Mother Armenia statue in Yerevan (photo Aram Arkun)

iGorts: Mayr Hayastan (Mother Armenia) Wants You!

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By Mihran Aroian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

YEREVAN — Two years ago, the Office of the High Commissioner for Diaspora Affairs launched a program to engage the Armenian diaspora in the growth and strengthening of Armenia. The program is called iGorts and this September will mark the third year of professionals who will spend a year in Armenia bringing their skills, talents, energy and intelligence to make our homeland strong. It is an initiative of the Armenian government to integrate professionals from the diaspora to work in a governmental agency in Armenia or Artsakh for a year. The purpose is that by bringing expertise, experience and knowledge from Armenian professionals in the diaspora, Armenia can tap into skills and talent that can help Armenia solve problems and bring about new opportunities. If you are so inclined to want to bring your expertise to the Armenian government, it is one way of contributing to the success of Armenia. This year, nearly 300 Diaspora Armenian professionals from 31 countries applied for participation in the iGorts program, and I was one of them!

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan meets with participants of iGorts program in 2021

It has been a dream of mine to have a more active role and involvement in Armenia. Teaching at the American University of Armenia (AUA) has always been rewarding but having an opportunity to have an impact on a larger scale appealed to me. I had learned about iGorts from two students that I had at AUA and decided to apply prior to the May deadline this year. To my pleasant surprise, I received five Zoom interviews. Two were with the Ministry of Economy, one with the Office of the Prime Minister, the National Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and with the Armenian National Interests Fund (ANIF).

iGorts selection process in 2021

My first interview lasted all of two minutes. My second interview was fascinating. The opening question to explain my background never got answered but what we did explore was my motivation for wanting to work in Armenia. A 30-minute scheduled Zoom discussion ended after 90 minutes, when I was invited to visit with the Office of the Prime Minister. Since I am in Yerevan for the summer, I went in for a visit and we had another 90-minute discussion about how to increase cooperation between the various ministries and what such an effort would entail. As a professor of management at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, this is one of my specialties. If I can help to increase synergy in the Armenian government, that will be a positive contribution. We also spoke about something I am very passionate about which is getting the diaspora more involved in the future of Armenia.

My third interview was with the Armenian National Interests Fund. It is a newly created investment fund controlled by the government and managed by professionals, to make equity investments in projects that will have an economic impact on Armenia. Given my background as an investment professional in the venture capital industry in Texas, they too would like to meet in person.

Mihran Aroian teaching at TUMO in Armenia this summer

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My fourth interview was with the Department of Foreign Trade and the Eurasian Economic Union. As in my first interview, it was unclear what assistance or value I could provide, but before departing I was invited to ask a question. My one question was “what problem is keeping you awake at night” and the response was the lack of ability to transport Armenian fresh produce to Russia. The trucking routes through Georgia are unusable and fresh fruits and vegetables are sitting in trucks spoiling trying to get to Russia. We discussed some options and before departing, I offered the following. If they are unable to find a solution by the end of the week, call me and I will come help solve the problem. This is a challenging but solvable problem. Russia is Armenia’s main trading partner and without a stable path of transporting fresh produce to the Russian market, the local farmers will suffer financially.

The most recent interview was with the National Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (NCIE), which is looking at improving the capability for commercializing technology that comes out of Armenia. With my background in venture capital and serving on the board of Research Applications Inc, which was a venture capital firm that specialized in commercializing technology from the University of Texas at Austin, they were interested in my approach to commercializing Armenian research. I have been offered a one-year position with

NCIE and have requested some additional meetings to determine if I can help them meet their goals and objectives.

Even if the opportunity with NCIE does not go forward, I applaud the Armenian government for trying to tap into the diaspora for assistance. By working together, Armenians can help our homeland to improve the quality of life for Armenians, bring about economic growth, and help strengthen Armenia’s capabilities. If we want our nation to thrive, all who have the desire and ability to contribute to Armenia’s growth should take an active role and I praise the Armenian government for creating such a program. I believe it takes courage to say “we can do better.”

Bringing in new ideas and methodologies to try and solve some of the challenges in Armenia is a smart move. Only time will tell how effective these programs can be. It is quite possible that I may spend a year in Armenia working for the Republic of Armenia. It is also quite possible that none of this will work out. Regardless, I will still find my own way of helping to make a difference in Armenia. If I can be of service to the Republic of Armenia, it will only be my pleasure.

Although the iGorts position is unpaid, the Armenian government does provide a housing stipend, a round-trip ticket, medical insurance and all the required paperwork for a one-year residency. To learn more about the iGorts program, visit http://diaspora.gov.am/en/programs/25/fellowship

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