Editor’s note: GlobalAtlanta traveled to Mongolia last year. This story is part of a special report on the country, the second to be featured in our Emerging Market series.
It’s been six years since he left Atlanta, but Greg Goldhawk still faithfully contributes to WABE, the local public radio affiliate.
He must really believe in the mission, since the Canadian diplomat is now posted far out of the station’s range.
“I suspect I may be the contributor furthest away from the broadcast tower,” said Mr. Goldhawk, who became Canada’s ambassador to Mongolia in 2010.
Mr. Goldhawk was a senior commercial officer from 2002-06 at the Canadian Consulate General in Atlanta before heading off for a four-year stint at the embassy in Bangkok.
In August 2010, he left Thailand‘s tropical heat for Ulaanbaatar, the world’s coldest capital.
Mongolia and Atlanta share few similarities, but lessons on diplomacy learned in Georgia have translated well to his first ambassadorial posting.
“It’s about building networks of confidence and understanding between businesspeople and officials in two different locations, be it Canada and the U.S. or Canada and Mongolia,” he said. “And the process about how you do that is kind of the same everywhere you go.”
Atlanta also gave him a sense of what it’s like to work in a dynamic economy.
“Being in Atlanta sort of prepared me for a place that is on the move and moving quickly,” he said.
While friends back home often can’t find it on the map, Mr. Goldhawk said Mongolia’s reputation as a remote Asian backwater is quickly changing.
With 3 million people (fewer than metro Atlanta) Mongolia’s economy is tiny. In 2011, gross domestic product was up 6.4 percent to $6.2 billion, according to the World Bank. But more investment is coming, as anticipated by gleaming new buildings Mr. Goldhawk can see from the embassy’s office. Various forecasters project growth this year of up to 15 percent as companies continue to invest in huge mining projects in the South Gobi province. Growth during the next decade could top 40 percent.
Canada, with its strong natural resources sector, is a major contributor. Just the pre-production costs of the Oyu Tolgoi gold and copper mines, a joint project between Canadian mining firm Ivanhoe and global giant Rio Tinto, is bringing in more than $4 billion.
“I feel enormously privileged, honestly, to be here at this point in time because the place is evolving so fast, you feel like if you blink you’re going miss something really important,” Mr. Goldhawk said.
But Mr. Goldhawk is not just an observer. Especially in a small country like Mongolia, diplomats can open commercial and political doors, benefiting both their home and host countries, he said.
“You can actually go home and at the end of a day and say, ‘I made something really good and useful and helpful happen today,'” he said. “That, as a personal feeling; it’s enormously satisfying. I would say it’s the same kind of feeling I had in Atlanta.”
Mr. Goldhawk is flattered that Mongolia has looked to resource-rich Canada as an example of what it would like to become – a stable democracy where wealth is distributed equitably. Still, many worry that the country could catch “Dutch disease,” a scenario played out in many African countries in which mineral wealth becomes a curse by broadening the gap between the rich and poor.
Policy makers understand this danger and are doing their best to address it, though governance remains one of the top challenges to Mongolia’s sustained growth, Mr. Goldhawk said.
“If they don’t get that stuff right, all the money in the world isn’t going to make this country a better place, and they get that,” he said.
On that point and on many others, Mr. Goldhawk echoes his American counterpart, Jonathan Addleton, who has family roots in middle Georgia.
They live in the same Ulaanbaatar neighborhood and often work side-by-side, whether it’s pounding nails in a Habitat for Humanity home or ironing out commercial issues.
Though he represents Canada, it’s common for Mr. Goldhawk to be working with Mongolian authorities to smooth the way for projects involving American firms.
“Those kinds of supply-chain collaborations are there even in a place as remote as Mongolia might seem,” he said.
Visit http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/mongolia-mongolie/index.aspx?lang=eng&view=d for more information.
The podcast above features a Skype interview with Mr. Goldhawk conducted from Atlanta.