Bolor-Erdene Battsengel is the the youngest, first female State Secretary of the Ministry of Digital Development and Communications of Mongolia, and she is on a mission to turn Mongolia into a digital nation. Taking advantage of her country's geographical position in Central Asia and neighbour to technologically advanced China, she is working to create an IT friendly environment where foreign citizens can easily register their technology companies, and for US multinationals to set up their data centers in Mongolia. She is also passionate about encouraging more women to pursue IT and government positions. We chat exclusively with the young and charismatic Bolor to find out more about her leadership style and how big a tech geek she is.
Hi Bolor, very pleased to have you chat with us on "Making the Cut".
Thanks so much for having me. It is my pleasure to talk to you today.
Are you a person that likes the latest and coolest technology? What are some of the technologies that you find interesting?
I try to keep up with new technologies and tech-based solutions to solve social problems. Currently, I am learning more about AI and blockchain to introduce them to e-Mongolia, a government platform that provides 650 government services. We want to be able to suggest services to our citizens using AI. Also, I am currently very interested in Space technologies. How communications and science satellites work and how countries and companies have to work together in the future.
When there is an IT problem at home, are you the go-to person?
I do set up most of my electronics in my home as well as my parents' home.
What's your leadership style? Do you have to adjust your leadership style when it comes to managing colleagues that are even younger than you?
I have created a blended leadership style. Personally, I prefer giving my team the freedom to manage their assignments, build ownership, and think and act on them. However, the government has its own procedures and certain cultures. Therefore, I am blending these two. For the prioritized tasks, I like to deep dive with the team and truly listen to what all of my team members think and want to pursue.
You are a young female leader in a male-dominated field, what are some of the challenges you have had to face?
The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector is a highly male-dominated industry not only in Mongolia but also in many other countries. Government and politics are very male-dominated in Mongolia as well. There are only three female cabinet members and a few female parliament members in Mongolia. Not only am I one of the few women in leadership positions in Mongolia, but I am also one of the youngest. The challenge for women and men in government or in politics is very different. It takes more time and effort for women to be accepted by their peers. Gender bias for young female leaders is very challenging as it can be hard to earn males’ support as well as respect from other women in government.
What advice would you give to fellow women in tech and government?
I always tell women to be brave and hardworking. Many women voluntarily sit behind the scenes and don’t stand up for themselves as leaders because they may be shy or have subconsciously accepted that men should be the ones on stage. Therefore, to be able to open more doors for women and break gender biases, it is very important for women to be brave and show leadership.
What can we do to encourage more women in tech fields?
Involving more women in tech starts from elementary education. I think in many countries, the traditional education systems encourage girls to pursue more administrative jobs like accounting. I talked to many girls from all around the world and understood that from an early age, girls tend to get discouraged from being software engineers. Therefore, if we want to change this, it should start from very early educational curricula and give equal options to both genders. In the short term, women in tech should be a supportive and inspiring community that welcomes fellow girls. For this reason, I initiated a program called Girls Code which brings 30 girls from disadvantaged communities and teaches them how to code. Nine of these girls were accepted to some of the world’s top prestigious universities with our help, and the remaining are already working with local tech companies.
What are some of the challenges faced by Mongolia when it comes to catching up with some of the most technologically advanced countries and also in building a strong tech startup culture?
I think in Mongolia the legal environment was not friendly for tech businesses and the digital literacy level was lower. However, last year we approved five new laws including Digital Signature, Personal Data Protection, and Virtual Assets. While these regulations are allowing tech businesses to flourish, we are also creating a number of digital literacy programs to further encourage their development.
You also led the e-Mongolia project, tell us a little bit about the platform and how it came about?
In October 2020, we launched the e-Mongolia platform with 181 government services. Now we have 650 government services available online, enabling our citizens who live as nomadic communities to be able to access services in the middle of nowhere. Now we have about 90 percent of our adult population using the e-Mongolia platform. We are planning to digitize all the government licenses this year.
What are your ambitions for the Mongolian tech landscape in the future?
Mining has been the main economy in Mongolia for years and it is very important for us to diversify the economy. As someone who is leading the ICT sector, I truly believe that the tech industry can be one of the main economic sectors in Mongolia. Developing the technology landscape will be beneficial to our local economy but it will also allow international companies to operate in the region, as we have a friendly legal environment, cheaper labor force, and a strategic geographic location.
Thanks Bolor. It was a pleasure speaking with you and let's have a video interview when you come to Singapore.