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The “Increased Resilience of Syrian-Armenians and Host Population” (IRIS) Programme Comes to an End

The EU-funded “Increased Resilience of Syrian-Armenians and Host Population” (IRIS) programme was launched in 2018. It had three main objectives: a) to contribute to the National Integration Policy and guarantee a dignified life for Syrian Armenians in Armenia through full protection and integration, b) to improve the social and economic resilience of Syrian Armenians and host populations, and c) to strengthen institutional capacities for economic growth in Armenia.

On September 9 the final conference of the programme took place, in which its successful results were presented and discussed. EU Ambassador Andrea Wiktorin made a welcoming speech: “This is a good example how we can progress. I hope people that were supported by this programme can establish a free and safe life in Armenia and feel at home here”. 58 grants were announced for entrepreneurs as a result of 2nd round of applications of the EU IRIS Business Incubator, and the results of youth small grants were presented. IRIS had four main components: economic integration, housing support, information services, and social inclusion. Key results included: 270 families received housing assistance; a model for improving housing conditions was developed for low-and middle-income families; 100 Syrian-Armenians and locals were involved in paid internships; 200 elderly people received food and hygiene kits every quarter; the Armenian Red Cross established a psychological support centre.

The EU IRIS business incubator was established as an independent body, through which training, courses and consultations, as well as access to finance through loans and grants were provided for small and medium-sized businesses and entrepreneurs.

IRIS operated in a crisis context as a result of the global COVID-19 epidemic, which negatively affected economies around the world, including Armenia. To mitigate growing economic difficulties, many entrepreneurs got the opportunity to participate in two-month courses at the IRIS Academy, gaining knowledge and skills in business operations, finance, marketing, legal issues, and accounting. Following training they had the opportunity to present business project ideas to an expert panel and online.

Lilit Grigoryan, the director of “Lilik” socks enterprise, is one of the participants of the IRIS business incubator. After implementing the pilot program, she received positive feedback. However, she could not afford to buy the necessary equipment and set up her company. Participating in the IRIS business incubator helped her acquire the necessary knowledge. Through financial support, she managed to expand her production. “EU-supported IRIS business incubator helped me a lot, especially the academy stage. Due to the financial support, we managed to buy our equipment and raw materials, got on track, started working and received products. Today we get quality socks,” says Lilit Grigoryan.

Executive Director of the IRIS Business Incubator Narine Terzyan spoke of the project’s sustainable impact: “We will continue our activities after the IRIS programme ends, as Armenia needs the services we provide. During these two years, we have been able to find our unique place in the business ecosystem of Armenia.” Ambassador Wiktorin seconded these sentiments: “This business incubator is a wonderful model and should be repeated, because it is the best way to help people. There’s an old saying ‘Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,’ and I think this idea underpins the IRIS business incubator, its sustainability and continuity”.