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Alumni Success Story: Narine Abazian (ME IESM ’96) Advocates for Women’s Involvement in ICT

The American University of Armenia (AUA) alumna Narine Abazian (ME IESM ’96) is the President of the Women and the Information Society NGO and the Regional Ambassador of Technovation Armenia.

What determined your career choice?

I have changed my career several times. I have pleasant memories of the 90s. My first specialty was in programming and the subject of my research was the “Learning Process of a Neural Network.” I wanted to continue my research so I was admitted to AUA program of Industrial Engineering and Systems Management as at that time AUA did not have a Master’s degree program in Computer Science.

Tell us about your educational experience at AUA.

I attended the American University of Armenia in the dark, gloomy, and hopeless years of the 90’s. The University was the only place that gave me confidence, hope, and faith in the future. Even at that time, AUA provided state-of-the-art facilities and innovative technologies and I was proud of having the opportunity to work at the University research center while being able to communicate with my instructor online because he was often away from Armenia. In 1995, many people did not even know about email and the fact that you could work online with your instructor.

While studying at the University, I made a lot of connections with various European and American universities. I also received an offer to continue my education and research in neural networks in Europe. But, after graduation, under some circumstances, I preferred to stay in Armenia. At that time there were very few opportunities to do research so I had to give that up and started working on my second profession – finance. I worked at ArmenTel and held  several managerial positions, including Head of Human Resources Development Department, Chief Financial Officer, as well as Head of Business Planning and Financial Analysis Division.

Looking back, we realize that revolutionary changes have occurred in technology and in my favorite fields – Expert Systems, Artificial Intelligence, and Neural Networks. The latter has developed significantly especially in recent years, which has become possible through tremendous advancements in related fields, such as big data, machine learning, computing power, storage capacity, and cloud computing.

I am glad that today AUA is in tune with the ongoing technological revolution and I am elated that AUA launched the undergraduate degree program in Data Science two years ago.

Tell us about Technovation Armenia national pitch contest.

Technovation, a flagship program of the non-profit organization Iridescent, is the world’s largest global tech entrepreneurship competition for girls. Its mission is to inspire and empower young women to become leaders and innovators by solving problems in their community using technology and entrepreneurship. More than 105 countries in the world participate in this competition.

Technovation Armenia is the local contest of Technovation. The program is designed as a 12-week teaching course. At Technovation Armenia, participating young girls identify a problem in their community, develop a mobile app to solve it, and launch a startup. Girls aged 10 to 18 can participate in the contest. They form teams of five and develop the app using the program elaborated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called App Inventor.  The program consists of five parts: ideation, coding, business, marketing, and pitching.

The teams are challenged to develop a mobile app solution that addresses the problem they have identified, which aligns with one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There are six possible tracks: Environment, Poverty, Peace, Equality, Education, and Health.

This comprehensive program takes girls through ideation and brainstorming, developing a prototype of their product and creating a business plan and a pitch video to “sell” their idea.

Girls are empowered by the fact that someone even bothered to ask them for their opinion on a problem they see in their community. And the fact that they solve the problem through technology results in some powerful attitude shifts.

What was the greatest achievement during the Technovation Armenia?

Armenia joined the Technovation program in 2017 and we had great achievements in that year. Three thousand teams from 105 countries participated in the Technovation International competition, and 12 teams were selected as finalists. The ”One Step Ahead” team — comprised of five girls aged 15-16 from Karbi, Aragatsotn Marz — came up with an Armenian Sign Language app, which was one of the 12 finalists in the Education category. The team traveled to Silicon Valley to attend the World Pitch Summit and Awards Ceremony held at the Google Headquarters in Mountain View from August 7 to 11, 2017. The team received $10,000 to further develop the app and won the People’s Choice Award.

We also registered other success stories. One of the semifinalist teams ― Tech Ladies, from Anania Shirakatsy lyceum ― created the HASK App in the framework of Technovation Armenia competition and was selected as a winner in the Sevan Startup Summit 2017.

In 2018 one of the semifinalist teams ― Codice Puellis, from the Ashtarak  school N2 ― created 1 of U App and was selected as a winner in the Sevan Startup Summit 2018. The team received a $3,000 award to further develop the app, which is created for children with autism. In 2018, the Codice Puellis team with 1 of U App became European Youth Award finalist.

Tell us about Technovation Armenia 2019. Are there any milestones you plan to achieve this year?

Yes, the Technovation community is getting bigger and the number of participants has increased twice. This year we already have more than 80 registered teams from different villages and cities in Armenia.

This year we expanded our reach, attracting participants from all 11 provinces of Armenia; we also have participant teams from Artsakh and from the Armenian community of Lebanon.

Every year we challenge ourselves and we are happy that we have been successful so far.

Success becomes possible through multi-stakeholder partnerships and I am proud that AUA has been one of our partners from the beginning of our program. Taking the opportunity, I want to thank AUA, namely AUA President Dr Armen Der Kiureghian, who personally follows our success and always expresses willingness to support our program.

What’s the biggest challenge you have experienced as the Founder of Women and Information Society NGO?

Financial. It is difficult to find funding aimed at women’s empowerment through technology.

What’s your vision of the role of women in ICT?

Armenia is a very small country with limited natural resources and, whether we want it or not, we cannot ignore women’s potential. It would not be beneficial for the country’s development and it would not be smart.

Numerous surveys confirm that women’s entrepreneurship, as well as women’s leadership, recruitment, retention, participation, and advancement remain low in the ICT sector. Women are especially under-represented in decision-making positions; women are in top managerial positions (CEOs, General Directors, and Presidents) in only 5% of companies operating in Armenia.

Recruiting more women into ICT is a question of economic necessity, economic development and sound competitiveness. Not recognizing that girls and women are under-represented in ICT development policy and management, we limit the resources of our society. Women and girls not only have to look for a job but also create and offer job places and become key actors in building Information Society. To fulfill it, we need the support of all stakeholders, all interested parties.

Everything is possible to achieve in case of political will, desire, and financial support.

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