Under this month’s theme of partnership, we’re highlighting 2015-2016 Fulbright Student Ms. Sanjaakhand Nansalmaa (Handa) and the Mongolian Association of State Alumni (MASA).
Handa holds a Master of Public Administration degree as well as Advanced Diploma in Leadership of International and Non-government Organizations from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University and has been working for years to promote volunteerism in Mongolia. “I was passionate about giving back [even] prior to my Fulbright experience. At the time, volunteerism wasn’t well known or positively received [in Mongolia],” shared Handa. “When we were making donations to children’s hospitals people would question our intentions, asking if I had sick children myself.”
However, Handa has persevered to raise awareness of volunteerism and use volunteerism to benefit Mongolia. After her Fulbright studies, she wanted to share this opportunity with others and joined the board of MASA in 2017 and has since served as its CEO, a volunteer position, for two terms.
MASA, also known as the Ambassadors for Development, was established by a handful of Fulbright and Humphrey program alumni in 2007. A non-profit organization comprised of Mongolian alumni of U.S. Department of State funded programs and self-funded U.S. graduates, MASA operates under the belief that an experience is twice as valuable when shared with others and even more when harnessed for the betterment of the community.
Since its inception, MASA has fundraised over 20,000 USD and secured 300,000 USD from various funding sources to further the professional development of members and Mongolian society. For more than a decade, MASA has improved the lives of Mongolian through engaging projects and events, including: “East Asia and Pacific Alumni Associations Enrichment Conference,” which garnered participation of 55 participants from 12 countries; “TRY Asia in Mongolia,” a ten-day international conference that promoted disability rights; “Bidchadna Project” (bidchadna.mn), which assists skilled people and entrepreneurs with mobility impairments find employment; “GO-MASA,” a small grants competition amongst members; and the “Alumni Rural Outreach Program,” which engaged alumni in rural areas on projects and promoted study in the U.S.
In December 2017, Handa represented MASA at a two-week International Visitor Leadership Program on developing alumni associations. As part of the program, she attended sessions on fundraising, membership creation and retention, and strategic planning alongside alumni association leaders from 23 other state alumni associations across the world. Reflecting on her IVLP experience, Handa said she took the opportunity connect with other alumni communities and share MASA’s best practices because “MASA is one of the most active and top state alumni associations in the world, with [years of] experience implementing many projects.”
Building on their extensive experience and track record of successful projects, MASA applied to become the U.S. Department of State funded EducationUSA Program implementing partner in Mongolia in 2020. MASA, as the implementer for EducationUSA Mongolia, provides free, comprehensive advising and information on studying at universities and other accredited postsecondary institutions in the United States. By becoming the first state alumni association to run the program in the world, MASA’s implementing team is using their knowledge and experience in U.S. higher education as well as passion for equal opportunity and volunteerism to build EducationUSA Mongolia’s international reputation as an innovative and highly respected leader in the region.
Currently Handa works as a Finance and Budget Officer at UNICEF Mongolia and as a board member and volunteer at both the Save Infants NGO and MASA. She also continues to be committed to and spread awareness of volunteerism across Mongolia. Meanwhile, MASA and its CEO continue to promote democratic social development and equal opportunities across all spectrums of Mongolian society.