STEFANIE BURRI: Happy to see improvements in people’s lives as a result of SDC projects

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       The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is the Swiss Government Agency for the International Cooperation. SDC has been one of Mongolia’s major donors since 2004, assisting Mongolia’s multi-sectoral reforms and national development following the nation’s transition to a market economy. Newly appointed Head of International Cooperation in Mongolia Dr. Stefanie Burri was serving as Senior Advisor for International Development, based at the SDC head office in Bern, Switzerland, before her appointment to her new role. She received a PhD in social anthropology and a master's degree in sociology and psychology from the University of Bern, Switzerland. In addition, she is a certified coach and trainer from the Institute of Applied Psychology in Zurich, Switzerland, and specializes in human and organizational development.

- It’s been about three months since your appointment as SDC's Head of International Cooperation in Mongolia. What have you been doing during this time?

- First, I would like to thank the government of Mongolia for making it possible for me to come, and I am so glad to be here. Compared to all the other countries, the government of Mongolia is really doing a great job, because the numbers show that Mongolia is one of the world's safest countries.

During this time, I've had a lot of meetings with ministers but also with international organizations like the World Bank, the
UNHCR, UNICEF, and others.

- What assistance has SDC provided to Mongolia to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak?

- The COVID-19 pandemic is a worldwide issue and we've been having a huge impact, not only on health but also economic and social impacts. I think we need to develop a vaccine that everyone has access to as soon as possible. We are contributing to this potential development. Switzerland is contributing to UN organizations for fighting with COVID-19. Indirectly, Mongolia is benefiting from SDC through these organizations.

- Which area do you intend to focus on developing in Mongolia despite COVID-19-related challenges?

- SDC will continue its focus on three key domains, including agriculture and food security, basic education and vocational training, and governance. We have bilateral projects and we try to have more equal partnership between Switzerland and Mongolia. Diplomatic relations between the two countries started in 1964.

More focus will be placed on economic relations between the two countries. There are climate issues related to transboundary water management and air pollution. Sustainable land management in Mongolia's Gobi should be discussed globally. We have to talk and find solutions for climate change, and to see it globally now. So, SDC brings all the different
countries together. Climate change is also affecting Switzerland. Therefore, we need to pay attention to these global issues. Huge global problems are affecting world markets, so we would like to put more emphasis on them.

- SDC is providing humanitarian assistance and carrying out projects in many sectors in Mongolia. Right now, what kinds of projects are in place? Are you seeing concrete results?

- Switzerland has worked with Mongolia on this process since 2001, when SDC started humanitarian intervention in order to help victims of Dzud, winter climate disaster. In 2004, SDC opened the Cooperation Office and launched mid-term programs, when the country was in the early years of its transition to democracy and a free market economy. SDC's objective is to contribute to equitable social, economic, and sustainable development in Mongolia. Within this framework, we have
identified three key domains under the 2018 to 2021 Cooperation Strategy: Agriculture and Food Security, Basic Education and
Vocational Training, and Governance. Under these domains, we are implementing 15 projects directly or in cooperation with the state, and non-governmental and international organizations.

One of our successful projects is Inclusive and Sustainable Vegetable and Marketing, which we call "VEGI". The introduction of
new high-yielding and early-maturing varieties of potatoes, as well as the development of a local seed-multiplication system helped Mongolia to become self-sufficient in potato production. Building on the successes in potato farming, SDC now supports vegetable production, involving up to 23,000 vegetable farmers in diversified production, storage, processing, marketing, and promoting the greater consumption of vegetables. New adapted vegetable varieties were introduced and local seed production doubled. Moreover, contribution modality for the approach was encouraged, resulting in around 40 percent
investment from the households and engaging public funds of five percent.

The World Vision Mongolia project, which is co-founded by SDC and the European Union, provides education, sanitary goods,
and food packages to women, children, and vulnerable families. So, that's one thing we are supporting. Also, we are implementing the Combating Gender-Based Violence Project with the UNFPA and supporting to establish the One-Stop-Service Centers, which is related to addressing gender-based violence. This is what we have done, in short.

The COVID-19 pandemic will not end by the end of the year; its economic and social impacts will continue. Switzerland, through the Green Gold Animal Health project, has been supporting herder families for about 15 years to improve their economic stability and livelihoods.

The Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) Project is being implemented. The ESD concept was successfully introduced
in Mongolia's secondary education system from 2014 to 2018. For 2019 to 2022, SDC is contributing to enhancing nationwide
capacity for the sustainable application of ESD. Targeted training and on-the-job training is organized to strengthen knowledge of ESD at macro, mid, and micro levels. Quality resources and practical tools such as locally relevant, cross-curricular lesson plans, project-based learning involving the local community, and an institution-wide approach manual for
ESD application are available to teachers and other practitioners. ESD model schools are supported to further integrate ESD effectively in education and school management, as well as in school community initiatives.

We have several projects that are very successfully being implemented in the area of governance. One of the biggest successfully implemented projects is the One-Stop-Service Center, which addresses this issue by contributing to good governance, the creation of a favorable business environment, and better lives for citizens. We also have other quite successful projects, and we are retrofitting schools and kindergartens in two districts of UB to make them more efficient in terms of heating system.

- How much will SDC invest in these projects?

SDC has invested around 51 million CHF from 2018-2021, about 20 percent went to agriculture and half of the budget went into governance, while 18 percent has been for basic education and vocational training.

Personally, I do not like to say we just invested five million or three million. Contributions have been made long-term, and the investment in education and vocational training is something that is lasting.

- What cultural projects are being implemented be SDC? Within the scope of these projects, what activities are planned?

- In addition to the three main domains, SDC implements cultural projects. In particular, the Culture Project has fostered cultural and artistic diversity, and has encouraged the creative use of art for social transformation and development in Mongolia from 2019 to 2021. The Small Action Project addresses environmental issues, and promotes the climate change resilience of local communities in Mongolia, community-based tourism, as well as knowledge generation through innovative approaches and technological solutions. Culture is something that is very close to my heart. Mongolia has such an amazing cultural heritage. I think that culture is much more just than a hobby. We have several projects and small actions, but one thing is for sure, we will continue to support Mongolian artists. We have several ideas at the moment. Cultural heritage is such an important issue.

What further policy objectives for Mongolia do you have that also relate to Switzerland?

- SDC is interested in developing a new and equal partnership with the Government of Mongolia over the next four years. Mongolia and the SDC have agreed to cooperate in our fields of focus in implementing the objectives set out in the Government Action Plan through 2024. In particular, digitizing public services and improving the ethics of public servants within the e-Governance program, decentralizing Ulaanbaatar, reducing traffic congestion, reducing air pollution, and improving local governance.

Misheel Lkhasuren