Krusekopf meets Mongolian president

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ckrusekopf

While most members of the RRU community were focused this past week on a visit to the far reaches of the Empire by Prince William and Duchess Catherine, Charles Krusekopf ventured east to spend a day with the leader of another (also faded) Empire, Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, the elected President of Mongolia (and a great great great grandson of Genghis Khan, or so I claim). (As an aside – some debate exists over who had a bigger empire – the Brits or the Mongols. Given my connections to both, I might see if I can arrange an arm wrestling match between Prince Charles and President Elbegdorj to settle this once and for all…)

I have been working in Mongolia for almost 25 years (you can recognize me in the photo as the guy with grey hair), but never had the chance before to actually meet the President. Earlier this summer I discovered that President Elbegdorj planned to visit Philadelphia, the birthplace of American Democracy, in September just after a speech at the UN General Assembly. The non-profit organization I founded and oversee, the American Center for Mongolian Studies (ACMS), has its US office at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (UPenn), and I knew I had to find a way to get President Elbegdorj to UPenn and to recognize the ACMS. Through some contacts and meetings, the mission was accomplished. On Friday Sep. 23 as part of his visit President Elbegdorj delivered a speech to almost 400 students, faculty and guests at UPenn, and I got to join the official welcome committee and participate in several activities including a special concert at the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The city and sites such as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell were of great interest to President Elbegdorj, because he was one of the youthful leaders of the pro-democracy movement in Mongolia in 1989 and 1990 that led to the downfall of the former Communist government, and the establishment of both a democratic political system and open, market economy. Mongolia, which was the second Communist country in the world after the Soviet Union, is also the only country in Asia to transition from Communism to an open political and economic system. As he mentioned in his speech at UPenn, “To those who say democracy and free markets are not compatible with Asian values, I invite you to visit Mongolia, a model for the world, in the heart of Asia!”

 As part of his visit to Philadelphia, President Elbegdorj was treated to a special concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra (which is led by the Canadian conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin). The full 110 member orchestra will be travelling to Mongolia in summer 2017 on a goodwill tour, and the ACMS has partnered with the orchestra to do a series of cultural education workshops in the US and Mongolia for the members and friends of the orchestra. The concert opened with a surprise playing of the Mongolian national anthem, an event that can be seen here (along with a recorded interview of President Elbegdorj - http://wrti.org/post/philadelphia-orchestra-performs-president-mongolia). For symphony fans, the main concert was Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21 with Yuja Wang on piano – absolutely amazing.

The Presidential entourage then moved to UPenn, where the President was the first global leader to visit the new Perry World House. I got to introduce the American Center for Mongolian Studies, and in his remarks, he highlighted the developing Mongolian Studies capabilities at UPenn, in particular having the ACMS headquarters there. (Note – we are the American Center because the US government provides funding to support academic research and exchanges. In fact just today we were notified that we received $260,000 over 4 years from the US Dept. of Education to support academic research projects. As I explain to the Canadian government, I would be happy to rename the Center to Centre if they would provide similar funding. But alas, no C$ have arrived. The President, who just returned from a visit to Cuba, also had a good suggestion that we include Latin America in the scope of the American Center, so I may soon be scouting a Havanna office…)

The President’s speech focused on the connection between freedom and democracy.  He related how he was born to a poor herding family, but was able to go to university in the Ukraine (then part of the Soviet Union). There he was exposed to Glasnost and Perestroika, and he returned to Mongolia determined to push for freedom. His chance came in December 1989, and he was elected to the first open parliament in Mongolia as the leader of the Democratic Party. He has since served as Prime Minister and two terms as President. In his speech he outlined that while economic development has been an important task in Mongolia, the most important task has been to develop and maintain freedom in the country. Even if you are rich, without freedom, he explained you will always be poor. The goal of a democracy is to give you the choice to be different, and to be whomever you want to be. A video of his talk is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQlJCq0Gxg0&feature=youtu.be

President Elbegdorj’s term ends next year, and with term limits he will be seeking a new job. He has held several high profile positions within international bodies, including as Chair of the global Community of Democracies. He remains relatively young at 53, and no doubt has a future ahead as a global statesman, perhaps taking a high position with the UN or another global agency. At the close of his talk he joined the many young students in the audience, and urged them to sign on to his Twitter and Facebook accounts.  He then stayed for an hour at the reception taking selfies and questions from the crowd of students around him. It showed the importance of connection, while driving his security entourage crazy.

Royal Roads has a number of ties to Mongolia. For the past 3 years RRU BCom graduates have served as business consultants with small Mongolian businesses that are suppliers to the massive Rio Tinto copper mine in Mongolia. This partnership was highlighted by Rio Tinto in its annual sustainability report: http://www.riotinto.com/ourcommitment/features-2932_16937.aspx    This past summer RRU BBA student Brayden Pelham had an internship with the first Mongolian private equity firm, Schulze Global, where he investigated sustainable business opportunities including a battery recycling facility. RRU and the ACMS are exploring new opportunities to develop internships, and future study and educational tours are imagined. In his speech President Elbegdorj called on students and faculty to develop case studies on Mongolia’s experience, to serve as a model for the world. I am prepared to take up his suggestion, and would invite anyone else in the RRU community who wants to explore ways we can use Mongolia as a learning and teaching laboratory to contact me.  I am at Charles.krusekopf@royalroads.ca and you can learn more about the ACMS at www.mongoliacenter.org