Two years ago, the government of Mongolia set out a five-year plan to build a ‘digital nation’, harnessing data and technology to facilitate innovation, streamline public services and diversify the country’s mining-reliant economy.
The world’s most sparsely populated country, with more than three million people spread out across 1.6 million square kilometres, wants to deliver digital transformation up to 90 per cent by 2024.
It established the Mongolian Ministry of Digital Development and Communications, appointing Bolor-Erdene Battsengel as Vice Minister. The ICT leader, who was also recently named a next-generation leader by TIME Magazine, is the country’s youngest cabinet member and a face of women empowerment.
The Fintech Times chatted to Battsengel to learn more about the mission to turn Mongolia into an economic and tech hub as well as her coding programme for girls from disadvantaged regions and remote locations.
What work is being done to accelerate digital transformation in Mongolia?
Now is an extremely important time for digital transformation in Mongolia. We are looking at a tech boom here. For the first time in Mongolian history, the government announced the ICT sector as one of the nation’s economic priorities, and approved the digital nation policy.
Following this announcement, the necessary legal framework was created to accelerate digital transformation, and a set of digital development laws were approved. These include the laws on Personal Information Protection, Public Information, Cybersecurity, Digital Signatures, and Virtual Asset Service Providers, all of which were approved in 2020 and implemented in May, 2022.
I genuinely believe that Mongolia is becoming Asia’s next hidden gem, as the regulatory environment is friendly for innovation
Startups and private sector innovation have accelerated in Mongolia, while digital governance has taken new steps against red-tape bureaucracy and corruption. We have launched the E-Mongolia platform, which provides government services online. As a sparsely-populated country with a nomadic culture, it was crucial to introduce a government service platform so that our citizens can get their government services regardless of their locations.
Currently, we have digitised about 2,000 government services including registering a company, getting a license and ordering a new passport etc. Over 75 per cent of the adult population is now using E-Mongolia on a daily basis.
What emerging technologies are having a noticeable impact in Mongolia?
One of the catalysts for the rapid development of the fintech industry in Mongolia is artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence is being used to credit scoring and provide short-term consumer loans.
The Ministry of Education is using blockchain technology to register all sorts of certifications and university diplomas. Also, land ownership has been a big issue. The ownership registration is also based on blockchain technology. Currently, we have introduced AI for E-Mongolia to suggest government services before citizens reach out to government platforms depending on their needs.
Why is Mongolia an attractive opportunity for UK companies?
I genuinely believe that Mongolia is becoming Asia’s next hidden gem, as the regulatory environment is friendly for innovation. Also, we are encouraging tech companies to come and create this hub with us. In terms of tax environment, it is friendly compared to other countries. Startups are interested in Mongolia for the geographical locations as they want to operate in either East Asia or Central Asia.
What can UK companies bring to Mongolia and what lessons do you think can be learned/shared between the two countries’ fintech ecosystems?
We hope that UK companies can bring a diverse startup culture to Mongolia as well as innovation. In Mongolia, the personnel of the banking and fintech sector have relative potential compared to other sectors. Therefore, it is possible to exchange business, working methods and technological know-how through personnel exchange.
Could you share further insight into your department’s upcoming plans and the mission to turn Mongolia into an economic and tech hub?
The Ministry of Digital Development and Communications is paying great attention to nurturing and developing IT startups, in addition to the national digital transformation. We are working to create a favorable legal environment and ecosystem and create a technology free zone.
How can we attract more women into tech and leadership roles?
We have talked about gender issues in the tech sector so much over the past 10 years. Unfortunately, we have not seen much improvement, because it really requires long-term institutional change: creating role models in society, supporting capable and potential women as leaders, and providing opportunities for teenage girls to participate in coding and STEM programmes from an early age.
I have my own initiative called Girls Code which brings girls, most of them in high school, from remote areas and disadvantaged families and organises three months of boot camp. So far we have 80 graduates, of which 11 are now accepted and enrolled to Ivy League universities in the US and several more studying in Japan and China for ICT degrees.