The global drive for modernization is leaving many traditional peoples in the dust, but local rancher and consultant Dennis Sheehy hopes exposure to American systems can help ease the evolution.
As well as sharing his experience through decades of work in Mongolia, an organization he founded is bringing residents of the central Asian country with a history of pastoralism to experience how modern agriculture is done in Wallowa County.
Meet Unurbayar Sedbazar: she's a 24-year-old city gal from a primarily rural country acclimating herself to a rural lifestyle in one of the most developed nations on the planet. The contrast of cultures might sound confusing, but Sedbazar is coping.
"I expected a powerful, big country with big buildings and a lot of cars like in New York (City), but didn't expect the rural area," Sedbazar said.
Even though the United States is far from Mongolia, she developed an interest in the American form of English because it's become an international language of business and culture.
Sedbazar worked as Sheehy's translator as he studied an endangered Mongolian ass in the remote Gobi Desert. He was impressed by Sedbazar, and invited her to participate in an internship program and learn about American systems and infrastructure related to modern agriculture.
The collision between traditional practices and the modern world is having a negative impact on Mongolian herders who have been doing things the same way for thousands of years, Sheehy said.
Most of the rural people are simply subsistence herders, he said, trading or bartering their surplus, while Mongolian city dwellers are getting rich tapping into international markets with internet and cell phone technologies.
"The commodity type of livestock production is going to happen to Mongolia and with an exchange of people and information we can give them a better understanding of how to do it and what to avoid," Sheehy said.
To this end, Sedbazar has been spending her time studying organizations like Wallowa Resources and Northeast Oregon Economic Development District to learn about community development. Sheehy said Natural Country Beef has shown her a template of producer-to-consumer marketing that could be replicated in Mongolia.
Visiting about five months, she's the first person to be exchanged in a program started this spring with Sheehy's International Center for Advancement of Pastoral Systems and the Oregon Cattleman's Association. The landscape and issues are similar between Mongolia and Wallowa County, he said, as well as the external pressures from international markets.
The change began in 1990 when Mongolia transformed from a centrally planned economy to a market economy, she said.
People now want their own business, she said, and young people are clamoring to study in the United States as MTV, American culture and international products flood Mongolian markets and minds.
Natural forces aren't helping either, Sheehy said. From 1999 through 2001, a drought followed by harsh winters killed nine million head of livestock, threatening the survival of the herders who rely upon them. Forced to abandon herding, these people moved to the city, he said, and are clinging to the bottom rung of the economic ladder.
"A lot of the issues we have had to address here is happening there, but there's a time compression factor; it's happening faster there," Sheehy said.
Sedbazar seems to have a positive attitude about modernization - she's excited about the new culture, development and opportunities she's experiencing. She wants to enroll in the Masters of Business Administration program at Eastern Oregon University, pioneering her country's inevitable movement into the modern world equipped with experience, education and hope.