Aubrey Menard didn’t come to Mongolia with the intention of creating Young Mongols, a 10-episode video series spotlighting young, innovative Mongolians.
An American-born Luce Scholar with a career in mining governance, Menard arrived in Mongolia nearly a year ago to complete a fellowship not knowing exactly what to expect, which she says reflects foreigners’ general lack of knowledge about modern Mongolia.
“People know about Chinggis Khan and maybe they know about nomads and the steppes. They have this vision of Mongolia as this place where everyone rides horses,” she says, referring to her friends’ and family’s reactions when she told them she was moving to Mongolia for a year.
Menard instead found that the capital city housed a highly urbanized society comprised of young, socially active leaders looking to make an impact on the Mongolia of tomorrow.
Young people make up the largest demographic in Mongolia, with those aged 15 to 34 years accounting for 34.9 percent of the population as of 2015. Those born in the late 1980s and early 1990s came of age after the revolution, so “they’ve only known democracy,” Menard points out. This, she believes, affords the youth a unique perspective, largely unaffected by the previous communist regime.
“I wanted to tell their stories and help update the world’s perception,” she says. “I feel I have a bit of hubris saying, ‘I want to update the world’s perspective,’ but in so much as I can, I want to help more foreigners know what modern Mongolia actually is like and what Mongolians are like.”
To achieve her goal, Menard secured a grant of just 500 USD to create the first two episodes, as well as a short introduction video. She and her team of videographers – Dulguun Bayasgalan, Dimitri Staszewski, and Lennart Kleinschmidt – secured a larger grant from the U.S. Embassy to complete the rest of the series. According to the grant application, the team collectively donated around 18,300 USD – in self-supplied video and editing equipment, time, travel, and foods costs – to the project.
Menard and her team released three of the videos so far, highlighting feminism, urban planning and LGBTQ life in Mongolia, respectively. The episode “LGBTQI Life in Mongolia” was recently featured on the Huffington Post.
The seven remaining episodes focus on food, fitness, entrepreneurship, Mongolian-made products, media, mining and education. All of the videos will be made available on YouTube and YoungMongols.com as soon as they are released.
To put together the series, the Young Mongols crew interviewed 30 to 40 people, which Menard believes is “only the tip of the iceberg” in terms of the number of movers and shakers among Mongolian youth.
Menard was inspired to create the series after being introduced to Zolo Batkhuyag, the leader of the feminist group Women for Change.
“When I was coming to Mongolia, someone connected me with Zolo, and I thought, ‘There’s at least one feminist in Mongolia. I’ll survive.’” As her friendship with Zolo blossomed and she was exposed to the “amazing work” Women for Change was doing, she wanted to find a way to highlight them.
“It just kind of snowballed from there,” she says.
The interviews exclusively feature Mongolians, but are conducted in English. Although this limits the interviewees and audience to bilingual Mongolians, Menard says that the response from young Mongolians has been overwhelmingly positive.
The positive energy surrounding the project was apparent at a packed Young Mongols panel discussion held on Monday at the American Corner.
The panel featured Khaliun Bayartsogt, Gender Equality Program Manager for Women for Change; Lhagva Erdene, journalist and executive producer for MongolTV News; Dolgion Aldar, executive director of IRIM; Badruun Gardi, founder and CEO of Ger Hub; Khulan Davaadorj, CEO of Natural Essentials and Lhamour; Amar Baatartsogt, execu-
tive director and co-founder of EasyRide; and Batjin Boldbat, founder and director of Tomujin Academy.
Before a standing-room-only audience composed of young Mongolians and foreigners, the panelists heatedly discussed a wide range of topics, including the upcoming parliamentary elections, the importance of an inclusive society, and the pros and cons of a mining-based economy.
While there was significant “constructive disagreement” among the panelists, there was consensus that improved and accessible education is the best solution to some of Mongolia’s biggest problems, including government corruption, and increasing economic disparity between the rich and the poor.
“If you are able to crack 3,000 young people’s mindsets and perspectives through education – I know it might sound corny or cliche – but they can actually make change,” Batjin said.
“A better education system would undoubtedly lead to a better educated public,” Amar agreed. “A better educated public votes for a better government, a better Parliament.”
Menard concluded the discussion with a farewell and a call to action as she has completed her fellowship and is returning to her home in Washington, D.C. on Friday. She invited audience members to subtitle the series in Mongolian to make it accessible to non-English-speaking Mongolians.
It’s also up to Mongolians to keep Young Mongols going. Menard received only enough funding for 10 episodes, but “if someone wanted to take up the mantle, I’d be happy to work with them on it,” she explains.
Menard hopes the series has a lasting impact on young Mongolians. “I hope they see these leaders and it makes them think, ‘Wow, I can do that too. I can start my own business, or I should engage in activism or start this social enterprise.’ I hope it inspires them because they are inspiring.”