COAF is entering a new phase in its two-decade journey by expanding access to education through the establishment of new
The Children of Armenia Fund (COAF) is embarking on a new phase of its two-decade journey, with plans to expand the geography of SMART Centers and build new facilities. This aims to ensure the continuity of the organization’s programs and provide quality education to an even larger number of students in Armenia. Liana Ghaltaghchyan has been the Managing Director of COAF for the past 8 months, and, along with her dedicated team, she has devoted significant efforts to achieving this goal. Liana shared insights into her professional journey, her role at COAF, the challenges faced, the organization's mission, and its goals for the next five years. We also discussed the grand opening of the pioneering social enterprise, Concept by COAF, and the upcoming COAF Fest scheduled for September 16.
Ms. Ghaltaghchyan, could you please share some highlights from your career before joining COAF? What motivated you to become a part of this team?
Becoming a lawyer was a cherished dream of mine. Since childhood, I have felt a strong calling to uphold justice and promote equality (smiles). In the eighth grade, I already had a clear career path in mind. With a strong commitment to shaping laws and regulations, I worked at the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia, where our team faced and overcame numerous challenges with great determination.
However, there came a point in my life when I realized that, as much as I held a deep affection for working within the state system, it had its limitations. I had a growing desire to continue my work in the public sector, and my initial experience led me to Transparency International. During my four years there, I was actively engaged in the fields of healthcare, education, and social welfare. Subsequently, I was offered the position of Deputy Chief of the Prime Minister's Staff, responsible for coordinating these areas. For a year, I worked in the Armenia Integrity Project (AIP) funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Joining the COAF team was the logical continuation of my activity.
Twenty years ago, COAF was founded. Could you please share the main directions in which the foundation conducts its activities?
Yes, COAF initiated its programs in 2004, starting in one village and expanding to 82 communities in Armenia and Artsakh, impacting well over 100,000 people across rural Armenia. Through various programs, the foundation gives rural children, youth, and their families an opportunity to fully realize their potential. COAF's development initiatives primarily focus on four key areas: education, health, child and family services, and economic development. Our activities also introduce innovative approaches to education, including non-formal and sometimes formal methods, allowing us to assess and refine tools implemented by the government through various programs.
You have been leading the organization for eight months now. Can you shed some light on your endeavors during this time?
My tenure at COAF has coincided with a dynamic period in the organization’s two-decade history, marked by the continuous expansion of our programs. In particular, the past eight months have been immensely rewarding. I would like to highlight our efforts in establishing new SMART Centers in Syunik—specifically in the cities of Goris and Kapan—, Armavir, and Shirak. These Centers, unlike our existing COAF programs, have the potential for significant scalability. After years of successful program implementation, COAF realized that concentrating our resources in hubs would be a more effective approach than visiting individual schools.
The organization plays a significant role in nurturing human capital. We offer a range of programs for children of various age groups. For instance, our Child & Family Center (CFC) focuses on children aged 3 to 6. We also have a CFC in Stepanakert, Artsakh, which provides valuable preschool education services. Here, we offer psychological care, speech therapy, and social work support, which are crucial services, especially considering the current circumstances faced by children in Artsakh and their families. Currently, COAF supports more than 100 beneficiaries in Artsakh.
Children and youth aged 3 to 18 have the opportunity to attend our SMART Center, which offers 18 educational programs divided into three sections: HEAD, HEART, HAND. The diversity of the programs is aimed at the multifaceted development of an individual. SMART programs are varied: our offerings range from subjects like marketing, finance, and management to areas such as mechanics, digital drawing, and yoga. After graduating from COAF SMART Centers, students have the opportunity to benefit from our Scholarship and Career Development Program, which provides grants for higher education, enabling graduates to find their place in the job market or pursue entrepreneurial endeavors. Thus, we provide a comprehensive value chain that significantly contributes to capacity building.
I am delighted to share that our programs have had an impact on nearly every family in Armavir. In other words, through various programs, we have tried to create an ecosystem around the child, a favorable environment for the growth of responsible citizens and individuals while contributing to the overall development of the country.
As previously mentioned, COAF is multifaceted, with its activities spanning various fields, representing one of our core priorities. Consequently, there is a natural inclination to drive change in various dimensions. Regardless of the challenges we encounter, we are resolute in our determination to realize these objectives.
What are the organization’s key goals for the next five years?
The organization's top priority for the next five years is to integrate formal and non-formal education. Recent legislative reforms in the education sector have created new opportunities for delivering higher-quality education. One of our primary objectives is to apply our experience in non-formal education to the formal education domain.
Currently, we envision expanding informal education primarily through SMART Centers. We will dedicate our efforts to enhancing the quality, focus, and rigor of our programs.
As you may be aware, project-based learning forms the core of non-formal education, and our entire educational model is also project-based. In this regard, we can offer valuable support to schools. Furthermore, the soft skills we instill in children attending SMART Centers can complement their school-based knowledge.
In addition to the activities of the SMART Center in Lori, COAF has launched the social enterprise Concept by COAF, which includes a hotel, restaurant, and conference center. Why are such initiatives so important?
Concept by COAF stands as Armenia's largest social enterprise, encompassing the Concept Hotel, an expansive conference center, and other infrastructure. I view our social enterprise as a means to invest more in our education efforts. We are not merely an organization that conducts hospitality-related activities and allocates a portion of the profits to various public initiatives. Our entire endeavor is socially oriented, and all profits generated by the Concept Hotel, as well as those from the newly opened conference center, will be channeled toward the sustainability of our programs.
With the launch of "Concept," we herald a new phase in our 20-year history. During this phase, we plan to broaden the reach of SMART Centers and establish new infrastructures. In essence, we aim to move away from reliance on diverse sources of funding and adopt a more institutional approach to ensure the sustainability of our projects. Along this path, the contributions of those who share our vision of effecting lasting change are of great importance.
On September 16, COAF Fest will take place at the COAF SMART Campus. What new and unique experience will it offer to festival participants?
COAF Fest is an integral part of the larger "Lori, Your Next Destination" project, a collaborative effort between COAF and the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), supported by the EU4Business ITTD project. This cooperation has played a crucial role in showcasing the untapped tourism potential of the Lori region while also promoting sustainable development. With support from GIZ and the involvement of COAF, we've established a Visitor Center on the route from Vanadzor to Debet. We believe that Lori is a hidden gem, an excellent destination for both local and international tourists.
The culmination of this program will be COAF Fest on September 16, aiming to unite the entire community at our SMART Campus, providing them with an extraordinary fusion of arts, crafts, music, and the delightful flavors of traditional Armenian cuisine.
COAF Fest will serve as a platform for local businesses, enabling them to promote their products and expand their visibility. The festival will feature over 30 booths from various companies, offering a diverse array of products, including tea, agricultural goods, clothing and fabrics, skincare and cosmetics, handmade items, bags, and souvenirs. Furthermore, the festival will unveil Ardēan's captivating art installations adorning the COAF SMART Campus in Lori. These 12 exquisite art pieces draw inspiration from the region's ancient monasteries and cultural heritage.
The festival will also showcase live performances by renowned artists such as "Hayat Project," "Lav Eli," "Miqayel Voskanyan & Friends," "Vahagn Hayrapetyan Quartet," "Bambir," and DJ Alen Hertz.
Through COAF Fest, we aim to cultivate a new culture of philanthropy, illustrating that it is one of the finest expressions of social responsibility. Donation boxes featuring QR codes will be placed throughout the SMART Campus during the festival to encourage active participation in bringing about positive, lasting change.