The executive director of the Development Foundation of Armenia, Armen Avakian, has explained to explains to fDi Magazine‘s Courtney Fingar how the country’s global diaspora could be the key to the next level of investment growth.
Q: As the new head of the Development Foundation of Armenia [the country’s national authority for investment, export and tourism promotion], you have said you want to create a ‘2.0’ version of the agency. What does that mean in practice?
A: I mean that the majority of the financial resources in the past were aimed towards more direct, exposed forums, promotion or marketing at that level, whereas now we are thinking not only FDI but FDI vs foreign projects investments [FPI]. For FDI we are promoting Armenia as a site, for FPI we are selling specific projects that are interesting. We moved this project work into our system. So the project team that creates and generates the actual investment projects is not just promoting Armenia but also specific business projects we are working on.
Q: What are the most interesting or exciting projects that you are seeking investment for right now?
A: My favourite would have to be the Noah ethnographic district. It’s a tourism project, a small district of about 15 hectares where we want to create a mixed commercial and residential area. It’s in the early planning stages, sitting right behind the largest mall in Armenia, which generates traffic. So there is this area where there are these mini-districts representing different regions of Armenia and places where the Armenian diaspora lives – such as Havlabar, Tblisi and so on – with the culture, food, entertainment and everything that goes around it. Not only does it create a lot of cash, which is good for businesses, but it is like a business card or a calling card for other regions.
Our average is about 3.4 nights per tourist visit. They spend about $750 to $800. We could boost that number to five or six nights. Hopefully they’ll go see Noah, get excited by the food and the culture and want to see the real thing. That might mean an extra night, an extra $250 of spending, for example.
Q: You have some plans to expand your representative network overseas. What role will this play?
A: Conceptually, the idea is we need to get awareness and we need to drive that awareness to purchase intent. Now purchase intent, in this case, could be whether you are an exporter or a buyer for a firm and we are looking to export to you, or you possibly provide funds or are an investor and you want to bring in investments.
How do we create awareness and drive purchases? The strategy looks a lot like a drop of water: you take a drop of water and you drop it into a larger pool of water and it creates ripples. So our strategy is to ripple it out. We have the core, the drop itself. The drop itself has to be the development foundation. That’s where we stand. We’re the locomotive, the engine that is going to drive that. The first layer off that ripple has to be the diaspora. And we are trying to get the diaspora more engaged.
So once we get that first layer of either diaspora Armenians or spouses, husbands, wives, somebody who has some sort of ethno-connection to Armenia, that would be our first ripple. Then from there they are going to talk to their friends, who will talk to their friends, and that network will start expanding and it will create an overall feeling. But the key here is to drive the correct contacts. So we have to continuously say that we are creators as people and we are a broker in the community for different stakeholders, and we are the only one on earth that can do so.
I think that’s going to be critical. Ultimately, [the representatives] are my soldiers. They are the people in the field talking to businesses, and they are the key difference.