Empowering Armenia’s young social entrepreneurs

To say that the world faces many challenges today would be an understatement. In recent years we’ve witnessed all manner of crises: economic, geopolitical and natural disasters to name just a few. And while at a glance these challenges may seem insurmountable, we dare to believe in the power of individuals and groups who band together and become active agents of change. 

That is what both Impact Hub Yerevan and the Social Impact Award (SIA) strive for: supporting the development of social ventures that offer innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing issues. 

What makes SIA unique is the focus on empowering youth to make a difference, encouraging teens as young as 15 years old to put their creative minds to work and give them the opportunity to realize their ingenious ideas. After all, youth is our greatest asset and our brightest hope for our future.  

This year, the Social Impact Award falls under the scope of the Collaborate for Impact program, financed by the European Union and implemented by EVPA in partnership with Impact Hub Yerevan in Armenia.The 17 ideas that were submitted for this year’s Social Impact Award were nothing short of inspiring. In mid-July, we had the difficult task of choosing among them the 8 most exciting and promising ones.  After this selection round, the real work began. 

Resilient youth

The participants were already nurturing a good idea, but during the rigorous 2-month incubation phase, those ideas were formulated more fully, hashed out and refined. Project participants received training, watched webinars, worked with professional and caring mentors, received invaluable feedback and advice and prepared pitches (both video and live) to inspire the masses. 

Each idea was meticulously polished until it sparkled.The participants were filled with excitement and anticipation for their chance to win over the crowds. With the online community voting and jury during the live, final pitching event, they were going to get their chance.

Then, on September 13, the day the video pitches launched,  military conflict in Armenia overshadowed what should have been a celebratory moment for these young entrepreneurs. 

Even in the face of dark times, the program’sparticipants proved themselves to be a beacon of hope. Showing resilience and determination, they worked even harder than before, full of hope and conviction, and confident that they were offering a unique solution to make the world a better place. 

Out of the 8 projects, 7 took the obstacles in stride, overcoming the odds and working hard to prepare for their final pitch on September 30. 

Reactions 

In her opening speech at the pitch event, Nairi Melkom Melkomian, Social Impact Award Armenia Country Coordinator,  summed it up perfectly: “The projects you will get to know today are based on care, energy, innovative thinking, responsibility for the environment and love for the community. It is these approaches and the work based on them that can help us face these extremely difficult times and put our community and our state on the path to a stronger future.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Silja Kasmann, the  Deputy Head of Cooperation from the European Union Delegation to Armenia, emphasized the importance and necessity of social enterprises at large.

“To put it simply,” said Ms. Kasmann, “social enterprises are businesses with heart and a social impact. In a sense, it is creativity and solidarity at the service of a greater impact on the most vulnerable people.”

 When young people offer innovative solutions to global problems such as clean energy, healthy foods, free education for all and the fight against deforestation, there can only be winners.

“It’s not a real competition,” Ms. Kasmann reflected. “I would say everyone is a winner and the pre-selected projects can already be proud to be present and to expose objectives and expected impacts.” 

The seven finalists 

Digital Forest

Creating the first digital forest of Armenia, and restoring the forest cover that has been cut down in 34 years, with digital solutions in a more controllable and efficient way. 

Conscious Health

Raising people’s awareness of unhealthy habits, by carrying out anti-smoking, anti-alcohol and anti-drug campaigns on social media platforms and providing educational services and workshops to combat unhealthy addictions. 

Teach Free

Training newly graduated young teachers to start their careers by carrying out an internship in the language school, during which they will teach English to kids from vulnerable families for free.

Health Food Hub Cafe Club

Creating a place where the people of the Vayk community will get knowledge on how to produce and grow ecological and healthy products and sell them in Eco markets. Some portion of these eco products will also be used in the Vayk Healthy Food Cafe, which is to be established. 

Recycling Leftover Bread

Preventing the loss of bread products thrown into the trash by residents by recycling them and selling them to farmers as animal feed. 

The Real Dream

Creating an educational community center in the village of Marmashen. The center will have paid educational programs as well as free programs for the children of socially disadvantaged families of the community (as well as the neighboring 2 villages), giving them the opportunity to receive specialized and subject matter knowledge outside of the classroom. 

Clean Energy Project 

Recycling aluminum waste to acquire parts necessary for solar energy equipment, the demand of which is increasing in Armenia. 

The winners

While the jury posed tough questions to the participants, they answered brilliantly. Online, the community voting results were extremely close, with only one or two votes separating the winner from the runner-up.

Choosing a winner was extremely difficult, but in the end,   Teach Free won the community vote, and the 3 jury winners were Digital Forest, The Real Dream and the Recycling Leftover Bread Project.  

Each of the winners was awarded €1,500 and the opportunity to participate in the SIA Summit 2022 event in Vienna. All participants were offered a 1-year membership to Impact Hub Yerevan, so that they may develop their ideas and continue to make them a reality. 

And so, while armed conflict continues to cast a shadow in Armenia, there’s a glimmer of hope: the incredible youth, the architects of an impactful future.