Tomorrow I will be traveling with my MIT Sloan classmates to Mongolia. Many people react very weirdly when I talk about my next destination. Would they react the same way if I’d tell them about a trip to Rome, Italy? Beyond a Mongolian filet, very few things in our day-to-day come from Mongolian heritage. This trip will help us discover the greatness of the steppes and its secret and not-so-secret resources potential. We will discover the land of the largest empire in human history.
My fascination for Mongolia started about three years ago on a rainy Sunday afternoon in Puerto Azul, a beach club in Venezuela. Trapped in a tropical storm, I was talking random stuff with my father. We were talking on how the Roman Empire heritage touches many aspects of our day-to-day culture: from religion and law to language and technology. However, the Mongolian Empire, almost quadrupling Roman Empire’s extension, has left very few things to the modern human being, but some chromosomes (around 8% of the Pacific to Caspian ocean populations posses Mongolian genes, according to a study written by T. Zerjal, Y. Zue, et all, The Genetic Legacy of the Mongols, 2003 (1)). Moreover, if the Mongolian empire would exist today, it would cover from China, Russia and Iran to Germany! Many of us wonder: what happened to the Mongolian Empire that didn’t leave a historical heritage comparable to that of Rome? That answer might be a complex one, but lack of culture, religion and short length of the invasions might probably explain it.
So, how is Mongolia today? Well, lets put it in the Chinggis Khan words: “Perhaps my children will live in stone houses and walled towns - Not I". In our MIT Sloan Course Natural Resources in China and Mongolia, my classmates and I are learning about the current historical crossroad Mongolia is going through. In our first class, with Mr. Lawrence and the University of Mongolia, we learned that Mongolia GDP will grow 12.7% on an average yearly basis during the remaining of this decade. 5% of this growth will come from Oyu Tolgoi, one of the biggest mines in the world. This means that Mongolia will be in the nearest future the fastest growing country in the world. In our last class, we learned from Alicia Campis, President of the US Mongolia Advisory Group, the depth of Mongolian culture. For example, many people ask themselves how Mongolia doesn’t have a paved road to China, given that 80% of Mongolia trade is with China and they share a ~5,000 Km of borders. Well, the Mongols are not only facing economic questions, but also wondering how to manage this explosive growth without losing their self-identity to their neighbors.
I look forward to meeting the Mongols. I am very fascinated to talk to them in their own land, and understand how they will build their economy taking into considerations the social aspect and identity of the Mongolian people. This will be something I will put special attention when we meet the Mongolian Finance Minister, Government representatives and business leaders. However, I also look forward to immerse in the nomad culture next weekend when we sleep in the yurts. I must acknowledge though, that as a Venezuelan I don’t look forward to riding a horse at -30 Celsius in a dust storm. However, this will help me understand the life of the Mongols during springtime.
Finally, I look forward to leave Mongolia with a sense of fulfillment. The Chinggis Khan was with no doubt one of the greatest leaders of the last millennium. His strength, sense of purpose and law enforcing systems created the Clan Unions and consequently the Mongolian identity. These strengths have been present through history. Only 73 years ago, the Mongols successfully defended their land from Japanese invasion with a primitive, Chinggis Khan style cavalry. Today, that sense of pride is alive, more than ever. Nonetheless, Mongols should leverage on their historic leader courage, and combine it with traits from other leaders. Marcus Aurelius, a Roman Emperor, was a successful conqueror, one of the best, but also one of the greatest Stoic philosophers of history. If Mongolia can leverage on their more than $1trillion natural resources potential (2) to develop its own people, their second historical chance of expansion will be, this time, long-lasting.