FAST & Diaspora Armenia’s Armen Orujyan Catch the Velvet Revolution’s Wave
American novelist Thomas Clayton Wolfe once wrote a book called,
“You Can’t Go Home Again.”
But, never say never, eh?
First of all, a couple of years ago, Dr. Armen Orujyan was one of the growing members of the massive Armenian Diaspora that started after 1915. Having acquired his PhD in California after immigrating with his family to America as a young teenager, Orujyan was traveling the world, based out of LA, with an expanding resume: founder of Athgo Corporation, one of the world’s leading entrepreneurship platforms, and which has advanced innovation ecosystems in Europe and Africa, and established recurring Global Innovation Forums at the UN and the World Bank headquarters; he’d worked with various UN technology commissions and councils; and, he’d also held positions as an advisor at Facebook and on US presidential and other political campaigns.
THE REPATRIATION ALLURE
Then in 2016, something fortuitous happened. He caught a wave that was given an extra boost earlier this year with the Velvet Revolution that happened in Armenia and ushered in a new wave of energy and promise in his homeland.
Most noteworthy, two years ago, Orujyan was approached in Los Angeles by Ruben Vardanyan and had a fascinating conversation about his work throughout Armenia and about FAST (Foundation for Armenian Science and Technology). Orujyan admits to being impressed by the plans that Vardanyan and Dr. Noubar Afeyan, two notable Diaspora Armenians, had for FAST. Both Vardanyan and Dr. Noubar Afeyan are founding members of FAST.
Consequently, and after a decade of being away from Armenia, Orujyan spent a week there in February 2017. As a result, he explains, “It was seriously impressive seeing the types of projects they were working on. Then they started talking science and technology with me playing a role, taking their brilliant ideas and executing them.”
Hence, Orujyan enthuses:
“The two gentlemen who convinced me to return are incredible businessmen and philanthropists over here, and the experience has been beautiful. I officially came here in November 2017, then the Velvet Revolution occurred in April-May 2018. We’re now looking at a very different country. It’s extremely promising. There is energy and trust. Promise to rid the country of corruption. Promise for major socio economic developments. There is so much promise and hope.
“Most noteworthy, the Government has good intentions. but it needs the support of the people in its mission to make Armenia prosperous again. A lot of work needs to be done, and we all have a role to play. But there needs to be patience, to find a common language and to collectively take our wonderful country to the next stage.”
THE OWNERS OF ARMENIA’S FUTURE
The new Armenian president Armen Sarkissian had addressed the younger generation earlier this year suggesting that the Velvet Revolution helps make younger Armenians feel that “they are the owners of the future of this country.” He admitted that “we are a small state but a global nation; there are four or five times, probably more, Armenians living abroad than in Armenia today…So it’s the time that everybody recognizes that Armenia is really their homeland…and every Armenian has the opportunity of investing time and energy into this country.”
SHOUTOUT TO DIASPORA ARMENIANS
So, Orujyan echoes president Sarkissian’s shoutout:
“First of all, this would be impossible to do without Diaspora Armenians, as one natural resource we have is our people. We have such an incredible pool of talented people from America to Moscow, Tokyo, Paris and London — awesomely influential people in many verticals like science, technology and medicine. Many are investing already, and are interested in returning to Armenia, so we’re working with them to create these reciprocal opportunities with FAST. My message is, try to find ways to get involved, there’s going to be opportunities to grow intellectually, financially and network-wise through various engagements.
“As a result, FAST has already offered: fellowships for the top 10% of all PhDs in Armenia in STEM; numerous scientific grants; deployed startup studio and an advanced solutions center; established the first Science and Technology Angels Network in Armenia; and, organized a Global Innovation Forum titled ‘Engineering the Evolution’ — FAST’s flagship event designed to engage the global scientific community, and many more things to come.”
THE HARD WORK AHEAD
As for FAST’s goals, he explains:
“We have short and long term objectives. The mission is producing an ecosystem that helps drive technological innovation and scientific advancement. Overall, the objective to make Armenia a top-10 innovation country by 2035 or so. In order to get there, we need to do a lot of work. This is a very important part — the state of affairs of this country is not just the mismanagement over the last 25 years or so. This has been in the works for the last Millennium and beyond. There are both historic and economic factors, decision making that’s been done 500–1000 years ago, decisions that have brought this country to where it is today. So, to say things are going to change in the next six months or because there’s been a Revolution, that’ll be difficult to achieve.”
THE PROMISE OF ARMENIAN YOUTH
Furthermore, Orujyan, who has worked with youthful entrepreneurs throughout his career, also echoes their importance in Armenia’s new world:
“Certainly, the Revolution wouldn’t have happened without the young people, on the frontlines. When you’re looking at the makeup of the current government, many of the highest positions represent this generation. And it’s beautiful to see. This is the era of technology, and if you haven’t been deeply ingrained with it, it’s difficult for you to know what it means to education and socio economic development. So, having the young people part of government is important. And, part of our goal at FAST is to provide the necessary education and opportunities for this generation to prosper.”
So much for never going home!