On 3-6 February 2017, Yerevan became a hub of innovative ideas which flew in the air spreading creativity and EYP-spirit. AYSOR4Innovation NSC of EYP Armenia gathered 120 local and international participants under the theme of social entrepreneurship and innovation. “New ideas, project initiatives, hundreds of new friends and much more” organizers claimed. It sounded so impressive and innovative, so I decided to apply.
As I have already participated in the EYP Armenia, I know that it is well organized, the debates are interesting, international delegates have time to enjoy the city and you just feel as at home! I was also curious to know more about the social innovation in Armenia and how the organizers are going to handle this topic. This topic is not obvious for Western countries, so how an Armenian NGO can handle it? How to make the Armenian youth to adhere to social innovation? What do they know about the social innovation and entrepreneurship?
The AYSOR forum has the part of the classic EYP session, which includes resolutions, teambuilding and the General Assembly with voting procedure. Additionally, participants have to present the concept of the social entrepreneurship project, a start-up. This was the main difficulty of the AYSOR session. The start-up should have a name, a logo, values and a business plan. Moreover, participants should think about social innovation, sustainability and the financing of the project. Such ambitious plans for young Armenian participants!
As organizers insisted, the main idea was to reuse the existing things to make it more sustainable and socially responsible. As the founder of EYP Armenia, Suzanna Shamakhyan rightly stated “We have maximization about new: innovation sometimes puts a shade to what is old, but innovation is using the old in a new way, that will be sustainable, and bring a long-term impact”. Caroline Steiner, Junior professional at the EU delegation to Armenia, who took part in the forum reiterated that she “sees Armenia as a very innovative country: it has great technological and innovative potential to achieve even more”. So to reuse or create a new project? So how did the participants handle the topic? Which innovative and original ideas they could bring?
I must admit that the topics to handle were quite difficult and challenging. For instance how to handle the challenge to create a more favorable environment for the development and the extension of startups in Europe? It is quite a multi-level complicated topic, as participants should know about the political, legal and economic environment of the EU. Or in my committee the topic was to ensure protection of whistleblowers in the EU while simultaneously maintaining protection of sensitive information. Whistleblow….what? Have you ever heart about whistleblowers? I am ashamed to admit that I discovered this word for the first time. In Switzerland financial institutions and banks are regularly shaken by the whistleblowing scandals; it is such a complicated topic, which includes so many aspects of the problem. It is a complicated topic for experienced specialists in European affairs, so for students, it is even more complicated.
However, Armenian participants surprised me with their ideas, their capacity to think and act quickly and their creativity. They had so limited time to brainstorm, to find a logo, and to make a business project. These kinds of projects need a lot of time, some of the real star-ups take months to be realized, while in Yerevan unexperienced Armenians did a miracle being so concentrated.
In the committee “legal affairs”, my committee, the debates were heated! We tried to use the Swiss time management; Swiss cow loud announcement, however it was difficult to stop the debates 😉 After the stormy brainstorming, we accepted the idea of Elizabeth, who came up with the whole project, called “Pen & Paper. The right to write!” This project is innovative for Armenia as it handles such as complex cultural and economic problem as the corruption and complaints. As participants explained to me, it is not in the Armenian culture to report about the cases of corruption or to report to your boss. Often it is considered as a shame to do it. Moreover population does not trust in hierarchy and in the government to solve the problem, if not to mention the police. The project consists of the online platform, where the employees of any organization can report any mismanagement, corruption, illegality or wrongdoing anonymously. From one side the cultural problem of the “reporting” problem is solved, as it is anonymous. No more feeling ashamed to report on your boss or the corruption problem! From the other side, this project foresees the secure channel for reporting it further to the police. If no actions have been taken, this complaint is going to the police with the legal obligation to start the investigation.
The real novelty came from the FEMM committee, the Committee on women’s rights and gender equality. They had a difficult task to handle the problem of women’s presence in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) domains, where women represent only 13% of working staff. How could they assure the gender equality at the heart of Horizon 2020 and in STEM? The FEMM committee traditionally fails to pass their resolutions. However this time the topic seems to be less political and emotionally charged. Nevertheless the discussions were heated and the debates passionate. The committee offered to promote “soft” gender quotas (hotly debated), legal protection, as well as the online platform about the discrimination within the workplace. Nothing shocking or outstanding, however these measures were virulently contested.
The committee made a quite conservative, according to the European standards, project about women making the home-made food, called “Women in the kitchen”. The main idea was to involve the housewives in the project by making them to prepare the home-made food, done exclusively from local and organic ingredients, which is sold after in the lunch-boxes. Thus women with small children or elder parents can also work and be paid. Some of participants protested that women’s anticipation is not in the kitchen. Yes, I agree, but to my mind, it is always better for women to work and to have their own revenue than locking them at home. Probably this project is not a perfect project for women’s emancipation, but it allows women to combine homework, the care for small children and some kind of emancipation. So I can only say big “Yes” to this project. And guess what? A miracle happened! The resolution and the project passed. Passed! Ok, it was not the crushing victory, but a big step for discussions.
Another novelty for Armenia was the project (2 projects!) related to the waste recycling. All these projects offered innovative ways to recycle the waste in order to improve the environmental condition within the country, as well as to give job opportunities for the unemployed persons. One of the committees offered even to make the refugees work on recycling the waste. It seems to be a cultural problem in the country toward the litter recycling and working at this job. Is it shameful to recycle its own waste?
In the conclusion, I can say that the AYSOR forum was quite intense but productive in terms of ideas and conclusions. It is not only about some abstract ideas and resolutions about Europe, I can understand that somehow it can be difficult to debate if you have never been to Europe. However participants had a solid knowledge of European legislation and structure. Moreover, they came up with concrete projects, designed for Armenia, with the idea to include the socially excluded population and handle the urgent problems of the Armenian society: corruption, women’s rights, education and the waste-management. I was really impressed and it was also revitalizing to see young Armenians to be fully involved in the debates, as well as to believe in Europe and European values. During the times of Eurosceptics in Europe, this Armenian energy and their trust in Europe is very refreshing and gratifying. I hope that this experience will be beneficial for all participants, and we all will become active citizens and one day, (who knows?), will change something in this world, to contribute to the society in order to make it a more just and more socially responsible. Thanks to AYSOR forum and the EYP Armenia to give the opportunity to youngsters to do it.