Larisa Hovannisian is the CEO and Founder of Teach For Armenia. Her early experiences in Arizona with Teach For America shifted and shaped her priorities. First accepting the offer to boost her resume and use her teaching experiences to bolster a career in business, her experiences led her to one passion: education. Two years after doing Teach For America, Larisa understood why teaching in a classroom is leadership. She thought, “Why aren’t we doing this in Armenia?”
Although her knowledge of education in Armenia was limited, Larisa was well aware that educational problems existed there. Studying the educational context of her homeland, she learned that schools were under-resourced and there was a strong Soviet remnant in the people’s approach. When she was almost done with her fellowship with Teach For America, she approached them with the idea of developing something similar in Armenia. Upon learning of Teach For All, a global network whose mission is to expand educational opportunities, she contacted them to work on creating Teach For Armenia. Two years of intensive work led to the organization’s launch.
Everyone deals with their own set of challenges upon starting a business. The hardest part for Larisa was adjusting her own mindset to working with different groups and ensuring that ultimately, everyone accepts why an organization such as Teach For Armenia must exist.
Success isn’t handed to a woman on a silver platter when starting a business. There are challenges that women face in the field that men often do not. These can range from large, obvious hurdles to small and everyday struggles.
“When men are talking, your voice might not be heard as much because it’s not as loud or deep. Even on a primitive level, there are ways in which women have to ensure that their voices and opinions are being heard. There’s a lot of subconscious discrimination that happens not only man to woman, but a woman to woman.”
Maintaining motivation despite a lack of support was another challenge to overcome. Many people will come to your support and will say what you’re doing is important, but not every one of them believes it will work.
“We are an anomaly. We were launched by a team of people who do not come from a lot of money or have deep pockets with which they can fund everything. We’re a grassroots movement.”
Larisa’s experiences in the US and Armenia taught her how an organization can tackle a number of social issues. Teach For Armenia does more than help children accomplish academic achievements. They motivate children to become critical thinkers, prep them to become public speakers, and help them make their own decisions regarding their future. In the end, it all comes down to one thing: who they are and what kind of values they have.
As for her personal mentors, Larisa explained that you cannot have one mentor for every aspect of your life. There are people you approach with bigger questions, and then there are the ones you go to purely for management.
“I did not have official mentors, but I did have people throughout my life who have subconsciously been my mentors.
“Anyone can be your mentor: people older than you, younger than you, people your age. People you listen to are your mentors. Being open to criticism and new perspectives are what make you become a better thinker and a problem solver. Being able to accept feedback, positive or negative, is a part of mentorship. As long as you’re of that mindset, mentorship can be the most prodigious experience that you can take throughout your entire life. A lot of the times, you simply need to listen to someone who’ll give you a little push. It’s up to you to find those people; you have to seek them out.
“When your mentor advises you, you should value that as a gift. Someone is there, sharing their knowledge, their advice and is giving you the gift of being able to think about something different. When someone is talking about their experiences, you start reflecting on your own.
“To overcome issues rationally, you can’t make every decision based on your emotions. In social entrepreneurship, what’s important to know is you must think about something logically while staying true to what you think needs to happen. This ensures a continuity of efficiency, especially when you’re the leader of the organization.”
Larisa’s advice? Sleep on it.
Written by: Annie Akkam