This is the main goal of EcoLab’s recent project BooStart. This 15-month project, which began on January 2, 2018 and is expected to finish on April 30, 2019, looks at developing the capacities of young social entrepreneurs in the rural regions of Armenia as well as providing them with the opportunities to network among successful social entrepreneurs residing in Armenia.
EcoLab Foundation already has 6 years of experience working with the youth in the smaller communities of Armenia. They have been running projects all aligned to their goal of providing skills and values such as active citizenship, democratic governance and sustainable development to the youth through non-formal education and practical experience and work within the communities; and BooStart is just another step towards that goal.
A major issue in Armenia is the lack of opportunities for those living in rural areas and smaller communities. With 37% of the population of Armenia living below the poverty line paired with the fact that the wealth in Armenia distributed unequally—with most of it focused in Yerevan—people, especially the youth, have very little incentive to stay in their communities. Many instead go to Yerevan for the chance of better opportunity and financial stability.
BooStart strives to counteract this by providing the skills and training necessary for youth to stay in their communities and contribute to a meaningful livelihood there. It all begins with a 3-day training for mentors, in which the project objectives and expected results are discussed. The mentors are selected from alumni of previous EcoLab non-formal eduction programs. Why alumni? Because they are familiar with and share EcoLab’s principles of sustainable development and can support these ideas, their potential and level of responsibility is already established—many of them having started their own social bussinesses, and most importantly, there is trust among the project team and these mentors. Furthermore, it furthers one of the goals of EcoLab’s, which is sustainability.
The team then picks young social entrepreneurial teams from rural areas of Armenia and have a 5-day training with the teams focusing on social entrepreneurship. The trainings take place at Boo Alternative House in Vanadzor—an example of social enterprise itself. It is a project that was established and run by social entrepreneurs with a focus on sustainable development.
Before anything else, the project team teaches the participants about democratic values & active citizen engagement and how to be aware of these concepts and active in incorporating them within their social enterprises. After establishing this, the teams then learn valuable information such as the different models of social enterprises, learn how to develop mission statements for their own enterprises, and learn how to effectively analyse the current situation of their projects and use that data to draft development strategies. They will also be provided with the opportunity to visit successful social enterprises in Armenia. This serves as a wonderful way to connect the youth to experts and practitioners of social enterprises and provides them with the chance to see what a successful enterprise can look. Maybe most important of all, however, it serves as encouragement and motivation for the development of their own enterprises.
After the training, the participating teams then go through a 5-month period of individual mentoring. Mentors will be matched with mentee teams for individualized development of their plans in which practical and concrete steps will be set in motion for the development of their businesses. They will focus on significant aspects of developing their enterprises, such as marketing and branding and their progress will be monitored through periodical reports and meetings.
Another unique learning experience that BooStart provides for their participants is an international study visit, in which one person per team will travel abroad to learn from successful social enterprises. This opportunity was actualized with help of MitOst, a project partner based in Berlin, Germany. This NGO builds international networks that focuses on active citizenship and cultural exchange and the contributed to BooStart’s project by providing the international training resources and organising study visits to ensure that the participants can have the experience of observing social enterprises look like outside of Armenia, further enriching their knowledge and interaction with entrepreneurship.
All of this training and support will culminate in a 1-day social entrepreneurship forum-market event organized in Yerevan. BooStart will invite social businesses in Armenia, international organizations, and government agencies of related fields with the goal of providing the opportunity for networking, sharing experiences, and showing of products with the social entrepreneur teams.
And finally, the project will end in two days of reflection between the teams, mentors, and project team. They will reflect and evaluate the results of the project and offer space for ideas for the future development and maintenance of the enterprises.
It is evident that BooStart has tackled a very prominent issue in Armenian society and their intricately-planned project provides the training for participants to be equipped with the skills, knowledge, and support needed to begin making amazing changes in their communities and being forerunners for the development of social enterprises in the areas in Armenia where they are needed most.