Managing Development and Infrastructure: Understanding State Engagements with Rural Communities in Mongolia

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Geography - SoGE

Abstract

The proposed research will to build upon my DPhil research in Mongolia by focusing on understanding how government administrators engage with rural households around infrastructure and development projects such as the World Bank's Sustainable Livelihoods Project and the Oyu Tolgoi gold and copper mega-mine. My work plan addresses the GCRF thematic priorities of "understanding the relationship between social institutions, physical infrastructure and the natural environment" and the theme of migration, mobility and development. I will draw upon the large amount of qualitative data that I collected over the course of my DPhil project as well as data from a socio-economic survey of rural households living near the Oyu Tolgoi mine, which I conducted since finishing my DPhil in February 2016. I am particularly interested in exploring ways to actively engage rural households in the development planning process in order to contribute to economic and social welfare on both national and local scales in Mongolia. My expertise as a social scientist working in the fields of economic geography and anthropology as well as my long-term engagement in the region of Inner Asia will enable me to effectively achieve these aims.
I have conducted independent long-term ethnographic research on rural livelihoods and the political economy of mobile pastoralism in Mongolia since 2004 and I speak, read and write Mongolian. My DPhil thesis, The Changing Meaning of Work, Herding and Social Relations in Rural Mongolia, is based on a year of ethnographic fieldwork involving extensive participant observation. It examines the role of mobile pastoralism and rural work as a medium of social reproduction for families in Mongolia. This work is reported in four academic articles, which examine herder household management, decision-making, and the spatial aspects of household social and economic production. Rural work practices are used as a lens to examine wider processes of social change around gender, labour, finance and mobility. As standalone pieces and as a united work, the articles show that herding work practices are an important reference point in political subjectivities, concepts of citizenship and administrative practices that idealize the state. The policies and practices of government institutions, including non-state agencies, play powerful roles in the particular forms through which relations are spatialized. By taking this approach and prioritizing herder critical reflections on their own lives, I show how herder efforts to access resources, such as formal schooling for children, spatially transform the labour, finance, and mobility systems of households.
My work presents three key arguments with reference to these concepts. The first is that patron-client relations continue to play a strong role in family hierarchies and wider social alliances used to gain access to needed resources and services. Secondly, I argue that pastoralist work is an integral part of governance and the moral authority of the state. Finally, attention to the spatial organisation of household economies, including household splitting and new types of mobility, reiterates the significance of place in human agency. These findings specifically identify themes around household decision making and public administration, which provide a basis to address the GCRF challenge areas around sustainable livelihoods and inclusive growth and building effective institutions. The actions I plan to take to address these challenge areas are to resubmit academic articles which I wrote as part of my DPhil, write new academic articles and collaborate with colleagues on interdisciplinary co-authorships, conduct short-term follow-up field work, consolidate and continue to build networks of academic and non-academics working on issues related to understanding social and environmental change and governance, and participate in a work exchange focused on social and environmental safeguard policies.
 
Description The most significant achievements from the award have been publishing journal articles and an edited book, organizing multiple knowledge exchange events and the Oxford Desert Conference, co-editing a special issue for the journal called Land, and building an interdisciplinary working group around pastoralism and risk in Mongolian rural livelihoods. Two key knowledge exchange events were initiated in 2017 which brought academic and non-academic audiences together to present their work on the Mongolian winter disaster called 'dzud.' The 'Dzud Knowledge Exchange' initiated in November 2017, which was co-sponsored by the Mongolian National Emergency Management Agency, Nagoya University, People in Need, and the British/Mongolian Red Cross has been institutionalized. The event now occurs every November in Ulaanbaatar to discuss the developments related to 'dzud' research. November was selected as the time to hold the event because it is a key period to make decisions related to dzud forecasting and planning for the winter.

1) Dzud Knowledge Exchange, 24 November 2017
2) The 4th Oxford Interdisciplinary Desert Conference, 2017, Oxford, UK
3) The Dzud Risk and Management Symposium, Nov 2018, (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia)
4) The Dzud Risk and Management Symposium, Nov 2019 (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia)

The award allowed for a strong and vibrant network to be consolidated over the course of the events, conference panels, planning for the edited special issue, and preparing grant applications for the GRCF. It was a significant achievement to return to Mongolia and distribute research findings from my PhD to the many stakeholders of the project, and continue to engage with the local community, local leaders, NGOs, University faculty and other stakeholders. In addition, I have been able to act as a volunteer adviser/consultant for the British Red Cross/Mongolian Red Cross programmes in Mongolia which I continue to do.

The award objectives were met and in many ways exceeded my expectations. I was able to accomplish everything in my work plan, with the exception of doing a work placement for the World Bank's Environmental and Social Safegaurding team. As a replacement for this planned work placement, I did a placement as an advisor for the British Red Cross/Mongolian Red Cross programmes in Mongolia, which I continue to do as a volunteer. Additionally, I acted as an advisor to the People In Need NGO in 2017 when they were conducting a household socio-economic assessment to support dzud planning. As a result of this period of advising and working closely with local organization, I have been a leader in creating a consortium for NGOS and academics working in Mongolian on disaster relief programming which continue to function today.
Exploitation Route Findings related to the research outputs on dzud has been considered by local Mongolian NGOs in their programming. The British/Mongolian Red Cross incorporated my research findings on pre-existing herder debt on dzud-related household decision-making into their disaster-related programming. The institutionalization of an annual knowledge exchange event in November in Ulaanbaatar has provided an important forum for academic and non-academic dialogue and exchange. While I continue to be involved in this event, the planning has been taken forward by the Mongolian National Emergency Management Agency.

The partnership building which occurred over the course of the grant has also been taken forward in the form of an ESRC-GCRF grant on inclusive development which is more focused on mining-herder conflicts in Central Asia including Mongolia. This application was successful and started in September 2019.

Additionally, I am building a website to host the dzud consortum at Oxford. The goal of the website is to be a knowledge-sharing platform for groups working on rural livelihoods, risk and pastoralism in Mongolia.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description The findings have been disseminated through a number of conference panel sessions, knowledge exchanges and workshops. A number of events were specifically organized as a result of this funding. The events included: Knowledge Exchange on Pastoralism and Risk in Drylands; 2018 International Desert Conference at the School of Geography and the Environment; Knowledge Exchange on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor; Knowledge Exchange on Dzud Risk in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia organized in Nov 2017 and 2018. Participation in conferences included presentations at: Central Asian Studies Society 2017 Conference in Bishkek; International Union of Ethnographic and Anthropological Sciences in Ottawa (2017) and the International Union of Ethnographic and Anthropological Sciences in 2018; Royal Geographical Society Conference 2017 in London and the European Association of Social Anthropologists in 2018. The knowledge exchange events brought together NGO stakeholders working on rural economy and risk in Mongolia. During our events, we were able to exchange valuable information and co-analyze problems faced by NGOs and government agencies such as the Mongolian National Emergency Management Agency during the implementation phases of their work. The Knowledge Exchange on Dzud Risk in Mongolia facilitated the uptake of a newly developed Dzud Risk Map by the British and Mongolian Red Cross. These events allowed me to build a formal partnership with the British/Mongolian Red Cross and the NGO, People in Need based in Ulaanbaatar. I have worked with these organizations to help design programmes to address Mongolian rural livelihoods. Our growing network of non-academic partners have been included in recent grant applications to the ESCR-GCRF and the ERC. In 2017, Ariell Ahearn met with the director of the NGO, People-in-Need [PIN] to discuss social science approaches to understanding Dzud. During this year, I signed an MOU with People-in-Need to advise the NGO on research design for a household economic assessment which was later conducted in 2018. Additionally, with funds provided by this ESRC-GCRF post-doctoral fellowship, the director of PIN was brought to Oxford to attend and present at the 4th Oxford Desert Conference. The impact of my research on dzud was made possible through extensive dissemination efforts including an initial Knowledge Exchange event in 2017 in Ulaanbaatar which has been institutionalized in the Mongolian National Emergency Management Agency and is held annually in November. These events served to create lasting networks between key stakeholders. In particular, I advised technical staff at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as they designed a "forecast-based financing" programme to provide targeted aid to dzud-affected rural families. The programme "triggers" when a dzud occurs, setting into a motion a pre-designed aid package that provides resources to those families most severely affected by a given event. While the ICRC operates 24 forecast-based financing programmes worldwide, the Mongolian case stands out in several crucial ways. Importantly, Mongolia is a middle-income country, far wealthier than the locations of the other forecast-based financing programmes. Whereas Red Cross staff in other nations design aid programmes to reduce mortality and famine, the nature of Mongolian society-namely, the strong family support systems and the widespread access of formal credit-required a new set of performance metrics drawn from the contingencies of Mongolia's socioeconomic situation. I was able to provide in-depth consultation to ICRC programme developers, which led to the development of innovative performance metrics to guide the forecast-based finance programme. Among these were metrics related to pre-existing debt of affected households, as well as psychosocial metrics. Weighed against comparison households, these instruments facilitate a system with empirically testable performance indicators. The incorporation of these indicators-unique to the Mongolian forecast-based finance system-was crucial to designing an aid programme that delivers effective feedback to administrators. Additionally, my findings informed the nature of aid provided to herder households. The dzud relief programme provides families with $100 USD and a veterinary supply kit, allowing herders to protect their existing animal stocks, which form the foundation of rural livelihoods. These relief strategies were informed by my findings of the complex and precarious landscape of labour in contemporary Mongolia, in which the loss of a family's herd can have sustained negative consequences on households. For instance, the provision of unrestricted cash grants aimed to reduce dzud-related debt, an issue on which I was able to provide critical advice, according to a technical advisor at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre. In the winter of 2017-18, the forecast-based financing programme triggered for the first time. The Mongolian Red Cross Society distributed aid to 2,000 herder households across 12 (out of 21) provinces in Mongolia. The programme is currently designed to trigger every 3-5 years. In August 2018, I was awarded at the Co-I of an ESRC-GCRF grant focused on conflict resolution and mediation around mining in Mongolia and Central Asia. I was also awarded with a small John Fell Grant through the University of Oxford in 2018. Since September 2019, I have been the Co-I on the ESRC-GCRF project titled Gobi Framework: Mediation Model for Sustainable Infrastructure Development (ES/S000798/1).
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Televised Knowledge Exchange on Mongolian climatic disasters
Geographic Reach Asia 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Impact Our knowledge exchange conference event in Mongolia included participation from international NGOs such as the British Red Cross, the Mongolian Red Cross, the FAO, Save the Children, People in Need as well as the National Agency for Meterological and Environmental Monitoring, the National University of Mongolia and Nagoya University in Japan. This event influenced the theory of change model utilized by the Mongolian Red Cross for its forcast-based finance initative in rural Mongolia.
URL http://www.ifrc.org/en/what-we-do/where-we-work/asia-pacific/mongolian-red-cross-society/
 
Description GCRF Inclusive Societies: 'Mediation Model for Sustainable Infrastructure Development' - Scaling up Praxis from Mongolia to Central Asia
Amount £675,479 (GBP)
Funding ID ES/S000798/1 
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2018 
End 02/2021
 
Description Partnerships with Mongolian NGOs on Dzud Natural Disaster Programming 
Organisation British Red Cross
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The partnerships grew out of two knowledge exchanges held during the grant period. The first knowledge exchange occured in Oxford, UK and the second in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Both knowledge exchanges were focused on natural diasters and risk in pastoralist livelihoods. I developed a partnership with the organizations: People in Need and Mongolian/British Red Cross. As part of this partnership, I contributed multiple assessments of the organizations' strategies and programmes for addressing risks faced by Mongolian herders during periods of dzud (winter diaster). I also facilitated the organizations' connections with other scholars and networks working in on related issues.
Collaborator Contribution The partners contributed up-to-date knowledge of policy-making processes in Mongolia and contributed to the organization of the knowledge exchange event in Mongolia.
Impact The collaboration is multi-disciplinary and involves non-academics. Outcomes have included the development of a stronger network in Mongolia engaged in understanding livelihood risks to pastoral livelihoods from a physical and social sciences perspective. An important outcome is the ongoing development of the British Red Cross's fiance based forecasting programme in Mongolia, which draws on expertise formed during this grant period.
Start Year 2017
 
Description 4th Oxford Interdisciplinary Desert Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The 4th Oxford Interdisciplinary Desert Conference, from 8-9 June 2017, provided a forum for researchers and those interested in desert and dryland environments and societies to present, discuss and debate dryland themes and research. The Oxford Desert Conference brought together academics and non-academics who research, work and live across the world's desert and semi-desert regions for two days of vibrant talks, presentations, panels and networking opportunities.
For 2017, we encouraged presentations on issues related to health, mobility and forced displacement, and environmental governance. We also encouraged participants from the Humanities to join us. The combination of research presentations, open engagement and working group panels encouraged debate, conversation and exchange of ideas. I am now co-editing a special issue of the journal called Land based on the conference proceedings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.geog.ox.ac.uk/events/deserts/
 
Description American Center for Mongolian Studies Speaker Series - (Dis)integrations? Mega Projects and Narratives of State Legitimacy in the Gobi Desert 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This presentation was hosted by the American Centre for Mongolian Studies and reached an international audience with 30 people attending in person and others via Facebook Live. A dynamic question and answer session followed with individuals also contributing questions via Facebook Live.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.mongoliacenter.org/acmsevent/speaker-series-ariell-ahearn/
 
Description China's Frontier- Institutions, Infrastructure and Landscapes in Pakistan's CPEC 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The activity consisted of a one day conference bringing together interested reserachers and stakeholders around a number of themes related to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. These include the themes of: institutions and governance; livelihoods; infrastructure; landscape; and economics and investment. Seven scholars from across the UK attended along with members of the NGO, UNPO (Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Knowledge Exchange Event: Contextualising risk in deserts: disasters, marginality and policy¬† 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact In bringing together diverse experts this Knowledge Exchange focused on contextualising multiple risks in desert regions where natural disasters, conflict, water scarcity, poverty and community well-being issues are framed by aridity. The seminar's interdisciplinary perspectives provided a chance to exchange thoughts and praxis among international researchers and stakeholders in addressing risk in global drylands. Attendees included a director of NGO based in Mongolia, the British Red Cross, academics from Nagoya University in Japan, international consultants and PhD students and researchers from across the UK
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Knowledge Exchange: Pastoralism, Governance and Dzud Risk in Mongolia 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Pastoralism supports nearly a third of the Mongolian population, contributes to GDP and food security, and is a reservoir of Mongolian traditional culture. One of the most significant risks to pastoralism today is the natural hazard called dzud, which can result in significant damage to the national herd and livelihoods in all regions of Mongolia. This knowledge exchange explored the social and environmental elements of dzud risk in rural Mongolia. It brought together international academics, practioners and policy makers to interrogate the varying definitions of dzud and to develop a common understanding of this phenomenon in order to develop policies to reduce risks faced by pastoralists and support a more sustainable and robust agricultural sector. This knowledge exchange was two days long and included more than 8 speakers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017