In April 2018, Armenia made world headlines as its citizens took to the streets in protests that resulted in a peaceful transition of power. Now known as the “Velvet Revolution,” the movement was 100 percent Armenian-driven, clearly demonstrating the progress Armenia has made on its journey to self-reliance.
In fact, the evolution of USAID’s partnership with the Armenian people over the past 26 years could serve as a model for other countries. Despite daunting geopolitical constraints, Armenia is transitioning from an aid recipient to a partner leading its own development.
USAID began its support to Armenia by providing food, shelter, medicine and fuel in response to a devastating earthquake in 1988. Following the country’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, USAID continued to provide humanitarian assistance as Armenia recovered from economic collapse, transitioned to a market economy and established democratic institutions.
By the late 1990s, USAID support had moved from relief to long-term development programs managed by international organizations. USAID partnered with Armenia to implement macro-economic reforms, establish a private sector and develop democratic institutions.
Since 2012, USAID has focused its support for government-led reforms through programs implemented primarily by local partners. USAID’s mission in Armenia is now an Agency-wide leader: 50 percent of its funds are managed by Armenian organizations. This approach uses U.S. Government funding cost-effectively and promotes sustainability in Armenia.
We have also helped build capacity in Armenia’s civil society organizations (CSOs), which are ranked among the strongest in the region. CSOs play an important watchdog role in Armenia by encouraging citizens — particularly women and youth — to constructively engage with decision-makers and to advocate for political, social and economic reforms, and inclusion.
USAID’s sustained support for civil society and media over the past two decades helped to keep space open for civic engagement and freedom of expression, evidenced by the citizen protests that led to the peaceful transition of power earlier this year.
USAID support also played a pivotal role in Armenia’s adoption of a new NGO Law in 2017, remarkable in its contrast to other countries in the region that have imposed greater restrictions on CSOs. The law helps strengthen the organizational and financial sustainability of CSOs, allowing them to engage in income-generating entrepreneurial activities and to seek volunteer support.
Information Technology (IT) represents the fastest growing sector of the economy and USAID is proud of the role it has played in developing and expanding Armenia’s IT ecosystem. After years of targeted assistance, the sector is ripe for opportunity with new U.S. business linkages and broader trade and investment with North America and Europe.
By leveraging partnerships with IBM, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, and National Instruments, USAID has established innovation centers and engineering labs, introduced American corporate culture and management practices, and helped Armenia’s emerging IT and engineering startups improve their business skills.
In recognition of Armenia’s emergence as a global player in the IT sector, the country has been selected to host the 2019 World Congress on Information Technology, the largest and most prestigious international IT event.
Armenia’s dynamic civil society and emerging IT sector are just two examples of how USAID and the people of Armenia have partnered successfully to achieve sustainable development results. USAID will continue to work in Armenia to support economic growth and democratic objectives as well as cross-cutting objectives like anti-corruption, which is essential to developing U.S. trade with Armenia. The ultimate goal of our partnership is to end the need for assistance — to transition our relationship from one of aid, to one of trade.
About the Author
Deborah Grieser serves as the Mission Director for USAID’s mission in Armenia. Follow the mission at @USAIDArmenia.