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These advancements can transform the economy in Lori, turning it into a significant exporter of commodity and value-add goods to neighbouring regions

Author Nvard Chalikyan

Yes this is happening! Bringing technology-driven education to the rural regions of Armenia, revitalizing agriculture and economic development, connecting Armenia’s rural communities to centers of excellence around the world, providing them access to knowledge and skills never before possible. The objective of SMART is to empower people in the hundreds of rural villages across Armenia, paving the road to success for the younger generation of Armenians!

Children of Armenia Fund (COAF) founder Garo Armen – Diaspora-Armenian, CEO of Agenus, and philanthropist – and his team have launched the first COAF SMART CENTER in the Lori region of Armenia. Construction on the center has been completed, and it will be officially opening in May 2018, although pilot programs have already commenced.

“COAF SMART is the result of the successes of our extensive programs over 14 years of work across 44 villages of Armenia. If you visit rural communities in Armenia, each community has its unique characteristics, and all of them desperately need resources and improved infrastructure. Some have more natural resources than others, but from an everyday life perspective they suffer from the same absence of the key elements that would allow them to advance. So these highly capable people need our help,” said Garo Armen in an interview with Nvard Chalikyan from

COAF SMART is located right off M6, the major highway slated to be completed this year. It will be accessible to a population of approximately 150,000 people within a 30 minute driving distance, and a number of surrounding villages are much closer than that.
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One of SMART’s key objectives is to give the population, children and the youth in rural areas access to locally and globally relevant knowledge to help their communities in ways that make them contenders in the global economy. Thus one of the elements of SMART is to try to change the mentality of the local people and to provide a quantum jump in the way they think, enabling them to dream high, think big, and realize their full potential.

“We Armenians have had major obstacles for advancement because of the unfortunate experiences of the past one hundred years. But given the right resources we have the potential to create a paradise for ourselves and our neighbours; our people are highly creative and capable, that’s why we made a strategic decision about two years ago to create the COAF SMART concept in a way that would ‘wow’ people”, - said Dr. Armen. He elaborated further on the programs that would reinvigorate economic and agricultural activity in the Lori region through access to novel technologies and state-of-the-art knowledge.

“In Lori marz agriculture is primarily driven by animal husbandry. We don’t have large-scale fruit & vegetable there because the climate and topography are not friendly for that. So the idea is to bring to Lori the most innovative practices of farming, to be able to practice large scale farming on smaller pieces of land through vertical farming and improvements in productivity, as well as establishing a cold chain closer to local farmers for shelf life and quality preservation. These are the things that transformed the agricultural economy of Holland, and now the country is the world’s second largest exporter of agricultural products, even though its land is only slightly larger than Armenia’s.”

“These advancements can transform the economy in Lori, turning it into a significant exporter of commodity and value-add goods to neighbouring regions. Armenia has the potential to become a major player in the region,” said Dr. Armen. As for timing, the first phase of this beta experiment will start in late 2018.

Another important element to be promoted at the COAF SMART is the development of renewable energy, especially solar power generation and storage, together with workshops and programs that teach young people the principles and practices of this exciting new area of science and technology. The center will bring research and development to Armenia and at the same time promote innovation in many subjects such as the Block Chain Technology.  
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The third element to be fostered by Smart is creative design. “Design and visual communication is very important in conveying our concepts to the world. We will have a creative design facility where we will bring in thought leaders and the brightest minds in the world to teach the fundamentals of design. I was inspired by my friend Tony Shafrazi, one of the greatest creative minds the world has seen, to prioritize this critically important discipline. The concept of education in the new world is changing. We are moving away from traditional methods, which is necessary but not enough, to progressively innovative the way young minds are taught the key skills needed to thrive in their adulthood. So SMART will augment and add to traditional education system in Armenia by providing this innovative element.”  
Other programmatic areas of SMART are information technology, robotics driven technologies to drive productivity, software and hardware engineering, arts and music, linguistics and communication, environmental practices, healthcare and business education. The plan is to build more COAF SMART centers across Armenia with the goal of reaching all of Armenia’s 900 villages within 10 years. The SMART concept strives to transform the quality of life in rural Armenia and to advance Armenia’s economy.
Garo Armen
Garo Armen, PhD, is the CEO of the pioneering Immuno-Oncology company Agenus. He is the recipient of the Sabin Humanitarian Award as an extraordinary individual in the field of biotechnology. His company’s innovative treatments are in clinical development advancing cures for cancer patients. In his words, immunotherapy has proven to be much more effective at treating cancer than any traditional therapy so far, and will soon revolutionize the healthcare industry. One of the issues with immunotherapy-related drugs are their higher cost than traditional therapies, given their customized nature.

Dr. Armen is planning on bringing these innovative medicines to Armenia in the form of clinical trials, which will provide patients free access to Agenus’ revolutionary medicines. He is collaborating with the Health Ministry and Center of Immunotherapy in Armenia, which functions within the Institute of Haematology in Yerevan. He says that they are doing a great job in advancing immunotherapy in Armenia, positively impacting patient lives in the country.


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