TURNING THE PAGE

TURNING THE PAGE

New era at Hayastan All Armenian Fund

27 years of profound history and over 1,300 large-scale projects implemented. Today the Hayastan All Armenian Fund is on the verge of a transformation – turning the page and marking the start of a new era. Regional Post discussed the new approaches fostered by the organization with its CEO, Haykak Arshamyan.

Interview : Arshak Tovmasyan    Photo : Hayastan All Armenian Fund

 

What kind of transformations have taken place in the fund within the last year, following the Velvet revolution?

The fund has always been known as an organization that builds roads. Indeed, the first large project of the fund was the Yerevan-Artsakh road. But we have now reached the stage where we want to break that stereotype. We want to spice up our projects with innovative ideas and modern approaches. Each implemented project must have the largest impact possible and include components to ensure its added value and sustainability. The fund has also undergone structural changes by hiring new young professionals who, despite their age, have extensive experience which results in the generation of innovative ideas. We now have a Monitoring and Evaluation specialist who evaluates our current projects. Retrospective evaluations will also be carried out in the future to assess those projects already implemented by the Himnadram. These types of assessments will allow us to learn from our mistake and implement future projects in a more effective manner.

The Fund has never had a well-defined strategy and one of my first priorities was to remedy this. Over 60 people, local Armenians, Diaspora Armenians, representatives of the government, NGOs and the private sector, etc. took part in a ‘creative game’ and over the course of 4 days and a series of brainstorming session we developed a well thought out strategy with a clear vision and mission for the Fund. The strategy centers around the idea of creating a Global Armenian network to continuously support Armenia, Armenians and the world with innovative ideas by creating real opportunities for development. We also clearly defined the overall mission of the fund which is “To create an All Armenian network with the sole purpose of ensuring the proportional and sustainable development of Armenia, Artsakh as well as worldwide Armenian communities based on a common identity.

We see the path of realizing our newly-defined mission and vision not only in the development of the Armenian network but also by means of entering new international audience. One great example is our branch in France. In the face of their highly-professional Chairperson Petros Terzian, they did the unimaginable, bringing extensive benevolent resources from the cities of France to Armenia. This money could have gone to African countries or Latin America, but due to the diligent work of the team, Armenia became their target destination. During the past year I’ve had various meetings both in Armenia and abroad and visited partner companies on both the West and the East Coasts of the US and in many other countries of Europe. As a result of our efficient meetings we managed to create an overall image of the Armenian network and came up with a declaration under which all our partner companies agreed to operate guided by the defined organizational principles highlighting the accountability and transparency of all processes taking place within the fund. We will try to keep our operations on the radar of the media and always be accountable to our compatriots. Even though there is a long way to go, I’m sure that the current state of the fund complies with the new Armenia.

New head of the fund, Haykak Arshamyan

 

The fund has just launched a new website. What should we focus on?

Himnadram.org is one of a kind website. It didn’t only advance our previous website but it also differs from the platforms of other similar institutions. It operates on Google Maps, displaying all the projects we’ve done in the past 27 years. By applying this approach we aimed at highlighting the transparency and accountability of the fund’s programs today and before. The website also ensures transparency when it comes to our tenders, as the whole information is available online. You may also find the crowdfunding campaign option on our website. Currently, we have only two programs but, hopefully, in the near future, we will be able to put 5-6 programs simultaneously via a rotational system, increasing the efficiency of our operations. We want to further develop this practice of fundraising on our website turning it into a global platform for all the organizations and entities that has a desire to initiate any kind of development within the country and at the communities outside of its borders. Instead of organizing crowdfunding on different international websites people can make use of our platform.

The next novelty to focus on is the online donation feature. Everything is extremely easy. In contrast with our previous website, there’s now the option of regular donations (for example, monthly). There’s also this feature called “One cup of coffee with the fund”. We estimated that approximately one cup of coffee is nominal 500 AMD or 1 dollar or 1 euro, and a person can donate that amount instead of having a second cup. In just two steps, one can benefit any project of his/her choice. First, registration then entering the credit card information and that’s it. The international visitors, can also make their transfers via the well-known payment engine Stripe. For domestic transactions, we recently signed a memorandum with ACBA bank stating that even the percentage the bank receives from these transactions will go to a special account, and later on, the fund will be able to use them for the projects of its choice.

 

More than 1,300 projects have been implemented. What were the most important projects for the history of the fund?

When saying 1,300, we mean large-scale projects, otherwise, the numbers might reach up to tens of thousands. During these 27 years, the fund has done a lot of work. In numbers, around 350 million dollars have been brought in for the projects in Armenia and Artsakh. These include 630km roads and 500 houses built, 580 km pipelines for drinking water system established, 364 schools and 75 hospitals renovated or newly built, around 60 sports and cultural centers and 34 community centers constructed, more than 110 greenhouses given to the families in the regions, 170 educational and scientific projects brought to life. We can say that the fund has done the job of several ministries. It was the alternative especially for Artsakh because they couldn’t approach international donors and receive loans from abroad. The fund remains the main route that creates a possibility to develop the Republic of Artsakh. So, the two most important projects that I would name are the two Armenia-Artsakh roads. One road saved Artsakh, the other became an alternative development path. According to the new strategy, we not only have to build the road but also develop the communities across, and these roads are a vivid base for this approach as the Northern regions of the country received a chance to generate new infrastructures and activate that part of the country.

The new project in Gyumri is also interesting. In the past 3-4 years, the fund provided vulnerable families and homeless people with 47 apartments. But we understood that there’s a need for a change in this scheme because with newly built houses newly generated expenses arise. These people could heat their previous houses via fuelwood but in apartments, they cannot do that and need to pay for the gas. We decided to renovate different buildings in Gyumri and provide 50-70 families with housing, while additionally providing the building with alternative energy resources. We also decided to establish kindergartens and create art spaces so that various artists can come and interact with the children from these families. We will try to socially integrate these people into their communities.

Fundraising for Gyumri projects, 2019

 

I had an opportunity to glance through the Himnadram’s Annual Report 2018 and was impressed by the unique stories and the format you’ve chosen. Tell us about the process.

This year’s annual report is not just another long-read to get dusty on the shelves. This time we decided to tell the unique stories of our beneficiaries, making them relatable to our readers. We invited two authors – one Armenian-speaking and one English-speaking. They traveled to the spots where we implemented the projects within the last year and evaluated the stories from their perspectives, writing down the narratives in two languages. They presented both positive and negative aspects as well as the challenges and benefits of the projects. I think that it’s extremely important when other specialists take a look at your project. Their perceptions were also contrasting because of the distinct backgrounds they have. One author is Paul Chaderjian, a journalist born and raised in the USA, and the other author is Lusine Kharatyan who started her writing career several years ago and lives here, in Armenia. The projects of 2018 were also audited differently as the company we had worked with for the past ten years was discontinued and an international firm via tender was hired instead.

 

On November 28th, the Annual Telethon is set to go on air. This year, there’s an exact topic which refers to renewable solar energy and water. What has defined your choice?

This year’s Telethon has a very beautiful slogan based on the poem of Eghishe Charents “To my beloved Armenia”, which goes like: “To my beloved Armenia...Water and Sun for Communities”. We chose this poem because it describes the exceptional character of Armenia and its infinite potential. We will also record a song based on these words with a modern touch. It took us quite long to come up with a compelling topic for this year’s Telethon. We have held several discussions with the government representatives from Armenia and Artsakh, heads of several communities and came to the conclusion that the most urgent problem to be addressed in the regions is the drinking water. Even though many investments have been made both by the government and by the fund, many communities still suffer from the shortage of drinking water. The solution we offer is quite ambitious, as, if we manage to collect the amount needed, we will be able to provide 50,000 beneficiaries with access to 24 hours of drinking water in Artsakh and will have several pilot projects in Armenia with 15,000 beneficiaries. Previously, the Telethon was organized only for Artsakh, but during our meetings with various entities, we decided that both Armenia and Artsakh want to emphasize their unity and it would be equitable to have some money allocated for Armenian projects as well. In particular, we will work in Tavush, Lori, and Shirak. The next major problem we saw was related to the lack of alternative energy resources in the regions. We already have the experience with the solar energy as our French partners initiated a placement of solar panels and heaters in several regions of Armenia and Artsakh. Based on our previous experience, we decided to place photovoltaic panels on public buildings, namely schools, hospitals, community centers, cultural houses, etc. If everything goes well, we will allocate around 1 million US dollars for these solar energy projects. The amounts saved by means of this project can be directed to the further development of these communities.

 

How would you describe a typical benefactor of the Hayastan All Armenian Fund?

I cannot name an exact type of a person, because our citizens and the diaspora are so diverse. But I would like to mention that we strongly emphasize people’s inclusion. If 500,000 Armenians donate 5 dollars every day, it will be a success for me. It’s not only about the money but also about involvement and having a sense of ownership towards your homeland. On our website, we have a special section for in-kind donations and if anyone wants to contribute to the development of Armenia and Artsakh, this is yet another option. If you are a doctor or a constructor, you can benefit your country. If you want to contribute to an exact community via the fund, you can do it. It’s all about the people. We have a very strong community in France, in LA, etc. There’s this small community in Toronto that manages to collect quite some huge amounts. Last year, they collected around 1 million US dollars. Just three days ago, they did the 2019 Telethon and brought around 670,000 dollars, which is unprecedented because we didn’t have a large-scale donor there. In the same way, we had a Telethon dedicated to Gyumri in LA and quite an impressive amount of money was collected just from small donations. This brings us to the idea of crowdfunding – to a value created by thousands of people.

After 2018 Telethon

 

There’s a stereotype that AAF is diaspora collecting money for Armenia. Do we have an active engagement with locals?

Of course, we have and yes, it’s a stereotype because last year we received around 1.5 million US dollars only from local Armenians. I’m sure that this year, again, we will have the same result. By the way, the first four hours of the upcoming Telethon will be broadcasted from Armenia by the Public Television and after that, the estafette will be given to the LA channel and they will continue the fundraising. The time has come for All Armenian messages to be sent out from Armenia, because living here, we know and understand our needs and visions more accurately.

 

Can you imagine a day when Armenia won’t need the fund? Or even in case of economic welfare, still there will be a need for the Himnadram?

Look, currently, we’re trying to shift from the benevolence to the development programs and I will be happy if one day the fund transforms into an engine bringing investments and financial flows to Armenia. In other words, it will turn into a business organization that benefits Armenia and the diaspora on economic, cultural and educational levels while having its dividends. But for the upcoming several years, I believe there's a need for the fund, especially now when after its recent transformation, the trust towards the organization has increased. The fund is a model of a network which can later be used for all Armenian development. We can create models which the government may take and implement on a larger scale. Currently, the fund is a mix of various projects and I will be thrilled to know that in ten years, they will say – yes, AAF no longer does benevolence projects and has created an all Armenian network which benefits Armenia, all Armenian communities abroad, and the world. By the way, one of the directions mentioned in our strategy is the projects to be implemented in the diaspora communities as well because it's time to develop this give-back culture. The diaspora has helped us for many years and the time has come for the citizens of Armenia to solve the issues that the diaspora has.