Arshak Karapetyan of Nation in Action tells us about the non-formal educational, entrepreneurship, and professional development platform for the youth.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Arshak Karapetyan: While the pandemic affected many of our relatives, we are all ok. It was a hard time for everyone, but only during such periods, you truly understand the importance of family and beloved people.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Nation in Action.
Arshak Karapetyan: I am an MBA with 10+ years of experience in Finance, Banking and Management, and Agri-Tech. Luckily the other co-founder and I were given an opportunity to study and work in many international universities. We were sharing the theory that in Armenia and many other developing countries, education isn’t accessible for everyone, and even when it’s accessible, it’s not practical or down to earth. From that time, we decided to start this initiative and fill in the gap between formal education and the real needs of the private sector.
How does Nation in Action innovate?
Arshak Karapetyan: We are a non-formal educational, entrepreneurship, and professional development platform for the youth aimed to support its stakeholders and become a change agent on the national and local economic levels. Nation in Action is an initiative with a mission to create a competitive Armenia and support in generating knowledgeable, skilled, and motivated young professionals to act as change agents in the country. The initiative aims to:
· Promote youth entrepreneurship through non-formal education, improvement of skills and capacities of stakeholders, and establishment of new internship mechanisms
· Activate public-private cooperation, foster the knowledge transfer and increase the social responsibility of the stakeholders
· Create an inclusive and developed community
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Arshak Karapetyan: During the pandemic, our finances got much better than before the COVID-19. One of the main reasons for that was related to immediate actions. We did not stop our business lines even for a minute, but on the contrary, we launched two new business lines. It helped to gain reputation and trust among stakeholders.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Arshak Karapetyan: Due to the right adaptation to the COVID-19, we not only kept our staff in place but hired an extra person for marketing. It was essential in order to implement a more online-oriented marketing strategy. The pandemic revealed a few important aspects that I can marge into the following lessons learned:
One of the main lessons learned in the context of COVID-19 is the importance of the mechanisms and tools for the agile project management to adapt and respond quickly to rapid changes with a due level of comfort.
- The added value of modern technology options
The virus also emphasized the importance of technology in times of lockdown and remote working. While the pandemic accelerated the adoption of cloud-based communications and collaboration tools, it also revealed that in some cases, stakeholders, partners and beneficiaries face challenges to transform and adapt to the new reality fully. Hence, in the future, such an issue must be within the top priorities. We must always remember that not everyone has access to the same infrastructure and that the different types of technologies are not solutions but rather supporting measures.
- The essential nature of social interaction
While digital collaboration tools have become critical to remote work and will remain post-pandemic, the new way of work also unveiled the need and importance of face-to-face and social interaction. That was the reason that we tried to keep some sort of offline interaction in place. Just recently, we have organized a startup booth camp for 80+ people, and it was completely offline. If you could hear the comments from the participants, you would understand that everyone was tired from zoom, skype and any other form of online communication. Hence, we would suggest not to forget about face-to-face events and activities. It is one of the rare things that keep us being human and stay different from machines.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Arshak Karapetyan: The COVID-19 showed that traditional communication plans and visibility activities are not always the best way to interact with stakeholders. Hence, to ensure full engagement of the target audience, potential partners, we have already applied and will consider additional communication channels and tools. From day one, we launched a series of webinars on zoom. Such interaction helped us stay in touch with our audience and users and, more importantly, gain new connections that were not reachable during offline interactions.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Arshak Karapetyan: Considering the potential negative impact of the COVID-19, RA Government has implemented over 22 support actions to address the economic and social impact of the disease. However, we were not among the companies that benefited from the support measures. The uncertainty and liability of the situation limited the government’s response to reactive measures, which were short-term and often fragmented. Large numbers of individuals and companies have been furloughed and, though deprived of regular income, did not fall into any of the traditional categories of the “vulnerable” and thus could not access much-needed social assistance.
Moreover, there was no practical and transparent way to understand how effective those 22 support actions were; there was no clear tool for feedback and complaints on government assistance and programs and no straightforward mechanism to track budgets, disbursements and expenditures on COVID-19 related stimulus measures, safety net packages, public procurement, or sectoral budgets, expenditures, and spending.
On the other side, we were able to attract some financial support from international organizations, such as UNDP, EU and ADA. And I should say that those international organizations were surprisingly proactive during the pandemic.
Your final thoughts?
Arshak Karapetyan: COVID-19 has provoked a collapse in many of the known systems, both in public governance and in the private sector. It is already evident that the outbreak will have significant impacts on all aspects of livelihoods of the people worldwide – in the short, medium and long-run, deepening existing vulnerabilities. However, strategic and targeted actions can prevent the negative effects of the pandemic and even positively influence further developments. Hence, today more than ever is important to reformulate who we are and start thinking in a more sustainable and responsible.
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