Mongolia – Traveling the Silk Road

After being in Istanbul for the World Humanitarian Summit and now in Mongolia for the Pacific Endeavor planning workshop, I have been thinking about the impact that the Silk Road had on the citizens and communities along it’s path. Ghengis Khan rose to power at the end of the twelfth century. The vast Mongol empire he created stretched from China to Europe, across which the Silk Routes functioned as efficient lines of communication as well as trade.

The Silk Road was an ancient network of trade routes that were central to cultural exchange through regions of the Asian continent. Traders brought carpets, textiles, spices and silk from China through Mongolia to Constantinople which is present day Istanbul. The impact these traders had along their journey was large. They brought cultural changes and innovative ideas to communities who previously were isolated from these strange but exotic goods.

It reminds me very much of today’s new media and innovative technology connected by digital networks. In today’s hyper connected world digital humanitarian responders travel the same route going from community to community at a much faster speed. In the process, it brings us to learn about cultures, music, traditions and the people.

Time may have changed the goods being introduced and the method of the travel but we have the same impact on every community when we assist either remotely or in person. We are a global community of neighbors helping neighbors and each country that I visit I find more beauty, unity and kindness than I ever imagined.

Many years ago my grandfather gave me wise advice, we lived in a small community in Pennsylvania. He said, “When you are driving if you become lost on the back roads follow the painted lines.” In rural America the roads with painted lines are maintained by the state and they are roads that connect communities. This was good advice that has saved me from many wrong turns. Community roads connected other communities and this in turn opened the doors to travel.

As our communities change and develop we open and share more of our culture with our neighbors. In doing so we grow and develop new relationships. We live in an ever changing world, and innovation or technology isnt at the heart of cultural change, its the people. I am here this week representing our team. There are 20 countries participating in this year’s Pacific Endeavor exercise which is hosted by Pacific Command and takes place in Australia later this year.

They specialize in restoring communications, bridging that gap to improve recovery. But the program is much more than communications, its everyday people learning new cultures and building global friendships between their respective countries.

Its through technology that we are empowered to take small steps that have a big impact, but in the end its the people who drive change. From Istanbul to UlaanBaator, I have had the great fortune to see humanity at its best.