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Connecting Armenia’s Regions with Technology to Ensure Greater Opportunities for Young People

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Photo: Arevik Badalyan/World Bank

Just over two months ago, an economist, an IT specialist, a historian and a linguist teamed up at the Vanadzor Technology Center to establish a startup for developing mobile applications. Their first creation, “Digital Menu”, is an app that will help customers in restaurants and cafes to choose dishes and pay online, and it has already started attracting potential clients.

Irina Ghazazyan, a former historian, is the team lead and the driving force behind the startup. She describes how her life has taken a whole new direction since the opening of the Vanadzor Technology Center in late 2016. “We learned programming, set up our own venture, and found space for work and business opportunities,” says Irina.

Vanadzor is the third largest city in northern Armenia and the capital of Lori province. Like other urban areas beyond the country’s capital Yerevan, the city has suffered from industrial decline. Today, its landscape blighted by a huge Soviet-era chemical plant, Vanadzor experiences especially high rates of poverty and long-term youth unemployment.

Patvakan Hakhinyan left Yerevan for Vanadzor some years ago and is today the Business Development Manager for Vanadzor Technology Center. He proudly shows visitors the Center’s labs, shares success stories, and outlines the opportunities that the Center provides to the young generation in Lori region.

“It was obvious that the Center would become an educational hub that offered consultations and workshops, and would house startups and businesses,” says Patvakan. “We are changing the profile of Vanadzor by filling the gap in the quality of IT education and providing new prospects in the city and the region.”

So far, eight companies have opened their offices at the Center, their work ranging from IT to architecture.

“Our training courses are identifying more and more young talent, although the companies that want to open in Vanadzor are also looking for professionals with experience. We need time and patience, but we are on the right track,” says Patvakan.

Hi-Tech Gateway is one of the pioneer companies at the Center. A branch of the American company, ConnectTo, it focuses on research and creating new technologies for the market. Svetlana Jaghatspanian, the company’s team leader, says that the possibilities and services provided by the Center can really help their business to grow. They have hired 30 people so far, while another 8 will be employed soon.

“The Center is unique for Vanadzor, as it is where young people can put their dreams into action,” Svetlana says.

Each month, around 40 people participate in training sessions at the Vanadzor Technology Center. In addition to the trainers based there, professional trainers travel to Vanadzor from Yerevan – they discuss market requirements with participants and outline the knowledge and skills required for employability. The young students are so focused and attentive, they even turn off their phones for a while!

Omni Code, another growing company, provides web services and hosts workshops and training courses. “After our classes, four people got jobs, and seven more will join us in the next round,” says Yuri Virabyan, co-founder of Omni Code.

The Vanadzor Technology Center is open to anyone who is creative and wants to grow professionally – people like Babken Mkhitaryan and Arman Vardanyan, each of whom has a space and a computer at the Center. “We are working on an app that will connect taxi services to their customers,” says Babken. “This will be a more competitive, multifunctional and comprehensive app than the ones currently available on the market.”

The Center is a safe, supportive and fun environment where young people can come together as a community to learn and explore opportunities for future employment. Starting from the age of 10, children can learn the basics of programming. Almost 3,000 students from the region have so far attended these classes.

Vahe Aloyan is a 16-year-old high school student and he also works for the company X-Tech. A true polyglot, he knows eight programming languages. At the age of 14, Vahe designed his first game and won a contest organized by the Vanadzor Technology Center. His second game won an award for best design.

“My desire is to work for a company that produces only games,” Vahe says. “But my biggest dream is to see the gaming industry in Armenia fully developed and supporting the economy.”

In Shirak region, the Gyumri Technology Center (GTC), established four years ago with support from the World Bank’s E-Society and Innovation for Competitiveness project, has been very successful. Currently, the GTC houses 28 companies with over 200 employees and up to 2,000 students, and has business connections with over 10 countries. It is not a local phenomenon, but a regional IT hub.

The Vanadzor Technology Center could follow the same path to success.

Both Technology Centers demonstrate the empowerment of regional development beyond the capital city, and wide-ranging decentralization of the IT industry to the provinces. The right mix of skills and talent is being created locally and nationally, through investments that are economically and socially rewarding.

Source: World Bank

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Development

Report Underlines Reforms to Support Fiscal Federalism, Green Growth in Nepal

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Nepal has made significant strides in implementing fiscal federalism while key reforms are needed to support fiscal sustainability and Nepal’s transition towards green, resilient, and inclusive development states the World Bank’s Public Expenditure Review (PER) Report on Fiscal Policy for Sustainable Development launched today.

With the country’s transition to federalism, expenditure responsibilities have been devolved to subnational governments that are predominantly financed through intergovernmental transfers and revenue sharing. These now account for between 8 and 9 percent of GDP per year (or close to 30 percent of the annual budget). While federalism is helping bring policymaking closer to the people, it has also increased fiscal spending and (exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic) led to a sharp rise in fiscal deficits and public debt, states the report.

“This report provides an analytical basis to inform our reform efforts to strengthen federalism and create fiscal space to support our new focus on a green, resilient, and inclusive development (GRID) model,” statedMr. Madhu Kumar Marasini, Finance Secretary. “This complements our ongoing efforts to refine the fiscal transfer system put in place the systems for monitoring and reporting for a more results oriented and accountable delivery of local services.”

The PER identifies key reforms to help Nepal strengthen fiscal sustainability and initiate a shift to a GRID pathway. It identifies the following five top priority reforms: (i) Encouraging the update of subnational spending responsibilities through the intergovernmental grants system; (ii) supporting exports and job creation through reforms to import duties; (iii) strengthening domestic revenue, for example by reviewing VAT exemptions; (iv) enhancing public capital spending by rolling out the National Project Bank; and (v) providing fiscal incentives for a green growth transition.

“The World Bank will continue to support government reforms to improve fiscal sustainability and the implementation of fiscal federalism, drawing on the recommendations of the PER Report,” said Faris Hadad-Zervos, World Bank Country Director for Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. “This report complements our human development PER, both of which will help inform the design of World Bank support to Nepal, including through our ongoing support through our various Development Policy Credits.”

The report also stresses the importance of strengthening investment processes and fiscal policies for green growth, and fiscal policy reforms to enable Nepal to use its green electricity surplus to mitigate air pollution to protect the health of people and the economy.

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Development

Philippines: Boosting Private Sector Growth Can Strengthen Recovery, Create More Jobs

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Rebounding from a deep contraction in 2020, the Philippine economy is forecast to grow 5.3 percent this year before accelerating to an average of 5.8 percent in 2022-23 on the road to recovery, according to the Philippines Economic Update (PEU) titled Regaining Lost Ground, Revitalizing the Filipino Workforce, released today by the World Bank.

Government spending on infrastructure is expected to buoy growth, aided by the steady progress in vaccination leading to greater people mobility and the revival of businesses. Barring a new uptick in COVID-19 cases, household consumption is projected to recover, anchored on rising remittances and improving incomes as more people regain or find new jobs.

“The new variant has added a layer of uncertainty but economic reopening, along with progress in vaccination, is clearly strengthening domestic dynamism and market confidence,” said Ndiame Diop, World Bank Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand. “As the recovery gains traction, it will be important to enhance private sector participation in the recovery by deepening current efforts to make the country’s business environment favorable to job creation while upskilling the workers so that they can benefit from new or emerging job opportunities.”

Reforms that open more sectors to foreign investments, streamline administrative procedures to facilitate market entry and encourage firms to adopt new technology are measures that can boost private sector growth, create more jobs, and strengthen recovery, Diop added.

The nearly two-year long pandemic, however, has forced the closures of many firms, leading to losses of jobs and incomes, alongside health insecurities and disruptions in children’s education.

The Philippines underwent two surges of COVID-19 infections this year, first in March-April and in August-September due to the more infectious Delta variant. In both instances, the authorities reinstated strict mobility restrictions in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, and key metropolitan areas.

Nonetheless, the recent surge and mobility restrictions have not severely hampered economic activity. As a result, the economy expanded by 4.9 percent in the first three quarters of 2021, rebounding from a 10.1 percent contraction over the same period in 2020.

In 2022, the phased economic reopening is expected to benefit the services sector especially transportation, domestic tourism, and wholesale and retail trade. Sustained public investment will continue to support construction activities.

The PEU flags that despite encouraging trends, the COVID-19 pandemic remains a major risk to the country’s growth prospects.

The report notes that even in countries with high vaccination rates, infections have continued to spread, albeit with greatly reduced severity of illness, hospitalization, and mortality. Variants of concern, breakthrough cases, and waning vaccine efficacy have highlighted the complexity of economic reopening.

“Speeding up vaccination especially in areas outside the National Capital Region and sustaining the observance of health protocols including masking and maintaining social distancing are measures that remain important as the country navigates the challenges of reviving the economy,” said Kevin Chua, Senior World Bank Economist.

Social protection measures, Chua added, including the country’s cash transfer programs remain important measures to mitigate the adverse impact of the pandemic on livelihoods, health, and education, especially among poor families.

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Africa Today

United States COVID-19 vaccine delivery to Mozambique

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In an effective effort to make tremendous and recognizable contributions to help fight the spread of coronavirus, the United States Embassy in Mozambique has announced the arrival of more than two million doses of the Johnson & Johnson coordinated through COVAX in Maputo, Mozambique.

This is the United States’ fourth and largest bi-lateral COVID-19 vaccine delivery to Mozambique, bringing the total number of U.S.-donated vaccines to nearly 3.5 million, and maintaining the United States as Mozambique’s largest bi-lateral vaccine donor.

“The United States remains committed to sharing vaccines equitably, around the world,” U.S. Ambassador to Mozambique Dennis W. Hearne said. “No one is protected from COVID-19 until everyone is vaccinated. As more vaccines become available to all nations around the world, we have a shared interest in getting everyone who is eligible vaccinated.”

The U.S. Government has provided early and ongoing support for the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Mozambique, including assistance valued at $62.5 million. This assistance includes the recent donation of 60 oxygen cylinders and a PSA oxygen plant, 50 ventilators, personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, laboratory and oxygen equipment, training, and funding for increased medical staff, among other initiatives.

In close collaboration with the Government of the Republic of Mozambique, the U.S. Government provides more than $500 million in annual assistance to improve the quality of education and healthcare, promote economic prosperity, and support the overall development of the nation.

The Mozambican government’s target is to vaccinate about 16.8 million people. Excluded from the vaccination are pregnant women and children under 15 years of age. According to the latest figures from the Health Ministry, the number of people fully vaccinated against the disease now stands at 3,324,849, and 6,158,360 have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Mozambique shares borders with South Africa where a new COVID variant (B.1.1.529), renamed Omicron, is currently spreading. Travellers from the region are monitored. The United States, Europe and Asian States have restricted flights from southern African region, and that include Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

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