New Businesses Bring Jobs, Technology to Rural Armenia

Jan 1, 2012

Syracuse, NY (January 11, 2012) – In rural Armenia, 15 new information technology centers have launched as part of a Near East Foundation (NEF) project to develop microfranchises that are bringing jobs and income to the struggling economy.

NEF and its partners, Business Pareta and the Gegharkunik Chamber of Commerce and Industry, have worked with local entrepreneurs to establish the IT centers in a region where no more than 10 percent of villagers have knowledge of computers or the Internet.

In spite of huge leaps in information technology (IT) infrastructure in Armenia, major segments of the population in rural villages still lack ways to access technology and the knowledge to use it. A growing “digital divide” leaves rural communities and the poor unconnected to an economy and society increasingly based on information technology.

In addition to delivering economic benefits, the IT centers are helping to bridge this “divide” by serving as hubs for education and skills training, and providing access to technology.

Though modest in size – a start-up has 4 computer stations – the IT centers have quickly become vital parts of their communities.

In the village of Noratus, for example, the IT center is full from morning to night in peak seasons, and the training sessions fill quickly – with 300 people trained in the first year.

Each IT center is located within a rural village, providing everyone in the community with convenient and affordable access to the Internet. The centers are locally owned and operated under the Zartnir (Wake Up!) brand, fostering local entrepreneurship and trust among community members.

Each month, centers provide a number of trainings in computer and program use for a fee and provide some targeted training for disadvantaged groups, such as women heads of households, on a pro bono basis – grassroots corporate social responsibility. Some IT centers have begun providing training in advanced topics, including game programming, to youth who aspire to work in Armenia’s burgeoning programming industry.

The IT centers have developed into successful businesses, generating revenue and creating jobs by offering internet access (internet café), training (in programming, software packages, internet use), and computer equipment sales. Income is generated through computer sales and service, training, and computer/Internet access.

Each business creates at least two permanent jobs and generates an average of $600 USD per month in profit in their first year – significant figures in the context of rural Armenia. Each center serves a population of approximately 200 people on a regular basis and offers four multi-week courses for basic computer literacy.

To learn more, visit the project website: www.ruralarmenia.com.

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The Near East Foundation is a U.S.-based international development NGO leading innovative social and economic change in the Middle East and Africa. Founded in 1915, NEF has worked to empower citizens in disadvantaged, vulnerable communities for almost 100 years. NEF field staff – all of them from the countries in which they work – partner with local organizations to find grassroots solutions to their development challenges. Our comprehensive “knowledge, voice, and enterprise” approach is helping build more prosperous, inclusive communities throughout the region. To learn more visit www.neareast.org

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