Breaking Barriers: Supporting Armenian women in tech
11 May 2022
According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, 50 per cent of the global workforce will need to ‘reskill’ by 2025 as the adoption of new technology increases. Employers now say that critical thinking and problem-solving top the list of the most valuable and sought-after skills.
‘STEM education’, which teaches students the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math has become more important than ever in recent years. As well as developing core technological skills, STEM helps students improve their problem-solving, critical thinking, adaptability, communication and teamwork.
These types of classes are especially important for girls, as it gives them the confidence, skills and tools to thrive in a field which is still dominated by men.
UNICEF has teamed up with UNDP in Armenia to help bridge this divide and support more young women and girls establish their own startups. Last year the Accelerator #5 project, which was first launched in 2018, brought together over 300 girls and young women from across Armenia to explore startup ideas and participate in 30 weeks of training including courses in programming, marketing and business English. At the end of the project, three winning teams were awarded funding to launch their startups.
Girls can code too
Ani, 16, decided to participate in Accelerator #5 after her friend won one of the previous rounds of the project. She explains some of the skills that she gained from the training.
“The business lessons helped me a lot. Our mentor for business lessons, Areg, made sure that we got an in-depth understanding of various topics, such as how to run a startup, how to write a business plan, how to analyze the data at hand, whom to target for services and partnership and how.”
Having developed these skills in startup management, Ani was inspired to create her own startup – GirloPolis, which aims to bring together and motivate more girls to get involved in information and communications technology (ICT). In her blog post she encourages girls whose families are against them exploring the field of ICT, to talk to their parents and explain the many advantages of working in this industry.
12-year-old Nare was encouraged to enroll in Accelerator #5 by her teachers. Although her heart has always been in music, she also loves programming. The Accelerator #5 project gave her the opportunity to learn more about programming and the confidence to challenge traditional stereotypes.
“When I started learning programming, I became more self-confident, I started to understand what I do incorrectly on the computer and how to correct that. Sometimes I think that it might be worthwhile to become a programmer and a singer at the same time, breaking the stereotype that it is impossible to do both.”
Elsewhere across Armenia more young women are breaking down barriers in tech. Mariam Torosyan is a social entrepreneur from Yerevan and the founder and CEO of Impact Innovation Institute. In 2020 she launched Safe YOU: an all-in-one platform designed to protect women from domestic violence and connect them with a community which supports other survivors.
The platform, which is supported by UNFPA, educates women by sharing knowledge from a community of professionals and providing information on how to access existing services. The app also allows users to send a free emergency message which shares their location to three close family members or friends, the local police and other service providers.
As a social entrepreneur, Mariam understood the importance of meeting other innovators and activists and approaching governments and NGOs about improving digital platforms for women and girls.
“It was challenging to start negotiations with the government to convince them that they needed this product,” she said. “It was equally challenging to convince NGOs that ‘innovations' have a place in their work. That there is an alternative that can give them a broader audience and increase their impact.”
Currently, the platform is available in Armenia, Georgia and Iraqi Kurdistan, with the option to browse in Armenian, Georgian, and English. With the support of UNFPA, the app was translated into Arabic and Kurdish for its launch in Iraq.