Buyandelger Ulziikhuu, Monitoring and Evaluation Analyst, UNDP Mongolia
Solutions in evolution
The call came through the cold of winter, sudden and unexpected. Schools are closed, said my son on the phone, and asked me to pick him up immediately. At the peak of workloads in January, it meant yet another arrangement, which was soon followed by a list of different demands brought by a so-called Novel-Coronavirus. Just next door to China, Mongolia acted fast in the face of danger, when there was very little news about a new and deadly virus spreading quickly through the Wuhan region.
During this unprecedented situation, parents like me needed to find ways to secure help, especially to back-up services provided by the teachers. It meant not only the schooling but filling the void of passing time, which was occupied by the school’s curriculum in the safety of the academic environment before the pandemic hit. The events unfolding since then have triggered a different level of realization and recognition in the community, on how unprepared we were to face a crisis like COVID-19.
The Government of Mongolia took significant actions: restricting travel, public gatherings, physical interactions; closing schools, businesses, and borders; and monitoring the movements of vehicles and passengers coming in and out of the country. Such early and fast preventive measures proved helpful and prevented local transmission in communities across the country; an action which was applauded by international organizations and the media.
In retrospect, despite Mongolia’s success, there were and still are numerous vulnerabilities in the system. Mongolians need to learn from the rights and wrongs of action and inaction in times of crisis, to emerge stronger and different from the debris of the pandemic. Observing the situation evolving in the country, UNDP Mongolia rapidly assessed the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 prevention measures on vulnerable groups. In consultation with multiple partners, it is now developing a response and recovery plan, to strengthen the system and to build forward better. Not only in Mongolia, but also in many other countries, UNDP is helping the governments to devise appropriate mechanisms for emergency response and post-pandemic recovery. Supporting us in that plan - the fast and the curious - UNDP's Accelerator labs. Located across the globe they are furiously exploring innovative solutions. Referring to these labs, the MIT Sloan Management Review commended UNDP for connecting beyond borders through innovation ecosystems. By this autumn UNDP Mongolia will have its own lab, hard-wired to this global network.
Just as we do not see the stars in the sky when the sun shines, we were blind to the fact that there were negative consequences to the government's rapid move to curb the pandemic at the borders. Gratified by the emergency measures, we are oblivious to other factors, which bear potential risks to tip the scales of a temporary equilibrium created with the interventions coordinated by the State Emergency Commission of Mongolia. For instance, the devastating news that four young lives were lost while playing secretly in a construction site due to limited places open for them to spend their free time. Even shopping centres and restaurants were restricted to children. There were other adverse effects of the restrictions, including an increase in domestic violence and the rise of unemployment. At UNDP Mongolia, we use systems thinking perspective, and we asked ourselves how we should measure the success of government’s actions and what should be the indicator. Should we consider Mongolia a success story with one measurement, no case transmission, or should it be broader – not only for now – but in the future? We discussed the good and the bad of situations and tried to examine them from a broad spectrum. We conversed about planetary boundaries and intergenerational understanding. We asked ourselves what a dignified life is, and we questioned back-to-normal growth. A safe and comfortable discussion space was created through the reference group meetings at UNDP Mongolia. And it is now extended to a broader community engagement involving local key influencers and thought leaders in sounding board discussions that explore answers to “What development means in a post-pandemic Mongolia?”. Following the conversation, it is good to hear that the opinion leaders started to discuss the same question in their communities.
UNDP is advocating and leading the discourse on the post-pandemic world and its development options, that are just and fair for all. Personally, it is intellectually stimulating to be part of such dialogues, and I believe that everyone would benefit from exploring ideas, among others, captured in Purpose-driven innovation in a time of COVID-19 by Rowan Conway, Doing capitalism differently by Mariana Mazzucato, A rethink in macroeconomics by The Economist, Against the system: anger, belonging and the crisis of liberalism dialogue hosted by the LSE and People and the Planet: Future of Development in a Post-COVID-19 World conversation hosted by the Human Development Office, UNDP. Discussion and studies examining that growth has not only a rate but also a direction become more important than ever in the post-pandemic world. Inspired by the Nobel Laureate author Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking, fast and slow”, I would like to imagine that we at UNDP explore both the intuitive fast and the deliberate slow thinking needed for innovation.
- Government resolution on no.30 preventive measures for novel coronavirus risk at https://www.legalinfo.mn/law/details/15030?lawid=15030 ; and Government of Mongolia resolution no.63 on policy actions on emergency/crisis preparedness at https://www.legalinfo.mn/law/details/15084?lawid=15084
- 298 confirmed cases, 0 death as of 24 August 2020 reported on the WHO COVID-19 Worldwide Dashboard at https://covid19.who.int/region/wpro/country/mn
- Systems thinking for local development at https://www.mn.undp.org/content/mongolia/en/home/presscenter/speeches/2020/_systems-thinking-for-local-development-workshop-closing-remarks.html