The first-ever Gituzh Conference brought together Armenia’s leading academics, policy makers, thought leaders, techies and scientific minds. The conference aimed to promote scientific innovation as a national priority, with the goal of strengthening Armenia’s economic potential, defense capacity and overall global competitiveness.
The theme of this year’s conference, “Armenia’s National Research and Innovation System: Transforming Challenges Into Revival,” properly contextualized the focus that this national dialogue has taken in the last two years since the initiative’s inception.
Gituzh, which emerged in 2021 after the devastating 2020 Artsakh War, is the result of collaboration among Armenia’s leading business, innovation and tech experts. The mission of Gituzh is to effectively harness Armenia’s much lauded and only abundant resource –– humans –– to ensure that Armenia would never be caught off guard again. The initiative has gained support from over 180 company founders, entrepreneurs, and 21 associations and foundations from the technological, business, and other communities. They express concern about the lack of prioritization of scientific research and R&D as a key tool for addressing state and national challenges. There has been insufficient funding and support for the country’s researchers, which undermines the perception of the importance of science at a national level.
In 2022, the initiative achieved its first major advocacy success by persuading the Armenian parliament to substantially increase funding allocation for research institutions. The key factor was emphasizing the direct correlation between funding for basic sciences and the integration of modern technologies and solutions into the Armenian economy and other areas of the state apparatus. Establishing this connection is vital for ensuring a prosperous future for Armenia.
You Have to Start Somewhere
The conference’s first panel discussion this year, centered around the question “Where to start,” was exceptionally on target. The discussion featured Zhanna Andreasyan, the Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sports, Robert Khachatryan, High-Technology Industry Minister, and Hakob Arshakyan, the speaker of the National Assembly.
Andreasyan highlighted the priorities of the science sector and the registered increase in funding for scientific programs. According to the minister, there has been a 2.5-fold increase in funding from 2018 to the present, totaling more than 30 billion AMD ($75 million). This increase in funding has led to noticeable changes compared to the past 30 years, with over 70% of grant programs now being allocated to young scientists under the age of 35. This is a significant shift considering that the average scientist salary in 2018 was only 100,000 AMD ($250) per month.
Furthermore, Andreasyan noted that significant investments were made in procuring scientific equipment worth approximately $2.9 billion in the past year alone. According to her, this investment demonstrates the government’s commitment to providing researchers with necessary resources for their work.
In addition to providing funding, the government aims to create an environment conducive to scientific progress. Hakob Arshakyan revealed plans to establish an Artificial Intelligence supercomputer center in Armenia by 2024. Arshakyan also announced the creation of a consultative body consisting of 28 individuals, chaired by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. This body will include scientists, government representatives, and aims to facilitate communication and decision-making between government agencies, the scientific community and policymakers. Its purpose is also to define state priorities in the fields of science and technology.
Laying the Foundations of a Durable Innovation Ecosystem
Addressing systemic issues in the state’s science development policy, Aram Pakhchanyan, an active member of Gituzh, emphasized the importance of intellectual freedom for scientists to thrive. He emphasized that scientists should have the freedom to pursue their research without undue interference from the state or pressure from the private sector. However, Pakhchanyan acknowledged that while the state should not dictate the direction of scientific inquiry, it should establish a framework and expectations for the role of science in contributing to Armenia’s economic growth, security and society as a whole.
Other speakers, such as academic Dr. Arsen Arakelyan from the Institute of Molecular Biology, discussed the fundamental question of reinventing the country’s top-down innovation paradigm and replacing it with a much healthier research-based learning environment.
The conference highlighted the need for Armenia’s science and innovation sector building upon its strong foundations and addressing key challenges. The discussions emphasized the need to define national science and technology priorities, ensure sustained funding for research and equipment, and create a conducive environment for scientific discovery. Additionally, fostering collaboration between the scientific community and policymakers emerged as a crucial step towards harnessing the full potential of Armenia’s scientific ecosystem.
Innovation Is Security
With this year’s theme heavily emphasizing the direct relationship between state-supported technological innovation and a country’s long-term stability, nowhere had this been more evident than in Armenia’s emerging military-industrial complex. As stewards of a self-proclaimed “Silicon Mountain,” Armenia’s policymakers, gradually and then more forcefully after November 2020, understood that scientific innovation, economic growth, and military security are not separate branches, but three pillars of the same foundation.
This relationship was solidified during the conference’s last panel, which specifically discussed avenues for collaboration between the country’s tech ecosystem, government, and military-industrial complex. The presence of several Gituzh members, including Aram Jivanyan, Avetik Kerobyan, and Artur Alaverdyan, sharing the stage with Artyom Mehrabyan, Head of the Ministry of High Tech’s Military-Industrial Committee, exemplified this collaboration. According to them, Armenia can learn from the unique relationship established between Ukraine’s military-industrial complex and its domestic tech sector during the ongoing Russian invasion. This relationship was formed based on their observations of Armenia’s experience with modern warfare in 2020.
Learning at a Fast Pace
Armenia’s research and innovation sector is poised for growth and advancement. The recent Gituzh Conference and government support are encouraging, but it is essential to translate commitments into tangible actions. Much like the lessons learned last year, the key to success in the holy trinity of science, economic innovation and military security lies in investing in researchers, educators and entrepreneurs. This investment is vital for the sector’s growth, and the revitalization of a supportive ecosystem is necessary to sustain this growth.
Armenia’s location, strategic focus on technology, and skilled workforce position it as an exciting destination for innovation. By fostering partnerships, building infrastructure, and investing in the right people and resources, Armenia has the potential to become a leading global player in science and technology. This would drive economic growth and enhance social progress.
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