Alumna spotlight: Enka Tsendjav, MA SID’11, brings a sustainable development framework to the Mongolian media

November 02, 2016

By Bethany Romano

image of Enka Tsendjav

When Enkhjargal Tsendjav (“Enka” to her U.S. friends) decided to enroll in Heller’s sustainable international development program, she never imagined it would lead to a career in the media.

Originally from Mongolia, Tsendjav was working at a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit called International Action when she first thought about getting a master’s degree. “I was searching for graduate programs, and my director actually suggested that I pursue a career in international development, which was very attractive to me,” she says. “Mongolia is still a developing country. Although now sometimes it’s considered a middle-income country, it still has a lot of social and economic problems. So it was interesting to me to pursue an international development field.”

Tsendjav says her time at the Heller School was life-changing. “It’s a very diverse program, with students from all over the world, representing so many countries. And everybody came there with ideas! It wasn’t just a classroom environment where you only learn from the teachers, it’s very interactive and we learned so much from each other.”

After graduating, Tsendjav took a job at the International Finance Corporation (IFC) in D.C. to work on a Mongolia-based water and mining project. She also took a part-time consultant job at the World Bank to work on a global survey assessment on gender. After a year, IFC asked if she’d be willing to relocate to Mongolia, which she was thrilled to do.

After she came back to Mongolia, Tsendjav was looking for other opportunities when she heard that Forbes decided to open a franchised branch in Mongolia and was hiring managers. She jumped at the opportunity and was offered a position at the magazine as a part time manager. “I started out doing some translation and promotion of the magazine, but after just one month they asked me to conduct an interview and write a cover story. After that everything went very fast. Just a couple of months later I became editor in chief. The surprising thing was it was not strange for me to work in the media industry; the transition was actually very smooth. I guess it is because media was my childhood dream.”

Tsendjav brought her sustainable development mindset to Forbes Mongolia, writing and editing stories on sustainable business practices and corporate social responsibility in the quickly developing country. “When I was working at the World Bank, I could see the impact I had on the mining companies, the communities, the government officials. But with media, you never know who might pick up that magazine,” she says. “I was working with a much bigger audience at Forbes Mongolia, but of course it’s a much more business-oriented magazine. I think it’s important to encourage an entrepreneurial spirit in the Mongolian community. I interviewed the CEOs of big companies and small startups, women entrepreneurs, expat leaders, scientists, and technology geeks who are doing innovative work. I believe science, technology, entrepreneurship and art mixed with media can make a very high impact.”

Eventually Tsendjav decided to move on from Forbes Mongolia, but retained her newfound love of working in media. She is now the media representative for an organization called the Mongolian Health Initiative (MHI), a subcontractor of Harvard University that conducts scientific research and disseminates it to a national audience. Currently, MHI is conducting the largest clinical trial on latent TB infection in the world in Mongolia, titled, “Vitamin D in TB Prevention in School Age Children.” With it, MHI hopes to improve vitamin D levels for Mongolian children, a factor that is strongly connected to tuberculosis prevention.

“In Mongolia, all the studies show that we have a very low levels of vitamin D, a nutrient you can only get through sun exposure and through food,” she says. “Although one large Mongolian company called APU just recently started fortifying milk, we do not fortify daily food products like the U.S. does.”  

In October, Dr. Ganmaa Davaasambuu, a founder of MHI and faculty member of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, partnered with the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study to organize a three day workshop to explore ways to create policies around food fortification. Tsendjav says, “I was so happy to be one of the organizers. The workshop was a success—it included Mongolian delegates including a governor, ministers, academics, business people and internationally known experts. Things moved very fast after the workshop. We hope to have food fortification legislation very soon, which could be applicable to other central Asian countries as well.”

As MHI’s media representative, Tsendjav helps build partnerships with other institutions to support their research capacity. MHI works closely with prestigious institutions like Harvard, MIT, and the NIH.  She’s also creating a public awareness campaign around their findings to advocate for policy change. “Media has a crucial role in translating scientific language to simple language to educate the public. I think that’s sustainable development as well.”

Tsendjav credits much of her success to her background in development and her Heller degree. “Development isn’t just about implementing projects, development is everywhere: even in our daily lives,” she says. “I believe development practitioners should utilize knowledge from science, technology, entrepreneurship, art, and media in their work. Development work should be scientifically proven, technologically advanced, attractive as art, and publicly approachable as media. The Heller School installed a mindset of sustainability very deeply in me. So whenever I do something, regardless of the field, I have a strong sense guiding me to do all things in a sustainable way.”