Steve Frisch, President of Sierra Business Council (Courtesy Photo)
Steven Frisch is the President of the Sierra Business Council, a regional business based non-profit organization dedicated to advancing new approaches to create vital communities, promote environmental quality, and increase the economic prosperity of the Sierra Nevada. Sierra Business Council specializes in solving difficult social and environmental problems by applying the principles of business and entrepreneurship. Over the last 17 years the business council has leveraged more than $100 million in investment in the Sierra Nevada, trained more than 400 community leaders, and protected more than 40,000 acres of working farms, ranches and forests. Read the first of Steve’s guest blogs below!
Flying into the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar I immediately sensed opportunity.
Mongolia is at the forefront of the emerging global economy; rooted in its sense of history, one of the last places on earth where a quarter of its population still lives a traditional nomadic herdsman’s life style, simultaneously thrust into the hyper-world of developing resources, access to global markets and rapid GDP growth. Opportunity is expressed in the spirit of its people, aware of Mongolia’s history of empire, proud of its deep connection to the land, investing in its infrastructure and improving services and committed to providing its young people an opportunity to learn and prosper.
But globalization is both an opportunity and a risk in this beautiful, semi-arid, pastoral country of 2.5 million people. Half of the population lives in the capital city, and half in a land area roughly 1.56 million square kilometers, roughly equivalent to. Mongolia sits landlocked squarely between two of the worlds largest emergent, some would say dominant, economies, China and Russia. Mongolia has the good fortune to contain amongst the worlds richest deposits of gold, silver, copper, coal, uranium, and reputedly rare earth critical to the manufacture of electronics.
Mongolia (Courtesy Photo)
The opportunity is exemplified by the fact that Mongolia’s GDP has grown at a 10% annual rate for most of the last decade, with much of the excess pouting into infrastructure like roads, airports, water systems, electrical grids, and education. GDP is projected to quadruple in the next 5 years after the opening of one of the largest copper-gold mining districts in the world, the Oyu Tolgoi, located in southern Mongolia near the border with China in the great Gobi desert.
The risk comes with the challenge of managing rapid economic growth, dislocation of peoples as they urbanize in the quest for a more prosperous life, and the environmental impacts associated with a resource extraction economy. The main reason I traveled to Mongolia was to share Sierra Business Council’s approach to addressing the issue of balancing rapid growth and resource extraction with stewardship of cultural and natural resources and the development of a sustainable economy.
Mongolia and the American intermountain west share many similarities. Both are regions with a history of indigenous nomadic peoples with a strong independent culture and respect for the land. Both are pastoral, supporting large grazing populations dependent upon water for life. Both are vast regions with isolated communities. Both possess an abundance of mineral resources highly desirable by emerging economies.
The American inter-mountain west history of mineral extraction began in earnest with the discovery of gold in California in 1849 and continues to this day with large-scale mining in most western states. But what we learned from this 19th century experience—after the near extirpation of native cultures, diversion of water and fouling of watersheds for mineral extraction and hydraulic mining, boom and bust economic cycles creating cities and leaving ghost towns, and the regions wealth leaving the west and creating fortunes on Wall Street—was that there is no substitute for a sustainable economy that respects the “place”, and the cost of restoring it is high indeed. This is the message we, my State Department hosts Susan Russell and Allyson Algeo, brought to the first few days of meetings in Mongolia.
I’ll continue the story on Sierra Business Council’s website: www.sbcouncil.org and via our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/SierraBusinessCouncil. Also check out our Twitter feed: @sierrabusiness. Please connect with us if you’d like to hear more, discuss further, or get involved!