Women’s empowerment fuels innovation
10 February 2024, Mongolia: With a lifelong drive toward philanthropy and an academic background in economics, Solongo Ganbold found her way to microbiology later in life, as she helped her mother on her PHD research. It was honeybee venom (apitoxin) that captured her interest for its potential in treating patients with diabetes. With this new drive, she turned into an entrepreneur, fuelled by a contest held by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Ever since she was a child, Solongo desired to help people. At 15 years old, she volunteered to teach English to underprivileged girls. As a teenager, she collected old clothes for orphans and street children. In her twenties, with her background in economics, she started working in the government and international organizations to advocate for policies benefiting children and women.
However, it was during her maternity leave that she began to research the therapeutic effects of honeybee venom.
The more she learned, the more she realized that she could leverage this scientific knowledge to develop innovative products, such as pain relief balms and restorative ointments, derived from bee venom. She started “Magic Bee Foods”, and despite the early difficulties that come with any start-up company, Solongo stayed determined.
Her pivotal moment came when she won second place in the “Agripreneurship Challenge”, a competition designed to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in the agrifood sector and identify promising start-ups with potential solutions for the sector’s challenges.
This competition was organized under the framework of the European Union-funded, FAO and United Nations Development Program (UNDP)-implemented Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) – Aligned Budgeting to Transform Employment in Mongolia project. Working together with the International Labour Organization (ILO), the project assisted the government in providing effective, accountable and responsive public services in the labor relations and employment sector, supporting the reform of the budget and financial management system and strengthening institutional capacity.
The competition was much more than a typical contest; it provided a comprehensive incubation training programme and bootcamp workshops where the industry leading experts coached participants with specific knowledge and advice tailored to their needs.
Solongo discloses that her inspiration to explore Research and Development (R&D) for other bee venom products came from her participation in the competition.
Additionally, because of her achievement in this competition, Solongo learned valuable skills from experienced businesspeople who became mentors, and she received the funding she needed to make her production process semi-automated.
As a result, Solongo recounts that her business finally took off with sales increasing approximately 16 times that of when she first started her business alone.
Before, she used to stay in her lab, working on the science behind the products, with little exposure to industry or business networks. But now she has established connections with Indian and Japanese companies and is currently in discussions about exporting her products. These partnerships hold significant promise for Solongo’s business.
She also feels her business is an opportunity to empower other women. As her enterprise expanded, she needed more people to operate fully. She chose to offer these jobs specifically to women in an area where employment is scarce.
She recruits local women, some with limited education, and provides competitive salaries, flexible work hours and access to various training opportunities. Her vision aims to break the cycle of poverty and foster her employees’ personal and professional development.
“I thank Solongo for her continuous support and belief in us. With that support, I bought land to build my ger [a traditional Mongolian dwelling] , and now I have a place to call home. She also encouraged me to continue my sewing hobby and provided funds to buy a sewing machine, which has given me extra income. I want to work even harder to contribute to her vision of empowering women. Her help has made a significant difference in my life,” said Battsetseg Baatarzorig, a factory assistant.
Currently, Solongo’s team is actively working on the R&D of new products from bee venom. However, for her Master of Science degree in biotechnology, she is researching the therapeutic potential of bee venom in breast cancer, aiming to understand its tumor suppression mechanisms and to develop a cost-effective therapy to combine with conventional cancer treatments, that might ultimately reduce cancer-related mortality.
Inspiring women like Solongo are using their passion for science to drive progress and inspire those around them. By supporting innovative agrifood entrepreneurs, FAO is working to propel these women and men in transforming the sector and creating new livelihood opportunities.
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