AIWA SF Empowering Women Entrepreneurs in Rural Armenia

By: Ani Jilozian

The Homeland Development Initiative Foundation (HDIF), founded by Tim Straight, led a two-day training for artisan entrepreneurs on March 17-18, 2015, with the generous support of AIWA-San Francisco. The training was part of a series of trainings carried out for local artisans and women entrepreneurs to gain the skills necessary to expand their businesses and create new market space.

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The twenty-five mostly female entrepreneurs traveled from nine cities and villages spanning five regions of Armenia to participate in the training. A few of the participants came all the way from Koghb, a border village in Tavush that is situated three kilometers from the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.

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Anna Nassibyan, one of the founders of Yereqnuk Handicrafts in Koghb, has eagerly taken part in all the HDIF trainings, hoping to enhance her knowledge of everything from accounting and business to financial management and marketing. A life-long resident of Koghb, she feels strongly in facilitating arts education for her students at the Koghb Art School; thus, she and her colleagues donate a large portion of their revenue to ensure that the school stays open. Anna creates unique handcrafted, hand-painted products using floral and traditional Armenian designs. As an artisan, she was unfamiliar with the business world before she began her own business and welcomes the opportunity to enhance her knowledge and skillset to make her business more profitable and competitive.

Gayane Khachatryan, another participant, is an entrepreneur who helped spearhead the Talin Dolls Project and assists disabled children in her hometown of Talin. She brought her bright energy to the training, expressing enthusiasm in having the opportunity to network with like-minded friends and receive expert business advice. Sitting across from Gayane was Manush Nersisyan, a woman with physical disabilities who helps her community in Goghovit through her beautifully crafted, hand-sewn products that feature various traditional Armenian motifs. She too expressed enthusiasm in learning new strategies and solidifying her knowledge.

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The business training started off with a presentation from HDIF founder Tim Straight, who spoke about HDIF’s three-fold goals of supporting small businesses through handicrafts, organizing festivals to attract tourism and development, and promoting community engagement and enrichment. HDIF lives the motto “Think locally, act globally”. While the foundation supports the creation and sale of traditional handicrafts at the local level, they also create opportunities in tourism and development through large-scale festivals and community enrichment activities.

Tatev Hovhannisyan, then gave participants a crash course on marketing as well as tips and strategies to use for business expansion. She began with the quote, “Always choose the most difficult path; there are no competitors”, encouraging participants to think outside of the box and create products that are both unique and sellable. She also had the group take part in several interactive exercises, during which time participants learned how to conduct a business SWOT analysis and graph data.

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During one such exercise, aptly named “mini-market”, Tatev had the participants use a few pieces of paper and tape to create new products and then sell them to her as she took on the role of client, teaching them valuable lessons in the process. Over the second half of the day, Tatev spoke to the group about the importance of online marketing and how to effectively use websites and social media to sell products, providing real world examples.

The second day began with  Armine Sahakyan giving a lesson on tax and accounting regulations in Armenia. Participants learned about current developments, how to fill out financial paperwork properly, and how to pay employees, among other important lessons.

Later, HDIF Business Consultant, Tigran Harutyunyan, provided participants with tips on good customer service using various handicrafts as examples. He also helped facilitate a frank discussion about the struggles of starting small businesses in Armenia and the challenges entrepreneurs face with regards to profits and incentives.

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HDIF Executive Director, Anahit Mkhoyan, led the last session on effective resource management, speaking with the group about building strategies, prioritizing resources, and developing a streamlined approach to resource management and planning.

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As HDIF moves into its third year, it is continually expanding and supporting more and more women-led businesses. Believing strongly in its mission and the importance of training and capacity building, AIWA-San Francisco, has supported HDIF since its inception. The last training, like the ones before it, serve as an important component of HDIF’s overall goal: to serve the unique interests of its network of women entrepreneurs and help them build their communities from the ground up.

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To learn more about AIWA, please visit www.aiwainternational.org.  To get involved with the AIWA SF affiliate, please visit www.aiwasanfrancisco.com or send an email to aiwasanfrancisco@gmail.com.

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