Fostering Collaboration and Growth: Insights from Audrey Selian on the Social Impact Ecosystem in Armenia

Meet Audrey Selian, a founder and Board Member of Impact Hub Yerevan and an advisory board member of VIA Fund. An amazing individual with a wealth of experience and insight, Audrey shared her two cents about the social impact ecosystem in Armenia. 

With her extensive background in impact investment and involvement in various initiatives, Selian provides valuable perspectives on the challenges and opportunities faced by social enterprises in the region. Read on to get a glimpse of some of her key takeaways for investors, social enterprises, and other stakeholders interested in creating a thriving social impact ecosystem in Armenia.

Audrey Selian’s Journey

Selian is no stranger to the world of impact investment. She joined a dedicated advisory to a family office called Rianta Capital in 2006, where she began to form a program called Artha Impact, an initiative whose mandate is to deploy capital directly into social enterprises in India.

Through this experience of portfolio-building, she was first introduced to the global Impact Hub network and was invited to join an advisory committee, in addition to being asked to join the Board of Impact Hub Geneva. This is what actually led her to the idea of starting Impact Hub Yerevan in Armenia. Recognizing the lack of dedicated incubators, programs, and spaces focused on supporting Armenian social entrepreneurs, Selian seized the opportunity to establish a platform for fostering entrepreneurship and social impact in Armenia.

Insights from VIA Fund and Advice for Enterprises

Selian participated actively in the investment decision-making process for VIA Fund’s first batch of investments. She was particularly struck by the modest funding requirements of Armenian enterprises compared to those in India.

“In Armenia, they are still taking a more careful, iterative approach to how they look at money. What I’m learning is that I see we now have small pots of grants and debt to invest in these businesses. Ideally, in the future, a community of mission-driven investors will look more at equity investments,” she said.

She also stressed the importance of enterprises properly articulating their impact metrics and financial viability when approaching investors. Her advice to social enterprises seeking investment is to go beyond their own product, service, or technology and emphasize their operating context. What are the conditions they are working in? 

“Because the Armenian ecosystem is unique in its own way. The market is very small but can be also strategically positioned in its region.  By virtue of its own constraints, those operating in the market have to think deeply about scale and how it may be attained with any product or service,” she said. 

According to Audrey, it’s important to be able to present a coherent logical framework that combines impact metrics with financial analysis. She also encourages enterprises to explore collaborations with local financial institutions and foster public-private partnerships to expand financing options.

Unveiling Armenia’s Untapped Potential

According to Selian, Armenia is filled with untapped potential within the social impact ecosystem. She shared an interesting story from years ago when she participated as a member of the jury in the Social Good Summit in Geneva led by the UNDP as part of the Accelerate 2030 program. During the event, companies from all over the world sent in their applications, yet around 5 Armenian applicants were among the top 30 in the final round.

“I remember the jury speaking amongst themselves and saying, ‘Wow, where is Armenia?’ It was a sense of great validation,” Audrey said. One of the winners of that process was Suren from Dasaran.

To her mind, this event showcased Armenia’s talent and highlighted the need for more dedicated vehicles, like VIA Fund, to support the local ecosystem. Selian emphasized the importance of strengthening donor and investor networks in Armenia, particularly in the under-US $50K seed funding range.

The Impact of Key Events

Selian recalls two key events that marked turning points in Armenia’s broader development narrative. The first was the Impact Investment for Development Summit in 2017, held in Yerevan and organized by the team at UNDP Armenia. 

“It was this incredibly hands-on conference that I think put Armenia on the map of the global Impact Finance narrative,” said Audrey.

The second was a high-level, closed-door round table at the annual SOCAP conference in San Francisco later that year. The leaders of mission investing acknowledged the remarkable progress happening in Armenia on the back of UNDP efforts to organize the above-mentioned IIDO Summit. These events raised awareness and have helped to position Armenia as a player in the impact investment space; this has laid the groundwork for the beginnings of investor attention on investment opportunities in the country.

Effective Communication with Investors and the Role of Partnerships

During our conversation, Selian pointed out the importance of product-market fit and authenticity in pitches to investors. She suggested that entrepreneurs should first try testing projected financials with peers and advisors before presenting them to potential investors. Striking a balance between vision and realistic projections is also crucial. Selian acknowledges the limited pool of capital in Armenia and encourages collaboration among investors and philanthropists to maximize impact.

“We don’t have a super mature ecosystem of financing other than philanthropy. We have a couple of funds and a great angel investment community, but other than that there are not a lot of obvious places to go,” she said. “I think that the opportunity is to get to know the local financial institutions, the banks, and the other Armenian players and really get them to work together more consistently. Having met a few of them over the last year at various gatherings, my impression is that there is more than meets the eye. ”

It is also an important signal for social enterprises in Armenia to transition from grants to equity investments in order for them to grow and convey that sustainability and profitability are possible. Selian notices a need for more visibility and communication among players in the ecosystem, and a lack of ‘connective tissue’ which may be solved by utilizing platforms like the one she has been building with her Artha Networks team over the last few years.  Through the application of tools like this that support the capture and standardization of profiles and due diligence, the mechanics of technical assistance and capacity support from investors, accelerators, and programs of all kinds can be visible and leveraged. Only better collaboration is going to help us tackle major social problems effectively. Everything else happens in silos and risks being piecemeal. 

Audrey Selian’s experience as a Board Member of Impact Hub Yerevan and an advisory board member of VIA Fund and other programs in Armenia like ArmTech Impact Ventures lends to her abilities as an authoritative voice in the social impact ecosystem in Armenia. Her optimism, combined with her practical advice, highlights the opportunities and challenges faced by social enterprises in the region.

With the right leadership in place, and with humility, strong skill sets, a culture of transparency,  and collaborative mindsets capable of embracing the concept of equity investment, Selian believes Armenia can create a thriving social impact ecosystem that addresses significant social challenges and drives sustainable development.