are shy and reserved by nature, but Batta definitly doesn’t fit that description. She is outgoing, enthusiastic and articulate — in all four of the languages she speaks (Mongolian, Russian, German and English). She welcomed me and Sarah (my CCA colleague) warmly, as did Daria, the credit union’s chair and another Women’s Mentorship Program alumna. In 2010, two Canadian credit union coaches spent the good part of a week at Moncord, and we were curious to know whether they had made an impact. Batta and Daria reported that they had already implemented a number of the coaches’ recommendations, including improved security, a new formula for evaluating loan risk and revised loan application forms. Most importantly, Moncord had incorporated the coaches’ recommendations into the credit union’s business plan. It’s always wonderful when you can see the tangible results of CCA’s international development program, and Moncord was a good example.
After lunch at the hotel with the board of the Mongolian Cooperative Training and Information Centre (MCTIC — pronunced mick-tick), Sarah went to visit more credit unions, while I accompanied Lydia Phillips, CCA’s regional director for Asia and the Americas, to the Mongolian parliament to meet with Enkhbold Nyamaa, the vice-chairman of the Mongolian parliament (he’s basically the Mongolian equivalent of the Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons). But for us, Enkhbold was not just a politician — for the past two years, he has been president of the Mongolian National Cooperators Association, the country’s umbrella association of co-operatives (basically the Mongolian equivalent of CCA). An active co-operator in a senior political position? Wish it could happen in Canada!
Also attending the meeting was Myga, the executive director of MCTIC, and an interpreter named Ganbat. But we quickly discovered that no interpretation was necessary: Enkhbold’s English was fluent. It was an excellent meeting. Enkhbold was very positive about the work CCA has been doing in Mongolia and gave us some useful insights on the challenges facing the Mongolian co-op movement. And although we didn’t get to see the parliament in session — as in Canada, they are on summer recess — we did get a good look at the corridors of Mongolian political power.
Part functional office building, part lavish and ceremonial, I was particularly struck by the beautiful carved wooden doors and, of all things, the “wallpaper” in Enkhbold’s large office. The office walls were covered with plaster, with Mongolia’s somewhat complex national symbol carved into the plaster in a repeated pattern.
We had a bit of time after our meeting, so Myga and Ganbat took us down the street to the National Museum of Mongolia, which featured exhibits relating to every period in the country’s history, including a whole section dedicated to…you guessed it…Chinggis Khan. We only had about an hour there so it was a whirlwind tour, but we learned a great deal about both the ancient and recent history of the country,
Met Sarah back at the hotel, then went to the State Department Store. The store dates back to the Communist era, but looks a lot like a Canadian department store…and is just as expensive. After that, we went for dinner at one of Mongolia’s more upscale eateries, Monet. While the food was very good, the main attraction was the view. Located on the 17th floor of the Central Tower, at one end of Sukhbaatar Square, the restaurant is encircled by windows offering a wonderful view of the entire city.
Tomorrow morning, we head off to the countryside. Don’t know if I’ll find internet access, so my next post may take a few days….but they say there’s an internet cafe in one of the towns we will be visiting, so who knows?