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If you are a true leader, then you deserve to sit at the leader’s table

If you are a true leader, then you deserve to sit at the leader’s table

A Mongolian woman and a Mongolian politician Kh. Bulgantuya:

On the occasion of the 95th anniversary, Ms.Bulgantuya Khurelbaatar, Vice Minister of Finance of Mongolia, whom we take pride as continuation of historical stateswomen shares her life story and dreams and aspirations. Last year, Vice Minister Ms. Bulgantuya has been named as one of the World’s 100 Most Influential Young People in Government by Apolitica, nominated from hundreds of young leaders by experts and leading organizations.

-There are a lot of people who are interested in the success story of a woman who holds vice minister’s position at such young age in the government. Let us start our interview with your childhood, where you were raised and attained your education.

 - My parents have dedicated their lives to raise and educate their children. It is said that fathers build self-confidence in their daughters.  My father taught me, " You are great. You can reach anywhere you want. There is no limit to how much you can accomplish. " Perhaps this has allowed me not to sit back  and limit myself. Strong mothers raise strong daughters. My mother is a remarkable and professional woman. She has showed me that a woman can have a successful career and care for her family and children. In 1993-1996, she did her master’s degree in Australia so I had a chance to study there.

I came back to Mongolia to finish my 10th grade (the last year of secondary education), then graduated from China with a bachelor’s degree in economics followed by Master’s in economics from Yale University in the United States. I also lived in Japan, teaching English and learning Japanese. Opportunities to study and work in many places were rare for those who are my generation. I did not take the opportunities for granted; I studied hard, often became top students in the class, got scholarships, worked throughout my study to save money as not to put my parents under financial stress. I still remember that when those of us from a small country study abroad we would sometimes face discrimination and insult. At that time, even though I was quite young, I used to think that if an opportunity presents itself I will work hard for development of my country. 

- About your experience before you come to Mongolia?

 - My mother and father used to say “You are Mongolia’s resource. No matter where you go to school, you have to come back to Mongolia to live.  There are many opportunity to live happily in Mongolia.”   I never hesitated about coming back to Mongolia no matter where I went. Before coming back to settle down, I used to work as a public financial management consultant in the ministries of finance of a number of developing countries. I have witnessed that if the people of the country can put their heart and hard work into their country, it can develop or it can lose everything it has accomplished. I have learnt a lot and understood many things.

 - Your parents have educated you well during the years of socia-economic transition when the whole country let alone families faced many difficulties. Then how do you see your role in the world? 

 - I think God presents opportunities for everyone. Whether to make the opportunity a success or not depends on you. It was not easy for many young people of our generation to live and study abroad. In the 1990s, most Mongolians did not have much money and haven’t seen or experienced much. During that time, almost all Mongolian students studying abroad worked to support their family back home or make ends meet. Perhaps some of the parents today would say instead of work to support your study, study and we will support you.  Regarding responsibility, I am a citizen of Mongolia with a population of 3.2 million. Amongst those of my generation, I had the rare opportunity to get good education, live and work abroad and reach financial and other freedom early on.  I think that because life has given me such opportunities, I have to bear certain responsibility.

My grandmother had eight children. She said “My husband and I are ordinary workers. It was a time when a great society used to cradle our children and take care of them, so we never had to worry about their future.” It is a shame that we have lost many of the accomplishment of the previous social system during the transition. We should not talk whys and ifs, just  persevere and do what needs to be done as not to be blamed and badly remembered by the next generation.  I think it is not only me but everybody bears this responsibility.

- After ccoming back to Mongolia, you held responsible jobs in large organizations. What were some of the criteria you had to face when you moved back and be recognized by your knowledge and experience?

 - Of course, it was not easy. I did have fear whether employees would value my education and experience when I moved back. When abroad, foreign students have to take more tests and meet higher criteria. Even tuition is higher for international students. Then you move back home to work for your country and because I am Mongolian, I get paid lower than that of international staff, which was surprising and frustrating.  My husband also moved back home with the same intention, so we overcame these difficulties together. Although, I had many offers to work in the government, as we were newly married and building our life together, it was difficult to do so with civil servants salary. Therefore, I thought that I would build a life for ourselves first in the private sector then work for the government. As soon as I arrived, I was interviewed by an international organization. The interviewer said “ Even though it is an international project, salaries are lower than the US and some of Mongolia’s private sector. You have just arrived in Mongolia. From your CV, you will get many job offers from many places. Perhaps you will not come to work for us. Please let us know as soon as possible.” That gave me the confidence and I realized that employees value education and experience. MMongolia has great potential in comparison to many developing countries I have worked before. It gives opportunities to the young people and women. CEOs of many big corporations are over 30 years old. Mongolian women are successful in many fields both in the country and overseas. So, those of you who are contemplating about coming back to Mongolia, I urge you to come back and work together for Mongolia’s future.

- Where did your political career start and what motivates female leaders?

 -After coming back to Mongolia with many goals and aspirations, I did not want to lead a simple life of commuting between home and office. However, I did not want to be upfront politician either.  Using my language skills, foreign relations and work experience, I wanted to contribute towards youth training and development so joined Social Democracy-Mongolian Youth Union (SDMYU), youth organization of the Mongolian People’s Party and became responsible for that area. Since I was a child, I was active in social work, so soon after I became Vice-President of SDMYU and thereafter stepped into real political arena by becoming Secretary of Mongolian People’s Party.

There is ample for women in politics, however, women have to overcome more harsh criteria than men. It is not easy for a young woman to pursue career. At the age of 28, I worked as a project lead on an international project and had to manage people who are older than my father. There was even an instance that I was attending a meeting with a colleague of mine who was Caucasian, and I was asked to bring coffee having mistaken as his assistant. Due to cultural upbringing, it was not easy for a young woman to sit at the head of the table above many who are older than me and interrupt their conversation to express myself.  However, there is a saying "If you are a true leader, you must sit at the management table".  We have a great tradition that we respect those in leadership position  no matter their age and sex. Looking at inspiring accomplished women, it is great aspirations, supportive family, great colleagues and hard work that attribute to their success. 

- You worked at a major investment and development project, the Oyu Tolgoi project. As an economist, how do you see the role of investment, and your thoughts on Mongolia’s economic prospects.

  - Mongolian economy is 34 trillion tugriks (13 billion dollars). Our fiscal year's revenue is 11 trillion (4 billion). 1.1 million people pay taxes and provide public services for the rest 2.1 million people. About 1.1 million are children under the age of 18. Number of pensioners and illnesses are increasing year by year. So, one third of the population along with the private sector are doing the heavy lifting. But to invest in infrastructure and development projects, foreign direct investment and development loans are necessary. Development loans have less than 2% interest rate, with maturity of 20-30 years. Foreign and domestic investment, if invested into good projects and managed properly and transparently, it can have economic benefits as well as improve employment opportunities and advance Mongolia’s competitiveness. When I was attending a conference, Japanese Prime minister Shinzo Abe said “In 1953, 8 years after the end of 2nd World War, the government of Japan borrowed 860 million USD from World Bank /present value of 60billion USD/. The loan was used to finance major investment projects in Japan such as Tokaido Shinkansen railway, hydro powerplants and highways increasing Japan’s productivity, employment and propelling Japan’s economic growth to today’s level of one of the most advanced economies of the world. The loan had been continuously paid and last instalment to World Bank was made in July 1990. So, if invested in economically viable projects and programmes and managed responsibly and transparently with well-established monitoring system, loans and investment can have huge impact on the economy.

- In recent years,  it is becoming prevalent for Mongolia to learn from experiences of other countries, and getting technical assistance. Are there countries that are learning from Mongolia’s experience? Even though you are young, I am certain you have many experiences to compare, evaluate and draw conclusions.

 -When compared with other countries around the world, in terms of human development index and GDP per capita, Mongolia is at average. There are many countries with development indexes lower than ours. Mongolia is recognized as a country with young population, relatively good human resource, good governance structure and system in place. Mongolians are getting accepted into some of the world’s best universities, even some are teaching there and some are members of the most prestigious research team. A Mongolian researcher is a member of the Nobel prize winning research team. I was impressed to meet a Chief financial officer of one of the world’s biggest companies, a Mongolian lady who is issuing IPOs on major financial markets.

As the structure of government of Mongolia is relatively small with top to bottom approach, international projects when implemented in Mongolia, its impact is seen immediately.  Therefore, many foreigners come to see project implementation  and we get invited to international conferences and forums to share our experience. For instance, Mr. Batsukh who has been working in Ministry of Finance for years has been asked two months ago to participate in UN Economic and Social Committee of Asia Pacific to share our experience on implementing Sustainable Development Goals based budgeting. Developing countries are interested to learn from our experience so Mongolia was asked to do a seminar.

- This year marks the 95th anniversary of Mongolian Women's Federation. As a female leader, I would like to talk to you about policies on women. Can you talk about international policies and best practices towards supporting and empowering women?   Many countries recognize that "if women develop, countries develop".

 - Of course. Regarding Sustainable Development Goals, in the speech delivered by Executive Director of United Nations Women “2.1 trillion USD is needed annually to finance and implement Sustainable Development Goals in developing countries.” But they don’t have the money. Around the world, around 200 billion USD development aid is dispersed annually. Despite the fact that women account for 2/3 of world’s work hours, they only receive 4% of the development aid. There is an international study that shows women earn 1/10 of the income. International organizations are working towards women’s economic empowerment that will have great impact in resolving poverty, children’s rights, health and environmental issues. During the G20 Summit held in Japan, the countries have made pledges to support women's participation not only in their own country but also in others. For example, "Japan pledged that till 2020, they will support providing education for 4 million girls and women in developing countries." German Chancellor Merkel initiated the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (WEFI) to be implemented jointly with the collaboration of advisor to the US President Trump. The summit launched EMPOWER, network among women business leaders with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as the proponant of the project. In other words, women business leaders from the world’s most powerful 20 countries that form 80% of the world’s economy will work together under the initiative. The most developed countries are paying special attention to women’s participation and advancement in order to propel the country’s development. It is regretful, however, that in Mongolia, the historic organization “Mongolian Women’s Federation” is not being recognized or supported. Mongolia has a population is 3.2 million. Without the inclusion of 1.7 million how can we develop? We need 3.2 million of our citizens to be twice as much involved.

- You are drawing examples from Japan. What is Japan's policy towards women?

 - Today Japan provided opportunities that allow highest women’s labor participation in its history.  Japanese Prime Minister recently reported that in terms of labor participation of women over the age of 25, Japan has surpassed USA. Not only in Japan, two years ago NEWSWEEK published an articles  comparing of women from US and China. The article points out that women in China have become more powerful and ambitious than women in USA. Parents in China provide best education and life opportunities whether their only child is a boy or a girl. CEOs of some of China’s biggest corporations are women. Japan recognizes that without providing the opportunity for women to participate in labor force as equally as men, the country cannot develop the next development tide. For that reason, Shinzo Abe has proposed in his last election platform to increase service tax by 1.5% to finance education and childcare services to allow mothers to work peacefully, educate themselves and participate in the country’s economic prosperity. Such developed country as Japan recognizes that without women’s participation, countries cannot develop, and women are strong force of development. 

According to a study by the United Nations, between 2010-2018 women's participation in federal and local parliament in Asian countries is estimated at average of 19%, yet Mongolia is at 17%. Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Armenia and Timor-Leste are performing better than us in this development index. We believe that women in Mongolia live in a society that supports women more than Afghanistan but in reality, we are behind Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Armenia. Of course, we accept that we are behind New Zealand and Australia. Political participation of women in a country is recognized by international researchers and organizations as an indicator of social status of women, whether men support women, whether there are sufficient policies towards women and children and whether health, education and human rights are provided for all its citizens.

-Today, Mongolia has 13 woman parliamentarians and several cabinet members. In comparison to years when we only had 2 women parliamentarians, it is a good progress.

-Yes, this is a historical achievement that we have the quite good number of women in parliament. But this is not enough. These women need to set the grounds for the next 20 woman parliamentarians to be accepted and elected by public. Women carry great many responsibilities at home, why cannot we have 20-30 women among 76 members of parliament. In terms of gender equality of the population, representation of 50 percent of population should be well-represented in politics. Opportunities at the start are not equal for men and women. Former American president Carter said: “"Why women need a little support in every sector? Until recently (1920), there were no opportunities for women to participate in politics. It is like telling a person who has been imprisoned for all his life that now you are free you can compete with athletes in Olympics because you have legs just as the professional athletes.”

During the suffrage movement, women in the United States have been beaten, imprisoned and abused even in front of the White house and wives of some of the senators’ threatened to leave their husbands to win their right to election. On the other hand, in 1924, the Mongolia’s first constitution guaranteed us with the right without struggle, but we may have taken it for granted and have not worked well towards maintaining or nourishing it.

-Among us, there are many women who are well-educated and experienced that can compete on international arena. As a woman leader, how do you like the Mongolian Women’s Federation to work, what should it be the role in the society and women in the future?

-I wish that Mongolian Women’s Federation will be professional body that is a strong voice and support mechanism behind women’s protection, participation and development. When women get attacked for insignificant things like how they look, that the federation be the protector and be the policy supporter behind women entrepreneurs and women in parliament. Rather than saying it is to support the current incumbents, it will pave the way for the next generation of women to lead in business, politics and public service. On the other hand, women in decision making level should hold responsibility to be initiative and actively participate in policies towards socia-economic development.  Because they should not forget that they have reached that level standing on the shoulders of many women.

-How do you see the expected outcome of the international conference held in celebration of 95th annivarsary of Mongolian Women’s Federation?

-I have always thought about organizing a women’s conference with countries of similar  development to share experiences of one another. How can women support Sustainable Development Goals, how we can contribute towards addressing areas such as infant and mother’s mortality, environment and economic issues. The conference will also allow Mongolian Women’s Federation to establish cooperation to address these issues. Furthermore, the issues at hand cannot be resolved without empowering women economically. In most Asian countries, men own properties and hold higher economic power. Furthermore, it should not only be women who talk about women’s issues. Even though the conference is organized by Mongolian Women’s Federation, representatives of all sectors, health, education, agriculture, small and medium enterprises, transportation and energy should take part. The forum will be a platform of discussion to develop solutions from international experts and learn from best practices of international organizations and to develop recommendations from the conference to be reflected in election platform of political parties and ultimately be reflected in government action plan to address many issues women face. 

-You have been politics for quite some time. What difficulties do you overcome to work hand in hand with men and make yourself heard? 

-I would like to reiterate that there’s ample room for women in politics. Men recognize and value women’s voice. Especially women who are capable, strong with accomplishments in certain area, men would not ask them to sit back but would rather support and cooperate with them. However, I do see tendency for some women to take the back seat. We all know we need our family support, need to take care of our children, but rather than delve on these issues, it is best to have unified voice and common solution and support one another from all sides to implement the solutions.  

-Outside the office in an informal setting, what kind of persona can we expect of you?

-Life expects women to wear many hats. No matter the high position you hold at work, you should not hold that role at home. I would change my clothes and get into my role of being a wife and a mom. I strive to be a mother that sets example for my children. In front of my parents a loving daughter, for my brothers a sister who would make a meal for them if they drop by my place. I try to make life interesting, sometimes risky and flavorful. I like to do sports in my spare time. I have been training for triathlon for the last few years and I participated in national championship for 2 years. I am a simple Mongolian woman who try to find the balance between having dreams and aspirations yet be satisfied with what I have in my life.

Thank you for the interview. 

Journalist, editor Yu.Shurentsetseg

Энэ МЭДЭЭ танд таалагдаж байвал Like хийгээрэй. Танд баярлалаа.
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