Interview with businessman and philanthropist, co-founder of “Initiatives for the Development of Armenia” (IDeA) Ruben Vardanyan
- It's been three months since the April war. In this time there have been plenty of different opinions expressed about or strengths and weaknesses, which the conflict revealed. In your opinion, what are the key conclusions that should be made in light of April's events?
- The main lesson of the April war is obvious – we must strengthen Armenia, and no one will do it apart from us. Only a strong Armenia can avoid another war and be able to defend our interests through peaceful means, finding acceptable compromises for the sake of the country and the nation.
This is the only way we can ensure that the opposing side will uphold its obligations instead of waiting for the right moment to undertake yet another military escapade, and international mediators will respect the positions of Armenia and Artsakh.
I think that Armenia's priorities, as a nation must be the rebirth of Armenian science and the creation of a technology industry. It is vital that we become objective and truthful in the shadow of April's events. Tangible results could be on the horizon in 5-10 years, but it must be started today. We must give the opportunity to Armenian scientists, especially young ones, to undertake basic and applied research, development and discovery, use their scientific and research potential to address critical national issues. We can see around the world that the consistent implementation of scientific development creates a synergistic effect, developing all areas of the economy.
- How will you and the IDeA Foundation take part in and provide a scientific and technological breakthrough in Armenia?
- At the moment, the IDeA Foundation, along with its partners, is finalizing requirements for the launch of IDeA's new project, the Foundation for Armenian Science and Technology - FAST, aimed at developing the means for technological innovation in Armenia and the mobilization of scientific, technological and financial resources of the Armenian and international communities.
FAST has to become a platform for bringing about the technological breakthrough in Armenia in the areas of IT and computer science, artificial intelligence, high-tech materials, robotics, biotechnology, advanced engineering and manufacturing technologies.
We are looking at the possibility of at first providing $ 10 mln towards developing the fund and then launching the fund globally with the goal of raising $ 200 mln within three years. Within the model that we are discussing, FAST can become a mixed financial vehicle, which provides both research grants and venture financing. The established Advisory Board will undertake the fund’s management. Within this board, besides the founders, there will be prominent Armenians from Armenia and abroad with a successful track record in science, technology, venture capital and industry. The fund will be subject to high standards of effectiveness, transparency and independence.
- How will the new fund work with the government?
- The work of the fund will only be effective in a public-private partnership and at the moment we are intensely discussing these questions with Armenia's leadership. In our view, this partnership means engaging with the government on multiple levels, from the selection of promising scientific programmes to the formation of government orders for important work. There are on-going talks on the creation of a systematic support for science and technology on every level within every day activity of the government.
At the same time, in supporting FAST or any other technology initiative, the state must adhere to the principle of the rule of law, an open economy and free competition. This will create a favourable ecosystem that will attract the best minds, who in turn will create and implement unique projects in Armenia.
- And how will you cooperate with the scientific and technology community in Armenia?
- We have to try our utmost to make FAST interesting for an elite international talent, first and foremost from our own Diaspora. We have to rediscover ourselves as a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs, fulfilling our creative potential in our own country and not only outside of its borders.
The main purpose for introducing FAST – is to unite the government and the private sector, the Church, the general public and the elite, the citizens of Armenian, the Diaspora and our partners in other countries, donors and international organizations, so that through our joint efforts we can create the conditions and mechanisms for turning Armenia into a regional technology and innovation centre.
The focus should be on a kind of "broad coalition", which will unite educational institutions, leading IT-companies, professional associations of Armenia and network operators.
Yes we have set ourselves a very difficult task, but we know that we have to overcome many obstacles and difficulties, in order to find the solution. The alternative - to be a mediocre player – is not only unacceptable, but also dangerous. We are rightly proud of our past, but it is not enough. Only by acting together we can create a future where we reclaim our leading position and break the mould in science and technology.