The vision of the Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (WEP) is to empower Armenia’s women by providing them with the education and tools needed to establish and run a small or medium-size business. A partnership between AIWA and the American University of Armenia, WEP brings women together to advance their professional goals and economic futures.
History of WEP
WEP was conceived by AIWA San Francisco member Thelma Tajirian, a Wells Fargo Bank vice-president, who presented the proposal to the 2002 AIWA Annual Meeting, where it was enthusiastically adopted. Taking a leave of absence from her work, Tajirian traveled to Yerevan in the fall of that year to oversee the pilot course. The next year (2003), WEP was offered at AUA in the spring and in Gyumri in the fall. Launching of the program was made possible by a fundraising campaign that raised over $35,000 to support the initial phase of the program. AIWA Board members Sharyn Boornazian and Renita Esayian O’Connell were especially instrumental in helping to develop the curriculum.
Over the years the course has evolved, based on experience and changing conditions. A highlight of the sessions has been the final competition, when business plans are judged, leading figures in economic and financial circles are invited to attend, and prizes are awarded. Most years the course has been offered by the AUA Extension School twice a year, sometimes outside of Yerevan. In 2013 one of the sessions was designed for the specific needs of women who had immigrated to Armenia from Syria, and in 2015, a companion Women’s Leadership pilot program was added. AUA Extension Deans Varoojan Harikian and, in recent years, Arpie Balian have taken a great interest in developing the program. Special events have included a two-day conference held in Yerevan in the fall of 2012 that attracted women entrepreneurs from all parts of Armenia – including 90 WEP graduates. AUA President Bruce Boghosian and the US Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern addressed the gathering on the potential role that can be played by women in realizing sustained economic growth, and workshops were held on various aspects of the business world. Various programs have been held to provide mentoring for WEP students and graduates. More than 200 women have completed the WEP program. Most heartening has been the very positive feedback AIWA has received from the the graduates of the program and the knowledge that we have been able to make a difference in the lives of countless Armenia women.
The WEP program
Housed at the American University of Armenia Extension Department, and funded by AIWA, WEP is a comprehensive entrepreneurship training program for women in Armenia, both in English and Armenian.
The training, which contains special components for women-only audiences, addresses the need for entrepreneurial thinking – an empowered approach to continuous search for change, solutions approach to change and exploitation of change as an opportunity — as well as specific business skills, including how to conduct market research, make financial projections, write a business plan, and apply for funding. Program participants, called WEPies, are selected from a variety of backgrounds with business ideas, through a competitive application and interview process. In addition to the training, a new initiative provides grants/loans to assist WEP graduates who own small businesses.
AIWA takes pride in helping a number of Armenian women – through intensive training and mentoring – take an entrepreneurial approach in everything they do, including realization of their dreams in having their own small businesses.