Ambassador Jennifer Zimdahl Galt’s First Op-Ed

On September 24, I arrived with my family in Ulaanbaatar. I was touched by the warm welcome that I received and struck by the beauty surrounding Ulaanbaatar, as well as by the vast expanse of Mongolia’s legendary blue sky, which reminded me of my home state of Colorado. With the support of my friends and colleagues at the U.S. Embassy, I have had a remarkable journey so far. Thanks to the dedication and zeal of the Mongolian people, there is no shortage of lofty goals to aspire to and new projects to pursue. As the U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia, I am privileged to continue the United States’ legacy of working alongside the Government of Mongolia and its people to develop a better future for all Mongolians.

Boosting Economic Prosperity

My top objective is promoting economic prosperity in Mongolia. In this regard, I aim to work with the Government of Mongolia, U.S. companies, and business advocacy organizations to improve the business and investment climate for foreign direct investment into Mongolia. Accordingly, I believe that implementation of our bilateral Transparency Agreement is essential in signaling to international and domestic companies that Mongolia is acting to ensure transparency in drafting and implementation of policies, legislation and regulations with regard to economic activities. Within my first two months of arrival, I attended the opening of two American franchises in Ulaanbaatar, chatted with knowledgeable and inspiring young Mongolian OT professionals during a tour of the Oyu Tolgoi mine site, and visited the environmentally-friendly Salkhit wind farm in which General Electric wind turbines produce clean energy. We commend Mongolia’s efforts thus far, but challenges remain. From improving the investment climate, to promoting economic diversification, from strengthening regulatory frameworks, to bolstering transparency, we hope to partner with Mongolia on addressing these and other issues.  As I have told Prime Minister Saikhanbileg, President Elbegdjorg and Parliamentary Speaker Enkhbold, I am eager to help return the Mongolian economy to prosperity.

A second economic priority is collaborating with the Government of Mongolia and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to deliver a second compact for Mongolia. Upon conclusion of the current compact development stage by the Government of Mongolia and the MCC, I look forward to seeing project proposals that will address poverty alleviation in Mongolia.

Encouraging Continued Democratic Progress

In 2015, Mongolia celebrated the 25th anniversary of its decision for democracy.  The United States was proud to join Mongolia in marking this significant achievement.  Secretary of State John Kerry got it right when he said, “To build a democracy requires both courage and initiative – of which there is no shortage in Mongolia.”

Indeed, Mongolia consistently demonstrates leadership in democracy building. It remains on the Executive Committee of the Community of Democracies, recently won a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, and continues to mentor and share its experiences with other emerging democracies.  The United States strongly supports these initiatives, and I am committed to strengthening our already robust partnership in these areas.

I am also committed to deepening our strong military-to-military partnership. The U.S. military and the Alaska National Guard continue to work with the Mongolian military to develop new capacities, including new peacekeeping capabilities. Mongolia’s peacekeepers have earned a well-deserved reputation worldwide, and we appreciate their significant contributions in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, and other difficult places. Next spring, I am excited to witness Khaan Quest, the annual peacekeeping exercise that unites soldiers from more than 40 nations to train at Mongolia’s renowned Five Hills Training Center. Our military partnership with Mongolia will continue to advance regional and global peace and stability.

As I think about the next 25 years and beyond of Mongolia’s democracy, I often think about one of Mongolia’s greatest assets: its youth. Nearly half of Mongolia’s population is under 25 years of age, and one of my priorities as ambassador is to grow the country’s next generation of democratic leaders. In collaboration with the Government of Mongolia and international organizations, we hope to instill in Mongolia’s youth a strong commitment to democracy and to prepare them to lead the way in all areas of society. In my first few months in Mongolia, I have been pleased to meet many impressive young people engaged in areas essential to Mongolia’s continued democratic progress, such as disability rights, public health, urban planning, and gender equality.

Building People-to-People Ties

Over my 27 years as a diplomat, I have witnessed the power of people-to-people engagement. Every year, thousands of Mongolians visit the United States for study, tourism, and business. Many Americans travel to Mongolia for the same reasons. A 17% surge in visa demand over the last year is just one signal of a growing desire for exchange between the United States and Mongolia. Nearly 1,500 Mongolians reaped the benefits of education and exchange in the United States over the last year, and that number continues to rise. In October, I welcomed 27 U.S. universities to a college fair supported by the U.S. State Department. I am proud that my government encourages educational exchanges through activities like this, as well as through programs such as the Fulbright and Humphrey Fellowships and an array of cultural and arts exchanges that promote mutual understanding. I am also proud that in 2016, we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Peace Corps in Mongolia. Right now, 137 volunteers are serving in English education, health, and youth development in all 21 aimags, which represents one of the largest Peace Corps programs in the world.

Personal experiences enrich our collective worldview and knowledge. The end result is an empowered citizenry capable of addressing our shared societal challenges and global issues. People innovate, collaborate, and implement; I am hopeful that the United States and Mongolia will continue to jointly invest in our human capital, which is crucial to continued social and economic development.

I have been honored to engage in meaningful conversations and productive discussions spanning many issues across government and civil society. In the areas that I have described and more, I hope our interactions spark engagements and motivate actions from all stakeholders. I invite Mongolians in government, on the international stage, and at the grassroots level to join the conversation. Read the U.S. Embassy website to stay updated on what the embassy and our local partners are working on. Visit one of our American Corners in Khovd and Ulaanbaatar and listen to a lecture. Engage with me on Twitter (my handle is @USAmbMongolia), and follow the embassy’s Twitter feed. I look forward to talking with and working with as many of you as I can in the coming years.