The esprit de corps of hundreds of participants from across the globe was on full display as the AGBU 90th General Assembly weekend proceeded with a program of events from February 7 to 10, 2019. Over three momentous days and nights, the atmosphere was infused with optimism, perspective, gratitude, and pride, punctuated by the element of surprise for some of the unsuspecting individuals honored for their distinguished service and support.
“The sheer presence of so many luminaries in our midst—from public servants, thought leaders and community heroes to legendary philanthropists and dedicated volunteers—spoke volumes about how far we have advanced as a people and as an organization,” observed AGBU President Berge Setrakian. “Such an exuberant show of solidarity from all corners of the AGBU network affirms the special role Armenians can play as global citizens.”
From as far as Australia, Uruguay and Japan, Armenia and the Americas, AGBU faithful and friends joined their European counterparts to engage in stimulating interactions and panel discussions by day and social networking and cultural performances by night, culminating with the formal session of the 90th General Assembly, followed by a spectacular Gala finale.
As an added attraction, all had the opportunity to experience the magic that is forever Paris. Thanks to the efforts of AGBU France, each event was hosted in a unique Parisian landmark venue—from the iconic Eiffel Tower to the futuristic Station F. Other period venues included La Salle Wagram, Les Jardins de Saint Dominique, and the grand spaces of Le Pavillion Ledoyen.
This special section recaptures the many unforgettable moments of this highly anticipated biennial occasion in which the global AGBU family gathers under one roof—a vivid representation of the timeless wisdom of AGBU’s founders: “In unity is strength.”
AGBU Delegates’ Leadership Meeting
As a lead up to the official program of events, formal representatives from across the global AGBU network, including chairs of AGBU districts, chapters, schools, and young professionals, convened with AGBU Central Board members and staff for an exchange of ideas, presentations, best practices, and institutional next steps.
The morning session opened with introductory remarks by AGBU President Berge Setrakian, who laid out the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for Armenians and outlined AGBU’s unique role and responsibilities in managing a rapidly changing world. This was followed by presentations from Central Board members and executive staff. They spoke to issues of governance, outreach and development, and best-practice communications strategies, as well as new developments in AGBU programs, including AGBU Armenian Virtual College (AVC) ebooks, AGBU language and heritage apps, and the new AGBU Atlas, which connects users to a wealth of online resources on Armenian subjects.
Afternoon breakout sessions challenged teams to develop the next big idea in AGBU programs, with a lively pitch battle that revealed the out-of-the-box creative thinking within the ranks of the AGBU global network.
The all-day gathering sparked constructive dialogues and a spirit of collaboration through face-to-face interaction among peers, many meeting each other in person for the first time.
Welcome Reception at the Eiffel Tower
International delegates, members and friends kicked off the General Assembly weekend with an elegant evening at Salon Gustave Eiffel atop the iconic Eiffel Tower, which boasts spectacular nighttime views of the City of Lights. The lively interaction among friends and acquaintances, old and new, helped set the upbeat and congenial tone of the entire weekend.
Global Leadership Conference at Station F
Entrepreneurship, new technology innovation, leadership, and women’s empowerment were the themes of this all-day conference at Station F—the world’s largest space for incubator startups. AGBU representatives and attendees were exposed to the penetrating views and insightful perspectives of internationally renowned experts and distinguished panelists who explored the new paradigm shifts in science and technology that will have broad sweeping impact on the world. They also surveyed the current business environment in Armenia, and examined the unique virtues of women that are essential to national progress.
Introduced by Stéphane Petrossian of AGBU France, the main thesis of the morning session was the dawning of the Quantum Age. Keynote speaker Robert Vassoyan, Senior Executive Vice President of Atos S.E., asserted that governments, corporations, communities and organizations like AGBU must prepare for the coming wave of far-reaching change, both to seize opportunities presented by science and technology and to manage the challenges posed by counter forces in cyberspace. Vassoyan concluded his insightful presentation focusing on Armenia’s future and the tremendous opportunity for start-ups, young talent and women, characterizing Armenia as an “eState” and stressing the value of putting citizens at the center of this new way of looking at nationhood.
As moderator of the first panel discussion on entrepreneurism in the context of Armenia, Central Board member and President of AGBU Armenia Vasken Yacoubian posited that the entrepreneurial spirit is central to Armenia’s capacity to grow economically. Panelists included Tatul Ajamyan, Founder of Wakie and IT startups, Aline Kamakian, Entrepreneur and Founder of Mayrig restaurants, and Vahe Keushguerian, Entrepreneur and Co-Founder of Impact Hub Armenia. Each provided deep insight on the issues surrounding starting a business in Armenia and the importance of promoting cultural tolerance between Diaspora and Armenia, as well as integrating female entrepreneurs into the Startup economy.
The afternoon session expanded on the topic of women as AGBU Central Board member Arda Haratunian moderated a candid discussion among high profile female leaders in various fields: Astrid Panosyan, Entrepreneur and Politician (LREM); Emma Arakelyan, Author and NYU Professor; Valérie Toranian, Director of Revue des deux Mondes and former Editor-in-Chief of Elle Magazine in France; and Isabelle Capron, Vice President of Icicle Shanghai Fashion Group.
While the panelists had starkly different backgrounds and experiences early in their careers, their success stories shared common themes, including having a vision for their career, the will to pursue it, and the values to be a true leader. Two panelists pointed out that they didn’t highlight their “Armenian-ness” until much later in their careers, choosing rather to “blend in” from the time they were young. Now as established leaders, they recognized that the desire for justice as it relates to the Armenian story compelled them to advocate for what was right in their careers, as well as their communities. There were also contrasting views about whether the female predisposition to nurturing and caring creates stronger leaders because of or in spite of these qualities. Several panelists highlighted the value of having and being mentors, noting that women don’t ask for favors as readily as do their male counterparts.
The following panel, moderated by Stéphane Petrossian, focused on how AGBU is supporting female entrepreneurs in Armenia, many of them from the rural areas. Entrepreneur and Founder of Hyetech Europe Armen Verdian spoke about his experiences in developing the tech industry in the country, while Digital Transformation Lead at Brenntag Haik Khanamiryan highlighted AGBU Europe’s Goriz Leadership program, designed to help young leaders collectively represent the Armenian identity as global citizens.
AGBU-Armenia Executive Director Talar Kazanjian outlined the AGBU Women’s Empowerment initiative, which includes the Women’s Enterpreneurship (W.E.) program in support of enterprising women in Armenia looking to scale up or start a small business.
Picking up on the many threads of ideas and concepts that emerged throughout the conference, special guest President of Armenia Armen Sarkissian took to the podium to describe his vision of Armenia in light of the rapid succession of what he considers smaller “evolutions” that are cumulatively transforming the socio-economic landscape of Armenia in ways previously unimagined. He cautioned that, at the end of the day, these quantum leaps of technological wonders must be mastered to remain consistent with national morals and values.