Cooperative Effort Between Impact Hubs in Los Angeles and Yerevan Provides Future Armenian Social Entrepreneurs with Tools to Identify Issues, Develop Solutions
(Woodbury University) – Sometimes the everyday challenges faced by the citizens of post-Soviet Armenia are so numerous and complex that it is difficult to know which to tackle first.
Now, however, a handful of future leaders from the capital city of Yerevan and smaller communities in three other regions of Armenia have a basic methodology they can use to identify issues, forecast potential barriers to success, develop relationships with key constituents and create a road map to guide implementation of new social projects or businesses thanks to a series of workshops developed and led by two professors from the College of Liberal Arts at Woodbury University.
Interdisciplinary Studies (INDS) visiting Professor Jason Keller and adjunct Professor Ani Okkasian, a Woodbury alumna and director of programs at Impact Hub Los Angeles, partnered with Impact Hub Yerevan to develop and present what was billed as the “30-Day Challenge.” The program was designed to provide a framework young Armenians can use to research and resolve important questions and develop businesses or other solutions to real-world problems. At the end of 30 days, participants who made the most progress had the opportunity to present their ideas and research to investors.
Among the problems discussed by participants were the challenge of opening a pharmacy, ways to discourage young women from marrying as a way to escape life in Armenian orphanages, and boredom among Armenian youth.
“Roughly 80 percent of Armenians between the ages of 16 and 30 are unemployed,” Keller explained. “They are unemployed because government and business are largely controlled by a few individuals or organizations that tend to discourage entrepreneurial activity.”
How might the dual problem of teen boredom and unemployment be resolved? “What about volunteerism?” someone suggested.
“What it came down to was that parents simply could not comprehend the notion of volunteering,” Okkasian said. “They thought it was a waste of time for their children to, essentially, work for free. This was clearly a reaction to Soviet-era norms. But it presented a problem for the country’s youth, who are trying to use volunteerism as the first step toward entrepreneurial ventures. So, we helped the young participants think about how we can re-frame volunteering. By the time we left, they were clear about what they were going to focus on, what shape their idea would take, where the ‘holes’ were, and who they needed to talk to next.”
The program and approach are founded on curriculum developed and taught at Woodbury, where the university’s core values – Community, Integrity, Professionalism, Aspiration, and Agility – intersect with its four educational pillars – Transdisciplinarity, Design Thinking, Entrepreneurship, and Civic Engagement.
Impact Hubs are founded on the principle that “… a better world is created through the combined accomplishments of compassionate, creative and committed individuals focused on a common purpose.” From Amsterdam to Johannesburg, Singapore to Los Angeles, Impact Hub has evolved into a rapidly expanding, diverse global network of over 11,000 members in 82+ locations. Part innovation lab, part business incubator, part community center, Impact Hubs offer members a unique ecosystem of resources, inspiration and collaboration to grow impact.
Woodbury’s Ani and Jason, kneeling left and right, join with Impact Hub Yerevan