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informal sector

Dynamic Ulaanbaatar—photographs from 1990s and the present

Jim Anderson's picture
Also available in: Mongolian
One regret from my time in Mongolia in the 1990s is that I did not take more pictures. I wasn’t alone in this respect—people generally didn’t carry cameras, and whenever I pulled out my 35mm Nikon I got a lot of stares.  I had to buy and develop film in Beijing and, well, I just didn’t take nearly as many photos as I should have.  Happily, I did take some.

In the spring of 1997 I conducted the research for a study of Mongolia’s informal sector. It was the first such study in the country and there was a blank slate in terms of information.  I was fascinated by how rapidly it had grown, by questions about the size of the sector, by how people working in the informal sector see and organized themselves, by informal entrepreneurship and the spontaneity of markets.

I had as much fun as I have had in my career before or since, poring through statistics, interviewing taxi drivers and shoe shine boys. I interviewed officials on how they decide to provide permission for kiosks to set up shop and how they collaborate with informal (i.e., private, independent) buses. I worked with the NSO and the Ulaanbaatar city statistics department to do a survey to put some numbers with the stories.