Narantuya Gursed, called Nara, is the social entrepreneur in our 16th Capability Program to Mongolia. She has co-founded the NGO Ecosoum. Its vision is to empower rural communities to become autonomous and resilient. In this interview, Nara explains the importance of local solutions and what Ecosoum plans to create in the community of Khishig-Undur.
Nara (right) founded Ecosum together with her husband Pierre (left).
Nara, you believe in the power of community!
Yes! I do believe that it is extremely important to spread the communal spirit in the world. When communities realize their power, you don´t need big structures and multinationals.
In many villages of the world, there is enough vegetable production to make them self-sufficient in the production of their own food. But more and more communities have become dependent on big food industries and vendors. The only thing they need is better management and support for producing their own food and finding local solutions to their needs. That´s why we need to empower small communities!
Why did you decide to apply for BOOKBRIDGE?
I was contacted by Tunga from BOOKBRIDGE Mongolia and asked if we could work together somehow in the future. When reading more about BOOKBRIDGE, I really liked the local aspect as well as the focus on financial sustainability.
For us, it is important that small actors work together. This is something that BOOKBRIDGE represents as they work with local people to achieve change in communities. As I believe that we have to be present at place if we want to create some impact, this approach aligns with my principles. Also, we don´t want to exclusively rely on donors so the concept of financial sustainability was appealing to me.
Finally, the program itself with its professional and personal growth aspects attracted me very much.
What is your vision?
Our NGO Ecosum is based in Khishig-Undur, the village I come from. I founded it in 2018 together with my husband to help our village become as autonomous and resilient as possible. Our vision is to find local solutions for local problems by involving local people. We think that whatever comes in the future, small communities should be able to cater for their own needs.
A Mongolian nomad family living in the region of Khishig-Undur.
For solving local issues, we must ask the locals – they know their needs better than anyone else. Sometimes what a community needs is just a little push and support in a specific field. No need for big money, no need for large international organizations.
Our organization is just a facilitator: we write project proposals, talk to investors and donors – everything that is more difficult to do for the locals. We integrate them in these processes to help them to improve their skills.
In Khishig-Undur there are 3,200 inhabitants, 2,200 of them live as herders in the countryside and the rest in the village center. This is a typical socio-economic structure for Mongolia. That´s why we believe that if our approach works in our village it will work everywhere in Mongolia.
We started by asking the local population to learn what they wanted us to work on first. The answer was: waste management. So this is the first project we are working on. But we also work on sustainable development, education, sustainable herding and eco construction, everything that contributes to the autonomous and sustainable development of our village.
The village of Khishig-Undur
The program has just started. What do you think about it?
I am very optimistic about the outcome of the program. We feel that there is a big opportunity to realize our vision and that we can profit enormously from the team members. We feel the energy and willingness to work on this project.
Which highlight in the program did you have so far?
As this program has been launched during Corona lockdown, we had limiting factors from the beginning, i.e. replacing physical meetings with virtual ones. Of course, meeting each other online is not the same but we are all ready to do our part and overcome the current challenges. So, for me the highlight is the shared willingness and shared excitement about solving the problems.
Where do you see yourself and your project in one year?
In one year, I would like the community to see the first positive results. My goal is to find a cooperative and collaborative approach so this will take some time and effort. I don´t think that everyone will be persuaded from the beginning until the first results are visible. But if the first people have realized the benefits there will be more people joining the project. The more lessons we will have learnt, the more knowledge we can share.
Who are your stakeholders?
We are already in contact with local service providers/producers and farmers. To get to know more about the stakeholders we planned to do a survey among the inhabitants to identify the community’s needs. Based on the results we will choose the main stakeholders and hold interviews to specify the needs. The local support is extremely important.
Waste management is one of the first projects we started to work on with finances from the EU. In Mongolia, waste management or recycling is extremely limited and open dumpsites are the reality. For this project we already have implementation partners. If we do this successfully in our village, we can duplicate it in other communities in Mongolia. We have already done some efforts such as constructing a small plastic recycling machine, creating informative guides and handbooks to explain the importance of recycling to people.
The concept of good waste management has to be introduced. We want to show the public and the government that it is possible to do it with local initiatives and structures, – if we empower people even a rural community is able to implement such a project.