Saturday, May 21, 2011

Armenian Adoption Adventure- Children of Armenia Fund works to increase economy for struggling families

Helping to train the future of Armenia, the Children of Armenia Fund (COAF) has established training centers to further promote strong families and economy for Armenian villages. Keeping families together, and creating jobs and employment so families are not seperated by economic hardships.

Yerevan - As an important addition to the economic development component of its Comprehensive Rural Development Program in the Republic of Armenia, the Children of Armenia Fund (COAF) recently launched the Successful Business Project in the community of Arteni of Aragatsotn Marz and six neighboring communities of Armavir Marz.
The project enables about 50 start-ups and more established farmers and entrepreneurs to be trained in general business planning and practice and apply for loans and financial assistance. The goal of the project is to develop the economy of rural communities, fostering healthy competition and strengthening small and medium-sized enterprises.
Facilitated by COAF's program staff and participating partners, the intensive training program consists of three major components: business classes, counseling on elaboration of business plans and individualized mentoring for all trainees. Interactive by design, the project encourages maximum communication with and between participants, allowing for business idea generation and development as well as thoughtful analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of existing enterprises. For the first time, many rural business-owners are able to write formal business plans, create production plans and make critical financial calculations - important planning tools and necessary in order to apply for financing. These newly acquired skills are allowing local business leaders to assess the feasibility of their projects and act with longer-term vision in mind, considering expansion and future ventures in the years to come.
Rshtun Martirosyan, COAF Economic Development Program Manager, attaches great importance to the expected outcomes of this project which he believes will likely contribute to a culture shift within the village business community. "Currently, there is a big gap in the basics of business planning in rural Armenia, both in terms of knowledge and application. This manifests most noticeably through poor organization and management and business owners' inadequate or non-existent approaches to marketing. With the launch of the Successful Business Project, COAF will significantly contribute to the development of business knowledge among villagers in general, and marketing principles in particular, focusing on four marketing P's: product, price, place and promotion ", states Mr. Martirosyan.
In the words of Narine Tadevosyan, COAF Economist, "It is critical that rural entrepreneurs and farmers are guided by client-based strategy and principles and that they adjust their business approaches to the needs of their clients. Currently, the majority of our trainees have a resource-based mentality. They prefer to initiate those projects which do not require creativity and are easy to implement either due to the fact that the necessary resources are available, or that the implementers already know the traditional techniques and methodology. We strive to change that mentality and urge them to take into consideration the needs and wishes of their local clientele. Also, we encourage the villagers to avoid repetitions and think of innovative business ideas, focusing on their uniqueness and realizable features".
During Phase I of the project, which took place in the community of Arteni, a total of 23 business plans were presented and evaluated by a specialized committee, comprised of COAF leadership, independent business experts and representatives of lending institutions and banks. Some of the criteria for evaluation included the projects' viability in the market, their organization and management, financial feasibility, strategic potential, presenters' confidence, experience in business, clarity of business objectives, risk factors, etc. The business projects were wide-ranging, from agricultural production and processing, such as dried fruit, cheese, meat, pasta and pastry, to opening a hair salon, establishing a plant preservation station, furniture production unit, launching photo and video services, internet café including computer games, rental service for wedding party supplies, constructing a greenhouse and a grain collection service.
Despite it being the high season for agricultural activities in the villages, project participants demonstrated high levels of interest and the attendance of daily classes was impressive. Artak Darbinyan, an Arteni resident who majored in economics at the University back in the 1970s, describes the training program as "significantly important and helpful, full of modern approaches and new ways of thinking. The science of economics that we studied years ago", continues Mr. Darbinyan, "differs a lot from the one of today. The world is progressing rapidly, and so should we. In this connection, having participated in the training I gained a lot of helpful knowledge with respect to business planning, which I will definitely apply in the future".
Another success of the project has been the large number of women involved. In these culturally traditional communities, the willingness of women to contribute to the development of their local economies has largely been welcomed by the committee and the Village Mayors.
The second phase of the project includes training sessions in the communities of Karakert, Lernagog, Miasnikian, Shenik, Dalarik and Argina. Throughout 2011 and 2012, COAF's Economic Development Team will continue to monitor the project, provide counseling to all the trainees and report on the progress of selected projects. Support for the search for alternative sources of financing will be ongoing for those business projects which may not be funded by lending institutions at this stage.
The Children of Armenia Fund (COAF) is a non-profit organization, founded in 2000 in New York City that works to secure a brighter future for children in Armenia's impoverished rural villages through improved education, health care, community life and economic conditions. With the introduction of a unique clustering approach in 2004, COAF currently implements a Comprehensive Rural Development Program in ten villages in the Baghramian Region of Armavir marz and two villages in Aragatsotn marz. Over the past six years, more than 22,000 rural residents including 5,000 children from the communities of Argina, Arteni, Baghramian, Dalarik, Hushakert, Lernagog, Karakert, Miasnikian, Shenik and Yervandashat have benefited from COAF's continuous development projects and the improved schools, kindergartens, health clinics, sport complexes, community centers, capacity building trainings and workshops, and business opportunities that have resulted.