by Nane Vardanyan
COAF’s 17-years’ on-the-ground experience in the villages of Armenia has become a manual of rural development with a variety of community development projects with their best practices and lessons learned. Our work bears fruit twofold when we put our heads together, combining efforts with people and organizations that are like-minded.
On October 2, COAF’s 2nd Annual Conference on Advancement of Rural Communities (CARC) 2021 brought together over 170 people from local and international organizations implementing rural advancement programs, state and local authorities, local and international experts, as well as private entrepreneurs to share their experience and expertise in the sphere of rural advancement, come up with new solutions, and build partnerships.
The first such conference initiated by COAF took place back in 2019. This time again, the conference was initiated by COAF and co-organized by the European Union in Armenia, the United Nations Development Programme in Armenia, and for the first time, the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure of Armenia. It took place at the COAF SMART Center and in the newly-opened Gradarak Debet library in Lori’s Debet village.
The conference featured panel discussions on four topics: smart governance, social recovery, green agriculture, and resilient jobs. Here are the main takeaways from each session:
Smart governance: innovative management models (discussion led by Naira Margaryan)
- Smart governance as a basis for good governance is applicable in almost all areas.
- Education and digital literacy are equally important for society and public servants.
- Statistics show that 130% of the population has access to mobile connections, yet a large portion of our society, the youth, in particular, don’t use it for practical purposes. Hence, informing and properly educating the public should precede any actual provision of services.
- The offered solutions are often person-centered and lack longevity.
- We should display a problem-and-fact-based approach. To solve a problem, we must first understand and examine its origin.
Resilient jobs: entrepreneurship, niche tourism (discussion led by Jesus Lazano)
- No entity or individual can act alone in bringing progress and development to rural communities.
- The presence of the private sector and the contributions made by its representatives is noticeable in remote regions.
- Along with creating job opportunities, it is crucial to empower rural populations with modern skills and knowledge as it’s often difficult or even impossible to find experienced professionals for particular vacancies.
- The dilemma of unskilled labor for particular jobs should be solved through education-skills-jobs schemes and vice versa.
- The collaboration between the government, private sector, international donor organizations, and development agencies, which set speed, quality, and innovation as core values, guarantees tangible results.
Green future for agriculture (discussion led by Irina Ghaplanyan)
- The suggested solutions and mechanics to make Armenia’s agriculture greener include:
- a) legislative policy, which is under implementation,
- b) professional policy-making team that needs to supervise the process,
- c) active participation and involvement of the private sector, leading to reversing the outflow from rural communities and bringing farmers back from the city,
- d) existence of cooperatives as they ensure sharing the experience and the creation of a value chain,
- e) serious potential for agroforestry in Armenia, in the framework of its commitment to double the forest cover,
- f) necessity to scale up the effort and improve the monitoring tools and the overall role of government agencies and their collaboration with rural communities.
Social recovery as a prerequisite for community development (discussion led by Nazareth Seferian)
- Social recovery was considered in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and post-war situation in Armenia: its role in the rural communities’ rehabilitation and development.
- The conversation revolved around problems and opportunities in the most challenging circumstances.
- The importance of a decentralized approach and local decision-making becomes more and more pertinent.
- It is vital to maintain unity and continue to display coordinated effort even after the critical situation has passed. One of the lessons learned was that there are no institutions ready to respond to the aftermath of the next crisis.
- The crisis made many Armenian companies come up with alternative solutions.
- The main challenge we’re facing is to bring the rural communities, not to the level they were at in February 2020 but to take them one level higher. We have to be a few steps ahead, which will require greater effort and coordination.
The event also included an expo, where 40 rural entrepreneurs and organizations from all regions of Armenia and Artsakh presented their products and services to local and international visitors.
Last but not least, CARC 2021 concluded with the beautiful songs of Komitas played by a saxophone quartet.
See you next year!