Since May 2021, EUDiF has worked with the Armenian General Benevolent Union Europe (AGBU Europe) to empower women entrepreneurs in Armenia with knowledge on business development and accessing the EU market, as well as enhancing the mentoring and coaching capacities of AGBU staff. As the action wraps up, Laila, our Diaspora Youth Intern, speaks to Diana, Capacity Development Specialist, about what the action has taught her about women empowerment along the way.
Laila Tasmia: Hi Diana, congratulations on the successful completion of the action with AGBU Europe. What type of capacity development support did you offer in this action? Can you give some examples?
Diana Hincu: In this action, we enhanced the skills of Armenian women (over 250!) in entrepreneurship, whilst also training the AGBU Europe staff in coaching and mentoring. However, we didn’t stop here. AGBU Europe also have a guidebook that we collaboratively developed on EU trading regulations. One of the reasons for preparing a guidebook is that it is serves as a training tool for future participants of the Women Entrepreneurship (WE) Program, but also for entrepreneurs in general. Additionally, through technical guidance and peer exchanges we reinforced AGBU Europe’s organisational capacities, especially in monitoring and evaluation of mentorship schemes within the WE Program. These combined resources and skills will hopefully lead to more networking, better engagement from diaspora mentors and help expand the programme. What I find very enriching about the work with AGBU is the combination of diverse methods of capacity development – workshops, mentoring, guidebook development… – which were multifaceted and closely interwoven. It was 18 months of resource-intensive work, but it worth the result.
Amazing work indeed! What were the main success factors of the AGBU action?
There are so many elements, but the key phrase to summarise why this action worked so well is “solid partners”. The advantages of working with a well-structured diaspora organisation like AGBU are obvious, but their ambition for growth is inspiring. They were truly our partners from day one, showing a very strong ownership which means that the results of the action will live on long beyond EUDiF has to step back.
The AGBU offices in Brussels and Paris contributed with conceptualisation and access to diaspora mentors network in Europe whilst the AGBU centre in Yerevan was the reliable local partner and advisor, best placed to assess market needs, select the mentees and identify priority topics.
Just imagine, we organised 24 mentorship group sessions for women entrepreneurs, 15 of which were on-site. Most of the mentorship trainings on-site took place when there were lots of Covid restrictions. AGBU Yerevan played an immense role in making this a success safely. For our part, EUDiF brought flexibility and strategic guidance in supporting and evaluating all the activities.
And last, but not least, our diaspora mentors – who acted as motivated experts and inspirational leaders – were committed partners to EUDiF and AGBU, but most of all to the women they have been mentoring throughout the action and – as we now know – beyond.
The action has a strong commitment to gender equity. What was the role of diaspora women involved in this action? And how this helped the entrepreneurs who benefited from it?
In the Armenian context we can see that women’s share in the business sector is only 20%. Upskilling women entrepreneurs with diaspora support, and thus contributing to changing attitudes towards the role of women role in this sector was part of the business case for this action. It is a huge ambition and we did not start from scratch, as the AGBU Women Entrepreneurs Program has run since 2017. Instead, we sought to “plug in” the diaspora by bringing diaspora professionals into the mix.
There were more than 20 diaspora mentors who engaged on a voluntary basis, showing a great sense of social responsibility to their country. 95 % of the mentors are women. Additionally, the AGBU focal points are also all women. These numbers bring a smile to my face because the whole action revolves around women empowerment energy. I can’t hide how glad I am about that. The fact that prosperous women diaspora entrepreneurs in Europe came to Yerevan and shared their learning paths and global mindset meant a lot to our women mentees. Irrespective of challenges of the pandemic and war in the country, the women in Armenia still have a hunger for learning and piloting new things. With diaspora mentors, they had access to new information, development kits, confidence-building exercises and networking. It was truly inspiring.
Now the action is complete, how is AGBU going to continue this work after the project ends?
To make an intervention sustainable, we ensure that actions are well-anchored in our partners’ systems and work programmes and that the good practices are scaled up. The AGBU diaspora mentorship program has a great potential for enlargement, especially as so many in the diaspora are proactively looking to engage in Armenia’s development. For instance, Marc Hudavert, one of the mentors who is a second-generation Armenian based in France, contacted AGBU to propose his expertise after he read an article about the first mentorship sessions. I have no doubts there are many other enthusiasts in the large Armenian diaspora (which is three times bigger than the country’s population) who will resonate with this great cause and will be ready to get involved. Additionally, the guidebook is reusable, scalable and easy to disseminate to other groups of entrepreneurs in Armenia, which gives AGBU additional opportunities to diversify its programmes.
At EUDiF we will gather lessons and recommendations from this and comparable experiences and share them with larger audiences as part of our work to foster an informed, inclusive and impactful diaspora-development ecosystem.
Finally, what is your favourite story from this partnership?
I hugely enjoyed working with the AGBU ladies and mentors and witnessing the relationships built among them and Armenian women. But my heart still warms when I think of Armine, one of the mentees and her testimony.
Armine always knew that her future would be related to dresses and created her own studio when she grew up. The Mosh Studio, features a bespoke atelier and custom hand-painted accents added to dresses, scarves and other accessories. She attended lots of mentorship sessions and found them very insightful, bringing networking opportunities and an “out of the box” thinking, which are crucial in business expansion. Armine was so enthused by the experience that she invited all of us to visit her studio and try her handmade products done in Armenia. I hope to do so in the near future.
As a great believer in gender equality as a core tenet for true sustainable development, I think this action is a great example of how building an action with and for women is a very promising avenue for diaspora engagement. I liked the strong ownership among the diaspora – both in AGBU Europe’s team and amongst the diaspora mentors, but the best part for me is how you concentrated on sustainable use of diaspora knowledge by developing tools and building relationships that will last.