Larisa Hovannisian, Founder and CEO, Teach For Armenia
Gor Nazaryan, Managing Director of Talent Initiatives, Teach For Armenia
As the world continues to face challenges and Armenia’s position becomes even more precarious, many of us are asking ourselves this question: why has the world turned away from Armenia and Artsakh? As the war rages on in Ukraine, many are grappling with a seeming sense of a shift in the world’s order. Of course, this shift has been in the making for a while, but it feels now we’ve reached a tipping point. The war in Ukraine has also demonstrated that no matter how important and resource-rich the country is, the will to invest in the periphery is much weaker than it was thought previously. Thus, instead of asking “why doesn’t the world care about Armenia and Artsakh (the periphery)”, we suggest another question “How do we, the people of Armenia, begin to care about Armenia and Artsakh”.
Over the last 30 years, Armenia has been unable to build any kind of leverage, not for the world and not even to our only security guarantor – Russia. Instead, we’ve excelled in privatizing and selling for personal gain whatever limited resources we already had to begin with to individuals, companies, and foreign governments with no long-term plans of building up our national leverage within the region or the world. As we all know, we do not have an impressive list of natural resources to offer the world. But, what we do have, and always have had, is people.
What Armenia needs to focus on today, now that it’s a matter of our survival, is catalyzing a technologically innovative and creative nation. In the past decade, we have nurtured ourselves with the idea of a developed technological industry. If this is our national vision, then we have to become an innovative nation that can build leverage for the world by building a robust, strategic technological industry. This doesn’t mean creating yet another tech company for outsourcing. Instead, creating a technological industry that sustains the world. Could you imagine if the world stored a big part of its data in Armenia? Just like Switzerland stores the world’s money? Of course, a future attack by our friendly neighbors would still be possible, but there would be a lot more at stake, rather than just pity. And maybe, just maybe, the world will begin to speak up because they depend on Armenia, and not because they pity us for our tragic history. We need to make the world want Armenia to thrive.
Of all the sectors in Armenia, the technology sector is slated for the most growth in the coming years, taking a 7% share of our economy in the coming 5 years. Therefore, it falls fair and square on the shoulders of our technology sector to alter the future of Armenia and Artsakh. Nevertheless, the sector itself is facing a huge challenge - a narrow talent pipeline and a lack of a cohesive vision for our nation’s technology center. While the initial tech talent helped to boost the growth of the IT industry, step by step it also became its Achilles heel. The shortage of professionals and increasing competition of salaries and headhunting may take away the comparative advantages of the sector in Armenia and hinder its growth. With more and more large companies focusing on creating training and development opportunities for their employees and even candidates, the talent shortage and the short knowledge-base of the new entries guides us to take a deeper look - to the schools, where the foundations of our knowledge and personalities are being formed.
To this day in Armenia, thousands of children graduate school without basic numeracy skills, as well as knowledge in physics, understanding of information technology, and other STEM subjects. There are communities that have been missing a math teacher for almost a decade, and the shortages will continue to grow because of our aging teacher population, the majority of who are nearing retirement. Moreover, the shortage of teachers decreases the number of school students who will graduate school and enter universities in STEM areas. Because of the lack of admissions, universities continuously lower the admission requirements coupled with a mismatch between the education provided at universities with the needs of the labor market.
And so, it’s our turn to answer the question - how do we care about Armenia and Artsakh? We urge the technology sector to think beyond their short-term KPIs and revenue models about the future of the country that is home to them now and hopefully will be for generations to come. We also urge donors, investors, nonprofit and for-profit organizations, to invest heavily in public education, so that there is a robust talent pipeline to support the growth of our country in general and technological industry in particular.
Now is the time to nation-build, to invest time, energy, money, and talent into building up the capacity of our people and creating solutions that can help our country build leverage. Since 2013, Teach For Armenia has contributed to this vision by enabling young people to transform the lives of thousands of children and communities across the country. Recently, Teach For Armenia extended an offer to the IT community of Armenia to join the Tech4Armenia coalition. Through our adjusted program, we enable which with the permit of employers would allow tech professionals to work remotely from our communities and teach core STEM subjects in public schools and fight educational inequity. Tech4Armenia is not a short project to demonstrate Corporate Social Responsibility. It’s a commitment of at least two years during which the companies themselves may engage school students from regions in their projects, as interns, as well as support their career development in formal and non-formal educational formats.
It is time for us to be victorious, not victims. You can lose, and you can still be triumphant. This is something no one can take away from us – our mental ability to feel victorious and leverage this to build back better and stronger. This we need to cultivate within ourselves and our children – the innovation generation of Armenia. And it is perhaps this generation of children that will alter the trajectory of our nation and will question the idea of being “periphery” for the world centers.