Bridging People

Bridging People

In December of 2016, Armenian General Benevolent Union launched BRIDGE for CSOs program aimed to contribute to the empowerment and sustainable development of the civil society in Armenia. The three-year project with the overall budget of €2.2 million is implemented by the AGBU together with the Eurasia Partnership Foundation and is financed by the European Union. BRIDGE for CSOs will provide trainings, small grants, quality expertise and network for civil society organizations working in a variety of fields from art to IT. One of the ways AGBU strengthens CSOs in Armenia is through connecting Diaspora professionals with local Armenian projects. Successful specialists from different countries of the world became Goodwill Ambassadors, investing their experience, knowledge and skills for further development of the civil society in Armenia.

 

Text : Karine Ghazaryan   
Photo : AGBU Archive

 

What is the Bridge

Increasing the capacities of Civil Society Organizations (CSO) to better respond to citizens’ needs is a critical question in Armenia. BRIDGE for CSOs program is designed to address this gap by linking Armenian CSOs with Diaspora expertise. BRIDGE stands for Bringing Real Impact with Diaspora and Global Engagement. The program is funded by European Union and implemented by the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) in collaboration with the Eurasia Partnership Foundation (EPF). A unique characteristic of this three-year program is strengthening nonprofit sector by using Diaspora talent and expertise.

The program offers thematic trainings, pro bono Diaspora expertise, Non-profit management university certificate program, grants to improve financial sustainability of CSOs, Good Will Ambassadors to increase awareness about work of CSOs, a skill share platform to connect CSOs with Diaspora. 80 CSOs and 200 professionals working for those organizations will benefit through the project. BRIDGE for CSOs will positively impact the lives of 16,000 beneficiaries in Armenia, engage up to 400 Diaspora individuals, provide funding to CSOs to start or expand social enterprises and improve their operational and service delivery capacity.

 

Technovation Armenia

Women in Information Society NGO

In September of 2017, Chief Architect of Synopsys and AGBU Central Board member Dr. Yervant Zorian became the first Goodwill Ambassador of BRIDGE for CSOs. He supported Women in Information Society NGO in its Technovation Armenia initiative, which is a part of global Technovation Challenge contest. Technovation provides training and mentorship to girls around the world and encourages them to build careers in IT industry where the ratio of female specialists  makes up only about 10% of the overall workforce. Thousands of girls from schools in different cities and villages of Armenia assembled teams and competed for travelling to Silicon Valley and presenting their project to the leaders of the tech world. The school team of Karbi village called “One Step Ahead” presented a bilingual Armenian sign language app and became one of the 12 finalists selected from 3,000 teams across the globe. The team won Technovation’s People’s Choice Award and received $10,000 for developing the app.

Dr. Yervant Zorian
Chief Architect of Synopsys, President of Synopsys Armenia
BRIDGE for CSOs Goodwill Ambassador

“It was in the Soviet times that I first travelled to Armenia. They did not let us get acquainted with the local tech sector; instead they showed us the churches and the shoe factory. But when I came back in 1993, the current President Armen Sarkissian connected me with the key individuals of the tech industry, and we started working pretty successfully. Back then Armenia had many high-qualified experts but no jobs. When we started bringing businesses here, there were about 20-30 applicants for one position,  i.e., we had less demand and more supply. In the 2000s, big multinational companies started to establish branches in Armenia, and the situation with the workforce was balanced. Now, there has been an impressive growth in the industry: we went from 3 companies in the early 1990s to 750 today! But those 750 companies don’t have enough people to hire as we have certain demand but no efficient supply from schools and universities. That is why I decided to support the initiative of Women in Information Society when AGBU’s BRIDGE for CSOs team told me about the project and offered to become a Goodwill Ambassador. This project is a very good attempt of creating excitement in schools and doing some level of training. After the girls of the winning team had their project in hand, I met them and we flew together to the US.

What Google provided for them was more of a closed environment for competition, and my thinking was that they ought to be more connected to the tech world. So, I took them to some companies; we went to the National Accelerator Laboratory and to Stanford University Campus. But I also wanted them to feel at home, so we made acquaintance with the Armenian community in the Silicon Valley. And during the final competition at the Google Headquarters, which was open to the public, there was a big support group of Armenians. And of course, we won the People’s Choice Award!

I continued to be in touch with the team after they got back to Armenia, helping them connect with TEDxYerevan and the President Prize committee. But my role in this project is more generic: I work less with one particular team but encourage more teams to participate using previous experience as a success story.”

 

Sevan Startup Summit

Startup Armenia Foundation

From July 22 to 29, over 1000 IT specialists and entrepreneurs gathered at a camp at the shore of Lake Sevan. Sevan Startup Summit hosted multiple activities: from small talks to contests with $50,000 prize-fund. BRIDGE for CSOs Goodwill Ambassador Tatul Ajamyan spent two days at the camp. Resident of Silicon Valley and the founder of Wakie voice conversation app with 2 million users in 80 countries, Tatul provided mentorship to local start-up teams,  gave motivation fire-side talks, as well as judged a battle of start-up Social Entrerpises and chose the winner of special prize from BRIDGE for CSOs. He shared his experience with the participants and used his social network platforms to publicize Sevan Startup Summit.

Tatul Ajamyan 
Founder of Wakie
BRIDGE for CSOs Goodwill Ambassador

“13 years ago, I founded an Armenian youth organization in Moscow, SIVAM. We were pretty innovative in our work with the community and grew into a great network over time. So, I spent many years trying to help Diaspora to thrive. But then I took a look at older communities, like the ones in Paris or LA, and I saw that Diaspora has this idea of conservation, of protection, of losing people and yet protecting, of trying to be integrated but not assimilated. At some point I understood that the only power in the Armenian world that can thrive is the state of Armenia. So, if I had just one shot, I would try to develop Armenia. And, in a landlocked country with closed borders tech can be the biggest leverage.

You see, China or India have this great number of people working in tech. Armenia is much smaller, so we must be smarter. We can’t have 10 000 startups a year, we can have maybe 500, but we should have a higher success rate. And Armenians do build great tech, we are just a bit not experienced in building businesses, especially international businesses that can compete with world giants. So, I think what one needs to do in Armenia is to bring people and experiences. And that is precisely why I was so excited to take part in BRIDGE for CSOs program and support Sevan Startup Summit as their Goodwill Ambassador.

By the way, when I was still getting ready for my trip to Armenia I couldn’t imagine something this big is possible here. This camp is huge compared to the sizes of the Armenian tech community, and the energy and investment here are incredible. With BRIDGE for CSOs, we awarded financial support to one of the many incredible startups presented at the summit, but we will go further and stay engaged with the participants to build wider network with local companies.”

 

Miassine Bakery

Miassine Foundation

On July 27, French-Armenian baker Greg Guerguerian held a master class of French patisserie in Miassine Bakery in Gyumri. Miassine is a social bakery which trains and hires young people aged 16 and older who come from vulnerable communities or closed social institutions.

The bakery in Gyumri offers its customers various kinds of French and Italian artisan bread. Greg Guerguerian, owner of Monsieur Spoon café in Bali, Indonesia, and Roots café in Stepanakert, Artsakh, will provide training on cooking French desserts and thus expanding the range of products for sale.

Greg Guerguerian
Founder of The Roots in Artsakh
BRIDGE for CSOs Goodwill Ambassador

“I always choose to travel, discover small places or share my experience with small businesses because I’m against big industries with standardized approach to everything. I strongly believe that if we make smaller enterprises, quality will be better and the relations with customers will be more humane. Unfortunately, big corporations are everywhere: in Paris, New York or London all the brands are the same; the world is getting very homogeneous. However, in Armenia – also in Artsakh – we are still protected from that, we are still independent and unique. And that helps this place to preserves its personality.

It has been almost a year since I opened Roots café in Stepanakert, which operates quite successfully. And for me, it was not more difficult to establish a business in Artsakh than it was, say, in Bali where our Monsieur Spoon café is located. But I do understand that small businesses have a very little chance to fight against the resources that major companies possess, and I am always happy to help a small producer, if I can. So, when I heard that young guys in Gyumri started a bakery and was offered to become their Goodwill Ambassador, I was very willing to help! BRIDGE for CSOs team introduces me to the Miassine staff, and together we learnt to bake French fruit tarts. The recipe I shared with the Miassine combines several must-know techniques which are the base of French patisserie. I got acquainted with what Miassine does and saw the quality. We also discussed the market for French bakery in Gyumri and I shared my experience of creating French cafes far away from Paris.”

 

Playground Shelter in Border Village Koti

Pahapan Development Foundation

On October 26, BRIDGE for CSOs hosted a concert organized by the opera coach Serine-Lyuba Tatevosyan in support of Pahapan Development Foundation. Tatevosyan, who is originally from Moscow, has been working in Armenia on staging Jules Massenet’s “Manon” opera which will premiere during the Francophonie Summit in Autumn. In the framework of BRIDGE for CSOs program, she organized a French music night and raised money for building playground shelter at the school of bordering Koti village. The shelter will be equipped with school supplies and toys to make it less traumatic for children who may need to hide there in case of bomb attack.

Serine-Lyuba Tatevosyan
Opera singer, vocal coach
BRIDGE for CSOs Goodwill Ambassador 

“I have two professions: linguistics and vocal coaching. I train singers to perform properly in Italian and French. In Armenia, we are currently working on a very difficult opera “Manon”. French opera tradition has some strict rules for performers, moreover, President Emmanuel Macron is expected to attend the premiere, so we have a pretty challenging task!

During my stay in Armenia, I learnt about AGBU’s BRIDGE for CSOs project. I wished to contribute and wanted very much for my efforts to be helpful for children. I was very excited when I discovered Pahapan Development Foundation and the Playground Shelters project. So, we organized a concert where singers from the Young Artists Opera Program, kids from Mkhitar Sebastatsi Educational Complex, as well as “Astghikner” vocal studio choir performed different French arias. I coached the kids for several weeks. With young singers we worked on phonetics. The kids were very artistic and receptive; they couldn’t even write in Armenian yet but performed amazingly in French! They opened the concert, then “Astghikner” performed, and then the Young Artists came in. I myself also sang, and all the proceeds from the concert we transferred for the benefit of Pahapan’s project of building the playground shelter. The construction works are now in process.

This whole experience taught me that one does not have to have an extremely big network or a lot of money to help someone: you can do good even with very small means and support form the right initiatives – just like BRDIGE for CSOs!”