Great expectations, and even greater bellies

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IMG_0003 This is my third summer in Ulaanbaatar. Summers here are great - the weather is perfect, outdoor cafes abound, and the young take the opportunity to show themselves off (if they can get away with it). It is no accident that my assignment at IFC is ending in September rather than in May.

But this summer, I've noticed something different, a phenomenon unobserved during the previous two summers: extremely pregnant women. Hundreds of them. They seem to be everywhere - on every street, in every restaurant, in every office, including our own. Sometimes, for fun, I start counting until I pass a pregnant woman on the street. I never get beyond 45.

Inquiring minds want to know: Why might this be? It so happens that I have a theory.

My theory is based on modern Mongolian economic history. In October 2009, the Government of Mongolia signed an epic agreement with the global mining company, Rio Tinto, to develop the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold deposits in the South Gobi. This agreement took six years to reach, and was closely watched by investors to see how serious Mongolia was about attracting foreign investment. For a long time, it wasn't clear if it would happen at all. But it did. And ever since, investor interest in Mongolia has been on the rise. I can tell by the rapid increase in requests by companies and foreign organizations to meet to "discuss the current economic situation in Mongolia." It used to happen every month or so; now it happens once or twice a week.

Economists, international organizations, and Mongolian officials expect the development of Oyu Tolgoi and other mining-related investments to drive the economy of Mongolia going forward. But what does the average Mongolian think? I'm not aware of any public opinion surveys (though perhaps there have been some). But to me, the answer is clear. Mongolians are voting with their wombs. They expect strong economic growth and plenty of opportunities for their children; otherwise, there wouldn't be so many pregnant women on the street. Let's hope that the Mongolian government and investors don't let them down.

I have no doubt that future scholars will prove me correct. But let it be said that the first place this phenomenon was recorded was right here on the Private Sector Development Blog.


David Lawrence

International Development Consultant

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