Coding for a Green UB: Fostering Civic Entrepreneurship and Green Growth Innovation in Mongolia

April 27, 2015


Code4Green UB Ideathon winners, participants, mentors and judges pose for the camera after winning teams were announced.

Story Highlights
  • Code4Green UB convenes students, coders, makers, sector specialists, and government to creatively address green growth challenges using ICT innovations and design thinking methodologies
  • More than 100 students, coders and sector specialists convene to surface 30+ ideas for ICT innovations in green growth sectors in Ulaanbaatar, one of the world’s most polluted cities
  • Six winning teams advance to six weeks of startup pre-acceleration and sector mentorship to build entrepreneurial skills

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, has an ongoing problem: it’s regularly listed among the world’s most-polluted cities. On the other hand, it has a relatively young and tech-savvy population with high connectivity and smartphone penetration. Herein lies a unique opportunity.

From March 26 to 29, 2015, dozens of participants convened at Ulaanbaatar’s (UB) IT Park for a weekend of green growth innovation. The event the latest in a series of activities driven by a simple question: how might we help transform Ulaanbaatar into a more sustainable and green city?

The weekend ideation marathon - or “ideathon”- was part of Code4Green UB, an innovation and startup competition convening unlikely allies – students, sector specialists, government representatives, developers, and other stakeholders – to develop concrete ideas to address green growth challenges related to energy, transport, water and air quality. The program is implemented by the World Bank’s Transport and ICT Global Practice in collaboration with Startup Mongolia and Internews, and is supported by the Korean Green Growth Trust Fund.

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UB’s super-connected youth are a natural fit for a program that encourages citizens to co-design ICT tools that address environmental challenges in their city.

“The World Bank’s twin goals demand an inclusive, citizen-centered, and creative approach to tackling service delivery challenges faced by cities,” said James Anderson, World Bank Country Manager for Mongolia. “Code4Green UB reminds us that experimentation and innovation by communities of atypical stakeholders can help us achieve these goals.”

The Code4Green UB process

The eight-month series of activities and actions closely follows the design thinking process, a methodology for creative problem-solving that focuses on deep understanding of problems, attention to the human user at the center of the process, and rapid prototyping and validation of ideas.


The design thinking process encourages problem-solvers to carefully consider users and embrace experimentation as they develop solutions.

To really understand the problems related to green growth, Code4Green UB kicked off with a careful analysis of green growth-related challenges. These problem statements were surfaced during meetings with “problem owners” (such as government practitioners and non-governmental organizations), deconstructed into user stories to help innovators address them, and shared online in categories such as water, energy, transport and air quality. These clinics were accompanied by meet-ups that exposed participants to design thinking, lean startup strategies, datasets shared by partners, and international examples of green growth innovations.

The Ideathon

The next phase turned to the tech community, inviting students, entrepreneurs and innovators to tackle these problems using software and hardware during a weekend marathon event. To keep the innovators on track, subject matter experts were on hand to validate theories, while business mentors trained teams on delivering pitches, developing business canvasses and more.

The event concluded with quick-fire pitches by each team and the subsequent selection of seven winners by a panel of judges comprised of sector, government, donor community and private sector representatives.

The jury included Mr. Ts. Buyantsogtoo, Adviser to the Speaker of Parliament of Mongolia, who in his closing remarks expressed his commitment for the government to continue collaborating with specific teams that he discovered during the pitches.

“I was impressed by the energy and creativity of the participants,” said Mr. Buyantsogtoo. “Activities like Code4Green UB help strengthen ties between government and citizens to innovate service delivery together.”

The teams were evaluated on a range of criteria including practicality, relevance to green growth challenges and potential for impact. Winning ideas included:

  • Counter Punch, an app for citizens to report, monitor and compete about their water usage
  • Gray Diamond, a sensor-equipped water filter to track the reuse of graywater in homes
  • Green Nomads, a game that teaches traffic rules to future drivers to reduce congestion

Post-Ideathon activities to support entrepreneurship

The winning ideas alone aren’t enough to solve green growth challenges or develop meaningful entrepreneurship skills. To help these teams refine their ideas and startup acumen, the teams will jump directly into five weeks of pre-acceleration. This tailored program, led by Startup Mongolia, is designed to help teams build sustainable prototypes through mentorships, lean startup workshops and more.

Other activities are planned to further support these ideas. Pre-accelerator graduates will pitch at a Demo Day on May 15, 2015, where they will compete for Code4Green UB grand prizes including a study tour in Korea to learn from the tech start-up community, a comprehensive three-month acceleration program and funds to support teams’ development during that period.

Beyond Code4Green UB

The development of startup skills and experience is integral to the growth of new businesses, job opportunities and information and communication technology (ICT) use across the Mongolian economy. In this context, the Code4Green UB initiative aligns with a broader agenda to foster the ICT entrepreneurship ecosystem in Mongolia, particularly as a mechanism to support youth employment and gender equality in access to jobs.

Moreover, Code4Green UB represents a growing collaboration between the Government of Mongolia and the World Bank to leverage ICTs to improve service delivery. The SMART Mongolia project, currently pending approval with the country’s parliament, covers a suite of programs to improve interoperability between government systems, provide foundations for Open Data and help social innovators fund their journey from idea to startup.

Stay tuned for more Code4Green UB updates.