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10/19/2020

For over a century, ever since the 1915 genocide, Lebanon, particularly Beirut, has been a home for Armenians. Generations of our people have grown up, worked, married, and raised their families in Beirut. As a new niche and homeland, Lebanon and its people have shown great kindness to Armenians.

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Making It Happen: Sister Olivia Jamgotchian Establishes the Armenia Support Fund, Awards First Grants to Small Businesses in the Homeland

by NAD Lisa Kradjian

This is a time like no other in our history — and like no other time in our brotherhood and sisterhood. But one of the Daughters of Vartan’s young professional members is turning challenges into victories by making new opportunities happen for small businesses in Armenia which have been hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sister Olivia Jamgotchian of Gayane Otyag #22, San Fernando Valley, CA, established The Armenia Support Fund in April 2020, to give grants to small businesses in Armenia who pass a strong vetting process. ASF has already raised more than $25,000 for their grant program.

Olivia’s background, culturally and educationally, is deep and wide, and very impressive. She is a graduate of USC’s Marshall School of Business and is Director of Sales Operations at Ticketmaster. Olivia says that her family describes her as “driven,” which is clear to see. Her passion put into action is already achieving great results.

Olivia has a lot to say about her new venture.

What do you love about being Armenian and how were you raised with your culture?

Being part of such a rich culture that so strongly promotes community, family and religious values has been a great gift in my life. I am proud to be Armenian and honored to have a chance to give back to our community through the efforts of the Armenia Support Fund.

Growing up, my brothers and I were always surrounded by our Armenian family and friends. The warmth, hospitality and vibrancy of our culture shaped who we are. Since birth, so much of my identity and feeling of belonging in this world has been tied closely to being Armenian and a part of such a resilient people. I’m incredibly proud of who we are and who we are becoming.

What does the Knights and Daughters of Vartan mean to you and why do you want them to get involved?

I myself have been a Daughter of Vartan for several years and have thoroughly enjoyed participating in the sisterhood alongside my mom, Marie Jamgotchian, Naghkin Dirouhie, Gayane Otyag. My father, David Jamgotchian, Tbrabed of Sevan Tahlij, is also a Knight of Vartan. Both my parents have been active members of the Knights and Daughters for many years now.

The mission of the Armenia Support Fund is to support economic development in Armenia while also promoting unity amongst Armenians around the world – bringing our minds and hearts together to pursue strategic projects that will directly benefit the Armenian community. This mission has many synergies with the mission and overall essence of the Knights and Daughters of Vartan. Together we can do so much more than apart!

What prompted you to start ASF and help the Armenian people in this particular way?

I founded the Armenia Support Fund earlier this year in direct response to the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Back in March when it was announced that all international travel was suspended due to COVID-19, my Mom and I were forced to cancel our trip to Armenia that had been planned for this summer. In doing so, we not only cancelled our flights, but also all the hotels and various other activities we had planned for our trip. All the business owners were gracious in providing us with full refunds, but it broke my heart to think off all the businesses in Armenia that were being hit hard by the pandemic.

For every Armenian I know, each of them knows another two to three people who have had to also cancel their trips to Armenia this year. That is a huge loss in tourism revenue and production for the country! Last year, Armenia had a record-breaking year, with 1.9M tourists visiting the country and positively contributing to the country’s impressive 2019 GDP growth numbers. This year, with the sharp reduction in the number of travelers visiting Armenia, businesses are already suffering, and the country is forecasted to report negative GDP growth. I was inspired to do something to help small businesses survive this crisis and ensure that there is a vibrant Armenia or Armenians in Armenia and all over the world.

Today, our organization has already raised more than $25,000 towards our $50,000 project goal to help small, family-owned businesses in Armenia survive this global crisis. We have built a team of ten board members, advisors and interns to help us support our mission and have mobilized quickly to reach our goal of providing financial grants to Armenia based businesses in need.

Have you ever been to Armenia?

Unfortunately, I have not! This year would have been my first time visiting the homeland. I had planned to go to attend the Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA) conference just outside of Yerevan with my mom.

What businesses have benefitted from your grants so far?

This week we announced our first grants!

The Edge of the World Bed and Breakfast in Tavush. This guest house has been impacted by the conflict in the region. Funds will go toward purchasing materials to build an outdoor social and dining area for guests. This area will also be used to host events for locals such as weddings and birthdays.

The Terracota Studios Children’s Art Center. The studio has four locations and employs eight teachers. COVID has made it hard to keep up with rents and salaries. The ASF grant is going to go towards ensuring they can keep the lights on and their staff employed during this time. 

ASF plans on awarding several more grants in the coming weeks and will continue to raise funds in order to help as many businesses as possible.

How are you getting the word out about ASF?

News of the Armenia Support Fund’s mission has spread quickly. We launched our fundraising efforts on Instagram and Facebook about a month ago and within a week raised almost $10,000. The following week, Kim Kardashian posted about the ASF Armenia COVID-19 Small Business Support Initiative on her social media accounts and we quickly grew our following to over a thousand followers and raised another $6,000 in less than 24 hours. Since then, news of our activities has been picked up by several prominent Armenian media outlets (see links below). Armenia’s Minister of the Economy and his team also reached out to us to meet and partner closely on this initiative. News of that meeting was announced in the Armenian press. 

Are there certain sectors that are suffering more in Armenia than others? Do you target those in any way?

Yes! Armenia’s Minister of the Economy, Mr. Tigran Khachatryan, shared with the Armenia Support Fund that the food and beverage, hospitality and tourism sectors have been hit the hardest, reporting an up to 75% reduction in production. With no end to COVID-19 in sight, we expect downward pressure on revenue and production to continue to affect businesses in Armenia negatively through the end of the year.

Armenia Support Fund is committed to helping as many small, family-owned businesses in Armenia survive with a focus on tourism and peripherally impacted businesses.

You talk about a strict vetting process on the website — what is that process?

The Armenia Support Fund, in partnership with the Paros Foundation, has asked small businesses in Armenia who are suffering to apply via our online application. Businesses that are properly registered and who have not yet received government funding as part of the Ministry’s anti-crisis program are eligible to be shortlisted for additional review. We have asked that all businesses present to us a specific business need for which financial assistance funds will be allocated. Small businesses who meet our criteria and can prove a legitimate need are then interviewed by a member of the Paros team in Armenia and their case is presented to the ASF board for review and final approval. Businesses who are approved will be awarded financial assistance funds in the form of a grant (distributed in-person by the Paros team in Armenia).

You also mention volunteer opportunities — what are some ways people can get involved?

We have many specific needs for individuals who are looking to get involved. We are looking for Armenian translators, journalists, public relations help and those who are willing to make calls to potential donors. More information regarding volunteer opportunities can be found on our website as well. For those interested in volunteering with the Armenia Support Fund, we simply ask that you email us at ambassador@armeniasupportfund.org with your name and some information about how you think you can help!

How did the partnership with The Paros Foundation come about?

Since 2006, The Paros Foundation and its donors have partnered to implement humanitarian, educational, cultural and development projects. In their almost 15 years of service, Paros has completed over 200 successful projects in Armenia and has raised over $7 million.  I was introduced to Peter Abajian, the Executive Director of the Paros Foundation, by a good friend and long-time mentor of mine. He is also a Knights of Vartan Asbed. Very quickly it became apparent that Paros and Armenia Support Fund share a similar mission and that there were clear opportunities for partnership. As our 501c vehicle, Paros is covering all of the administrative costs associated with this project, thereby ensuring 100% of donor funds are tax deductible and allocated directly to small businesses in Armenia.

It is because of Paros’ long history of success, that ASF had no qualms in choosing to partner with this wonderful organization.

In addition to the Paros Foundation, what other organizations does ASF partner with?

We are proud to partner with the Armenian Professional Society, Armenian Professional Network, All-Armenian Students Association, Armenian Public Service Employees Association and ANCA – Professional Network, to encourage enterprising young professionals to get involved in supporting our homeland.

Anything else you want to add?

Though the Armenia Support Fund was founded in response to the COVID-19 economic impacts, our organization’s mission and long-term goals span far past just the struggles this pandemic has presented. In the future, the Armenia Support Fund aspires to help promote economic development in Armenia through education and ecommerce. Some ideas that have been discussed by the board include continuing adult education and certificate programs in business and technical related skills as well as the launch of an ecommerce platform dedicated to expanding the global market potential for Armenian made goods.

Olivia is an example of a member who is not sitting still during this pandemic — she is more active than ever in helping Armenia grow and thrive in new and exciting ways.

For more information on the Armenia Support Fund, or to donate to the Fund, visit https://www.armeniasupportfund.org/ and select Donate.

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