How the UN in Armenia is creating opportunities for refugee girls and women
Did you know that Armenia is often referred to as the new Silicon Valley of the former Soviet Union due to its growing tech startup scene? In 2017 alone, the tech sector contributed to seven percent of the GDP, and this number continues to increase.
One of the factors contributing to its growth is the high percentage of women involved in this area of work; 30 percent of the workforce to be exact. Since tech skills are in high demand and companies are always on the lookout for new talents, we at the UN in Armenia decided to equip women and young girls with coding and entrepreneurial skills to tackle the existing technological gap between displaced women and locals.
An estimated 22,000 displaced persons from Syria call Armenia their new home. Out of this group, 45 percent are women and girls. Many of these women have skills in crafts and culinary arts but don’t necessarily know how to use their existing skills as a means to start a business.
What if instead of providing humanitarian aid we could come up with new models to provide dignity and empower refugees, particularly women?
Tech for good is a thing
Around the world, coding camps, hackathons and mentoring opportunities for girls and young women are becoming mainstream. In Armenia, we have the ImpactAim Acceleration programme, which is spearheaded by UNDP in partnership with the Innovative Solutions and Technologies Center Foundation, Enterprise Incubator Foundation, Girls in Tech Armenia, Armenia National SDG Innovation Lab, UNHCR and UNICEF.
Inspired by the methodology and experience from the ImpactAim Accelerator programme, which brings together the tech world and impact communities to scale up local solutions, we designed an accelerator programme for women and girls who are ready to dive into the tech world and potentially build their own startup projects.
We are targeting two age groups: young girls between the ages of 7 through 14 and young women over 14 years old. The programme is tailored to fit the needs of the girls and women who have little or no tech knowledge
What the girls and women will get out this experience
For the younger girls, we want to immerse them in programing and business skills through weekly workshops/trainings. CoderDojo Armenia, the local chapter of the global, community-based programing clubs for young people is going to take the lead in delivering this part of the programme. We are going to divide the girls in groups based on their age, location, and skills. To kickstart the project, we are going to replicate the programme in three northern regions of Armenia – Shirak, Lori and Tavush, with two clubs in each region. Each club will run for three months with a group of 15 children each.
Based on the CoderDojo principles, volunteer representatives from technology field – including programmers and project managers will mentor the children throughout their coding sprints.
After the completion of the programme:
- The girls will be equipped with the necessary skills to create their own startup or become part of an existing one. We will provide mentorship to the best projects through the ImpactAim Accelerator Programme to further develop their business projects.
- The best students can potentially become trainers. Based on their knack for tech, we are going to mentor girls to become trainers. They will learn specific tech and business skills to spread their knowledge within their communities once the programme ends.
To immerse the young girls and women into the brewing tech scene, we plan to hold several conferences, workshops, hackathons and ongoing training within the first six months of the acceleration programme. This will be done in collaboration with our partners mentioned above and other private companies, such as including Founders Institute Armenia, Vanadzor Technology Center, Gyumri Technology Center, Techfugees and NeedsList.
For the cohort of young girls over 14 years old, we received 148 applications, ranging from the ages of 16 to 50. Fifty percent of the applications are from Yerevan while the other half are from different regions. We screened 100 applicants and shortlisted 60 for the accelerator programme, based on criteria such as vulnerability. We kicked off this programme, which will run for 20 weeks, on May 24, 2019 during the Impact Nightout event.
We have a total of 49 participants who will receive trainings and participate in workshops two to three times a week.We will run multiple programmes at both locations, including tech and business modules. We will conclude the programme with the entrepreneurship module to help the young girls and women to come up with business ideas, work in groups and eventually build their startups.
Why are we doing this?
We are aiming to create a “hybrid” model where corporate and nonprofit philanthropy can work. This is why involved private sector companies from the get go. Financing is an important ingredient, but we believe that the expertise and mentorship that they bring to the table is imperative to set these young women up for success. Through this programme, we are strengthening partnerships and also addressing gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. We believe it’s a tremendous opportunity to make an impact worldwide!
Do you know any young girls or women that would be perfect for this programme? All women and young girls living in the areas of Shirak, Lori and Tavush are encouraged to apply! Help us spread the word!
BY Ruzanna Baldryan, Ruzanna Safaryan and Mariam Melik-Bakhshyan