A Journey to Another World

Daniel (left) and his CAP10 Team at the airport in Ulaanbaatar

In April, Daniel set out with his team on his learning journey as an entrepreneur in Mongolia. In this series of blog posts, he shares what he has experienced and taken away. Enjoy reading about his incredible journey to another world.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be given the opportunity to by my employer Swiss Re to join BOOKBRIDGE’s 10th Capability Program. It was a tremendous gift, and it was a loaded one, in ever so many ways.

A team of 12 from different companies met in April for Module 1 where were given the challenge to build up an English language learning center in remote Mongolia. A local manager/teacher for this social enterprise had been identified – and off we went. We tackled a thousand little and big things and finally had a solid business plan, pitched it and got the funding from our investor. The implementation plan followed and then …then we flew to Mongolia to bring it all to life.

Mongolia … remote, mystical and legendary comes to mind when you even just say the word, right? A majestically vast country and, for its size, barely populated (it has less than half the population of Switzerland, imagine that). But, while journeying to Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar took ages, we were still nowhere near our destination. Our learning center was to be in the remote western province of Khovd, near the Chinese, Russian and Kazakh borders. Another flight and 1500 more kilometers later, we landed in … seemingly the middle of nowhere.

Khovd is a city of about 30’000 people, the capital of the Khovd province. When you zoom into the satellite view from Google Maps, you’ll see that half the city consists of gers (the traditional round yurts). So, there we were. Colorfully painted buildings, occasional hot water at the hotel, regular electricity cuts and, at first glance, lots of dust and poverty everywhere. But we had prepared, we knew better. As the province’s center, there’s a vibrant market (most things are brought from elsewhere), there are businesses, there’s a love for karaoke and, most importantly for us, there are lots and lots of students. Not all are from the city. Many of them come from traditional nomad families – to learn at secondary and higher education schools in Khovd, they come here and stay in dormitories.

I had been worried that too much of the work had already been done and that, by the time we got there, we would just be doing a few final things like help with a bit of marketing and attend the opening ceremony. I’m thrilled to say that we were swamped with work! At the learning center, our community hero Buyanaa had indeed already done a ton of things – but there were so many things left for us to tackle. We painted walls and doors, we installed computers and ipads and security cameras, we drove an intense marketing campaign with Facebook and with visits to local schools and government. Teams of us went from classroom to classroom to talk about the learning center and the opportunities students stood to gain by showing up.

I almost freaked when I heard that the opening ceremony would already be held mid-week, on Wednesday – that meant we only had three days to do far too many things. But we prioritized, made clear decisions, divided into teams and, using the Kanban board, effortlessly moved one thing after the other from “to do” to “doing” to “done”. The team, this bunch of former strangers, had become a family and truly rocked. 

While I was painting/decorating the walls around the center’s doors, others put together a great opening ceremony program … would it work? Would people show up on a Wednesday at 2pm to see what the center had to offer? Continue reading here


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