EMPOWERING WOMEN THROUGH SOCIAL ENTERPRISES

EMPOWERING WOMEN THROUGH SOCIAL ENTERPRISES

The EU has always stressed the importance of creating equal opportunities for women in different sectors, including business and social entrepreneurship. Over the past years, the EU has taken major efforts to foster the development of women in the regions of Armenia. EU4Women: Economic Empowerment through Social Enterprise is one of the many EU-supported initiatives that has promoted gender equality via economic empowerment. Regional Post talked to several beneficiaries of the project to learn more about their stories of how they achieved financial sustainability with the support of the European Union.

Text : Margarit Mirzoyan


In 2017, with the co-financing of the European Union, the Near East Foundation UK and Women’s Development “Resource Center” Foundation embarked on an important mission of fostering the economic empowerment of women across Armenia with a two-year project – EU4Women: Economic Empowerment through Social Enterprise. The project provided support to 12 civil society organisations (CSOs) in Lori, Gegharkunik, Syunik and Aragatsotn. The goal of the project was to help CSOs in these regions establish or expand their social enterprises and become financially sustainable as a result. The project provided funding to initiatives that would bring tangible benefits to the social enterprises and women in the target communities. Eventually, the stories of CSOs in different communities of Armenia intertwined and transformed into success cases. Some of those women achieved financial stability and a chance to sustain themselves, while others gained new skills and knowledge for their daily work.  

 

Harvest House in Chambarak

The story of Harvest House CSO starts 120 km away from Yerevan, in a borderline community. Eighty square metres of production space and one hundred square metres for a greenhouse. Back in December 2018, the EU-supported Nran Hatik (Pomegranate Seed) Community Development Foundation came up with the idea of building the first greenhouse in the town of Chambarak in Gegharkunik region. It is considered one of the poorest communities in Armenia, where farming and cattle breeding are the only source of income for the locals. A year later, the construction of the greenhouse was in full mode. 

Beneficiaries of the Harvest House CSO working at the greenhouse

 

Gayane Saribekyan, a resident of Chambarak, works at the Harvest House greenhouse. She plants vegetable seeds and sows greens at the greenhouse. Then she harvests them and puts them up for sale. In other words, she knows everything about agricultural production. The greenhouse established with the support of the European Union has created a job opportunity and a source of income for Gayane and many other women in the community.
The social enterprise not only equipped these women with skills and knowledge, but also the opportunity to put them into practice. In addition to growing and harvesting greens and vegetables, the social enterprise has been equipped to produce vegetable pastes and natural juices. The impact is clear for Gayane, who first participated in the training and then had a chance to apply that knowledge in her daily work.

As part of the EU4Women: Economic Empowerment through Social Enterprise project, the team of the foundation participated in a one-year training project to have a better understanding of social entrepreneurship and business planning and to identify the needs of their community. As part of the training, the team conducted research and needs assessment to identify what kind of businesses would be successful in Chambarak. The goal was to keep the financial flows inside the community and channel them into local businesses.

“What we wanted to achieve was a snowball effect, which would set an example for local farmers and inspire them to create similar income sources on their own,” says the Head of CSO Nune Mirzoyan. “In fact, some of the locals have already created small greenhouses in their own yards.”

Despite the COVID pandemic, the community generated abundant production of greens and beans. They produced over 400 bunches of organic greens grown with organic agricultural practices. Currently, the locals buy these products right at the greenhouse, while people living in the adjacent communities can buy them in several stores.

The employees of the “Harvest House” consist of all the women that participated in the training. There is only one man working in the social enterprise. Nran Hatik is Gayane’s first sustainable workplace.

“Having a job in Chambarak is already a major achievement. I am more confident now that I have my own income, I am able to support my family, as well as bring quality products, greens and vegetables to our table,” says Gayane. 

 

Production unit of Kapan Women CSO

 

Kapan Women 

Kapan Women is the project of Kapan Women’s Resource Center NGO. Since the day of its establishment in 2009, the centre has had 4262 beneficiaries. The members of KWRC are women with different professional backgrounds. The organisation is open to all those who wish to empower women and eliminate gender inequality.

Years ago, the centre came up with the idea of developing the textile industry in Kapan. They had previously implemented social entrepreneurship projects and it was a great opportunity for them to contribute to the economic development of the region, create new opportunities for the women and also cover the expenses of the NGO. When the social enterprise was established and began selling textile, they understood that there’s a demand for sewing quality clothes as well. 

Unlike other sewing companies in Kapan that produced only outerwear, the CSO began producing other types of high-quality clothing as well. In order to be competitive in the market and have their own brand, the CSO got involved in the EU4Women: Economic Empowerment through Social Enterprise project. As part of the project, the CSO upgraded its production by setting up a knitting unit. Currently, they offer high-quality sewn and knitted products such as clothing, baby bundles, and toys.

The social enterprise has created a job opportunity for Mareta and many other women in Kapan. Mareta has been working at the CSO for two years now. What she likes about working in this enterprise is the stability and the opportunity for development. “We keep learning every day. We are following the industry trends to cater to the needs of our clients,” says Mareta.

Knitwear produced by Kapan Women CSO beneficiaries

 

Hub House 

The Byurakan community is famous for its starry nights and gorgeous nature, but never as a hub for the empowerment of women and youth. Established in 2014, Basis NGO has been active in the Byurakan and Antarut communities of Aragatsotn region. With financial backing from the European Union and the Near East Foundation UK, the NGO established the Hub House enterprise, which aims at the development of women and youth through production of agricultural products and agritourism. 

Beneficiary of the Hub House enterprise cultivating tomato bushes

 

The construction of the enterprise building started as the COVID pandemic hit the country. The economic implications of the pandemic paired with those of the war forced the CSO to narrow down the scope of the project. Luckily, some of the milestones of the project have already been implemented and many young women who did not have a chance to complete their education or gain professional experience got a new opportunity to learn new skills as part of this project.

On a practical level, the beneficiaries of the project learned how to make organic soaps from the natural ingredients available in the region. It’s still too early to talk about market competitiveness, but the primary goal of the NGO is to teach these women how to produce and promote their quality products.

Beneficiary of the Hub House enterprise

 

Syuzanna Torosyan, a beneficiary of the social enterprise, always wondered what the key ingredients of a quality soap are, how it is made and why natural soaps are so expensive. “I thought if someone can make this type of soap, why can’t I?” says Syuzanna.

Currently, Syuzanna works at the Hub House enterprise and is learning how to make soaps. She has even sold some of them. The ingredients for making soaps are all around her as the community is famous for its gorgeous nature and abundant agricultural produce. Syuzanna is confident that even though soap making is more of a hobby for her, it will become her main job sometime in the future.

The herbs for the soaps are harvested from the slopes of Mount Aragats. The beneficiaries of the project learn where to find them and how to collect them. After this phase, they learn about the production chain, from collecting to marketing: how to dry, package and sell their products. Due to the pandemic restrictions in 2020, beneficiary women did not have the chance to properly collect the herbs, but they did not lose time and focused on upgrading their knowledge and skills.

Beneficiaries of Hub House enterprise collecting herbs

 

Besides processing of herbs and making soaps, the EU-supported CSO is also looking for ways to promote tourism in their region. The team of the CSO has come up with a unique idea for this. It has trained youth as local guides for attracting new tourist flows to the lesser-known touristic destinations such as the Orgov Radio-Optical Telescope. 

The CSO has also been offering hospitality trainings for families in the community to help them generate income through tourism. The hub is also organising a camp for children aged 7-14. The profit received from the camp benefits the CSO and their social projects.

These are just a few examples of how women in the regions of Armenia can become economically empowered and bring tangible benefits to their communities.

Beneficiaries of the Hub House enterprise