Reshaping the Technology Industry in Armenia with Armen Orujyan, PhD

July 1, 2020

Armen Orujyan, PhD, is the Founding CEO of the Foundation for Armenian Science and Technology (FAST). FAST is a nonprofit organization that enhances Intellectual, Financial, and Network capacities of the science and technology ecosystem in Armenia and beyond. Focused on assisting in creating an ecosystem that drives scientific advancement and technological innovation, under Armen’s leadership FAST has launched Startup Acceleration Programs inclusive of Startup incubators and accelerators focused on Artificial Intelligence (AI), Biotechnology, and Robotics, an Advanced Solutions Center on AI and Machine Learning, a Creative Campus, a Fellowship for the top 10% of all PhDs in Armenia in STEM, deployed numerous scientific grants, and established the first Science and Technology Angels Network in Armenia.

Armen is also the founder and former Chairman of Athgo Corporation, one of the world’s leading entrepreneurship platforms in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, UN Department of Public Information, and the World Intellectual Property Organization. Athgo has advanced innovation ecosystems in Europe and Africa and established recurring Global Innovation Forums at the UN and the World Bank headquarters. Armen’s pioneering initiatives have provided financial, intellectual, and network capacities to nearly 10,000 young innovators, entrepreneurs, and students from over 600 universities in 80 countries.

John Shegerian: Welcome to another edition of the Impact! podcast. I am John Shegerian and it is an honor and privilege to have my great friend with us today, Dr. Armen Orujyan. Welcome to Impact!, Armen.

Dr. Armen Orujyan: Thank you John. Thanks for having me on your show. This is a great privilege to be having this conversation with you through eleven time zones away. It’s coming evening time for me, morning time for you. Thanks for having me again, and I am hopeful that we can keep this entertaining for your audience.

John: Yes, I am sure we’ll be because you are just a fascinating human being and for my audience members out there, Armen is not only a long time friend that I have worked with for many, many, many years. But this is our first show that we are doing from California and Armenia. Armen happens to be in Yerevan Armenia. And we’re so excited to have him coming to us from Armenia and making time on during one of his evenings over there. Armen, before we get talking about the current state of affairs in Armenia and what it is going on and how you created the Fast Foundation. I want to go back. You and I met years ago, when you were the founder and chairman of the Ethical Corporation. Talk a little bit about your entire journey, where you grew up, how you came to do so much good, do so much make so much impact in all the communities you served in your lifetime. And I have known you a long time and then we will get to the, of course the Fast Foundation. Share your journey a little bit, please.

Armen: John. I am just really, really truly so humbled by your presentation of what I have done and what we are doing now. I was born in Armenia and I spent first fifteen years of my life here in Armenia until my parents decided to migrate to the United States in late 1989. So it’s some over thirty years ago. Back then Armenia was still part of the Soviet Republics. And I came to the United States, having brought up in a very different type of regime under going to communist party school. So everything about education, about discipline and then coming to United States, going to Los Angeles, going to Hollywood High School, which was very, very different type of an experience to say the least. But look what the opportunities that were presented in the United States where far from having here. And Soviet Armenia at that time, it was you were on a conveyor belt if they decided you’re going to be X, you were going to be that individual no matter what you decide for yourself. But then coming to United States and having all these opportunities, I had to work for a living because we didn’t have money when we landed in the United States. Three hundred and sixty dollars for four people. So that wasn’t a lot of money. We started working. My first job was at Sears. Garnish, watering plants. Still love plants and will speak about this at some later point. Yes, so I was watering plants that was incredible. And then my first entrepreneurial engagement was at the age of seventeen. But just to fast forward, High school then College didn’t work out the first time around. I was making money so I thought it’s like “Who needs school?”, but then went back the age of twenty three because there was some kind of an emptiness in you. You feel at some point that it is missing. So once you went back to college and went all the way to get my PhD. So I started that but you mentioned that. But I started at 1999 I was still in college then. It was an interesting journey with Afco. We started as almost a platform for young people for them that have had challenges, the same challenges that I had when I landed in United States. For us to help them to overcome those whether its financial, whether its network, whether its intellectual Capital, so we had training courses on how to become an entrepreneur. But also major innovation forums where you attended one at the UN headquarters and back in mid-2000 on environment, I recall that was a phenomenal event and it was great knowing you, getting to know you then, but you saw firsthand what we were doing with the young people. Hundreds of them every Innovation Forum at the UN headquarters was four hundred plus people from over a hundred countries.

John: Right.

Armen: And we did that very quickly, getting to that space. Within twenty four months or so we went from a local engagement here in LA to a global entrepreneurial platform. But one thing led to another. We had many different types of programs in Europe, in Africa throughout the United States, but then in some three years ago or four years ago I had one of our fellow Armenians, very prominent and phenomenal, Ruben Vardanyan who launched Aurora Humanitarian Initiative to celebrate incredible people around the world that sacrifice their likes, their everything that they have for things they stand for and they give them a million point one. I think they give them about one hundred thousand dollars in cash plus million dollars to give to other organizations that they find worthy in any scenario. So Ruben reached out to me in 2016, wanted to meet up and talk about some of the things that they are thinking to do in Armenia, including science and technology. So that was interesting. We met up in late 2016. And he invited me over to come to Armenia and I came back here in 2017. It was my first time in a decade. I have not been in the country for a long time and the rest is history. Now, I am here for the past nearly three years.

John: Before we get talking and for our listeners who just tuned in. We have got my good friend on with us today Armen Orujyan–Dr. Armen Orujyan. He is the founding CEO of the Fast Foundation, which is doing just incredible work in Armenia and around the world. And to find him there, you could go to www.fast.foundation, www.fast.foundation. Before we get talking about what your initiatives are at fast and who else is behind it? Can you go back to the issue of entrepreneurship? Because you are such a proponent and you have made such a huge impact on so many young people’s lives. If I am not mistaken, your network that you created with a Afco, basically touched at least six hundred universities through eighty countries. And over ten thousand young people got incubated and impacted through Afco Corporation. What do you see going on right now, since you are literally one of the leading people when with regards to entrepreneurial innovation and incubation. What’s going on right now in the world with entrepreneurship? Is it on the rise? Is it on the fall? Where do you see it right now?

Armen: Well, you know given all the current affairs, right? The realities such, the United States, we have over twenty five million people that lost their jobs the last six weeks and it’s incredible since the recession in 2008. In that decade from 2010 to 2020, we had gained approximately sixteen million jobs. In a decade, we had gotten sixteen million jobs and in four weeks, we lost twenty one million jobs. I mean imagine that, right? I mean it is a shock to the system. And it is not only in the United States. I view what’s happening in the United States and in Europe in the western world as a massive earthquake and then but earthquake not inland earthquake in the middle of an ocean or so. And every earthquake then if it happens in the ocean, it leads to a major tsunami. And I think that’s what’s going to happen. I think there is going to be major tsunami that we do not feel just yet, right? Because losing twenty five million people who do not work, that means they are not going to consume the same ways. So they are going to have to change their habits. And in the second quarter I think the numbers of major companies will demonstrate the contraction that happens in the economy, which means it is going to lead to Tsunami. And I think the first hit is that it’s going to be probably a place like China. And the reason why because China makes all the products or consumption–makes the consumption possible through its workforce. So if it’s the first tsunami is going to come from Europe and United States to a place like China and then I’m curious how far or how deep it is going to travel and how the rest of the world is going to be impacted. And the reason I came to this when you asked me about entrepreneurship, there is two types, there is a lot but there is two major types. There is one opportunity and then necessity entrepreneurship. Those opportunities generally more successful and necessity something that you’ll have to do because you have no other ways or no other means and there is going to be a lot of people that are going to either find opportunities, new opportunities in this new world. Or they are going to have no other choice but to turn to entrepreneurship because there are no jobs. So it gives a lot of very interesting new opportunities to people not only in the United States, but in around the world. And the difference between I want to say now in to 2020 versus 2008, the types of tools that are available, types of information that is available, are far more sophisticated and far more conducive to producing entrepreneurs and better entrepreneurs than it would have been possible in 2008. The online platforms–I mean look what happened right, John? And I think you probably felt it yourself. My entire team not only mine naturally, I mean places like Google’s, Facebook’s and Twitter’s, but also my team, we send them home. We say, “Go home and work from home.” And then you quickly learn these people are far more productive when they are working from home than they were in the office space. But not up until that moment we would value that. We would say, it is like “What is?” If you go home, you are not going to work. It is not going to be the same” but we have been massively wrong.

I think the whole world was which means many of these people can find new opportunities and they don’t have to be in specific places. They could be just sitting at home. This is the garage that Google was created. This is the room that Facebook was created. It’s in every person’s bedroom now. And there is so much information on how to become an entrepreneur. So I want to say it is a long-winded answer to your question. I think entrepreneurship is going to be at a rise.

John: That’s correct.

Armen: There is going to be so much more opportunities. And I think there is going to be a lot more funding, that always going to be directed towards entrepreneurs. Instead of saving big corporations and you see it now. I think the mistakes people made or the government’s made in 2008. Some of them are being repeated naturally. It’s normal but there are also many different ways. You see how they are saving small businesses by giving this no interest loans and then if you save your employees, then you don’t have to repay those loans. That was not available in 2008 or the fact that they are giving families, up to one thousand dollars. That was not available in 2008. It was all about saving banks and this and that. But now they are saving small businesses and they are saving people. Right now, you can take that one thousand dollars and do something with it. Start a new company or so.

John: That is so interesting and you are right. I really believe you are so right. Working from home is going to be a trend that is here to stay. And as you said in the last twelve years technology has really democratized the opportunity to become part of the technological revolution. I think you are so spot-on. Let us talk a little bit about the important work. For our listeners out there I was so honored to go to you on last fall in October and see Armand’s great work up front with the Fast Foundation. Go to numerous events, meet so many of his supporters and board members and other great people that he has surrounded himself with. Armenia, it’s just who is who. And it was literally, I am still enjoying the halo effect of being with you and seeing the world that you work in over there. For our listeners out there, please share little bit about now. Ruben got behind, you who else got behind you to create this amazing organization. And what are your current goals for Fast?

Armen: Yes, I want to say, well first I got behind Ruben. Ruben had the idea of doing something of this nature in Armenia and then he is the one who came to LA talk to me and then I said this is a great, great, great thing to do in Armenia and I’ll come and join you. I will structure this for the team that we put together. It is Ruben, we have Arturo and a few other people, but another very interesting person that I would want to mention is the other co-founder is Noubar Afeyan from Boston and many people either know him or known one of his companies that is founded Moderna Therapeutics. Moderna is a phenomenal entity to forefront of what’s happening with Coronavirus and Covid-19 working on creation of a vaccine. Moderna got a unique technology. It is one of the leading biotech companies that is working on experimental vaccine against the virus. And its technologies is pretty phenomenal. It synthesizes something called messenger RNA or MRNA to essentially prompt human body to make its own medicine. I mentioned this when I was having a discussion with the president of Armenia few weeks ago on one of our webinars that if we were to talk about anything of that nature three months ago, point about creating or having to deal with messenger RNA prompting a human body to make its own medicine. That would have been considered as a fantasy, a discussion only people in white robes and sealed lab should be speaking about. But now everyone, you and I, everyone in the world, we are eagerly waiting to hear more news about solutions of this nature. And we are fortunate to have one of our own on the front lines of scientific discovery and this eagerness of governments to work with the private sectors in United States has displayed by investing about half billion dollars into Moderna at least in near terms also shows appreciation for what entities like Moderna but also what entities like Fast focusing on Science and Technology are doing. And I think that one particular change is very important because if you look at how the world functions, right? So we invest two percent or three percent or not invest but spent on defense and military in every country. In the United States that is nearly eight hundred billion dollars annually. But when it comes to putting money in scientific discovery or in true wellness of people, very, very little money being spent, up to this moment, even when we talk about healthcare be it in United States or anywhere. It is very reactive, right? You spend money on treating illnesses. You are not spending money on wellness of people. To do things proactively for you not to get a person to condition when you need to worry about health care. Even if you look at everything that is happening, with coronavirus, we are speaking about everything reactive. This is happened, now, we need to come and fix it.

John: Right.

Armen: If we were to spend the right amount of money, they are putting in the right places and had preventive mechanisms in place. We would have a very different type of a conversation. We would have said, “Look this where going to happen and we stopped it.” But we are far from having a conversation of that nature. And I am very fortunate that here in Armenia were working this foundation. When the foundation was founded to drive scientific discovery and technological innovations in Armenia and beyond. And we have several teams here that does work on Bio-Technology Solutions on artificial intelligence machine learning on Robotics and Advanced Materials. These are technologies that are going to lead humanity forward. And we are very excited to be at the forefront of it ourselves.

John: Two things that strikes me, Armen. First of all, it has been said over and over again that a person is really a sum of the five or six people they surround themselves with. They take on their qualities. They absorb their information and it is really who you surround yourself with. And when I was in Armenia and you literally gave me a front-row seat to listen to Ruben talk, to Dr. Afeyan talk, I was blown away and they were dozens of others that I met with you, and that you have surrounded yourself with. These are not just some of the most interesting scientists and entrepreneurs just in Armenia. These are some of the most important business people in the world. These people have succeeded around the world. They just happen to be Armenian or have Armenian interest and are now giving back through your great organization in Armenia. It is arguable that Dr. Afeyan could be the next Jonas Salk of the world. With one of the greatest tragic pandemics that have ever happened in modern times with a breakthrough drug. And Ruben could be doing fifty other things than what he is doing right now. But you have surrounded yourself with some of the most interesting and fascinating and accomplished human beings I have ever seen as an organization. Tell me a little bit of two things. What is it like working with these folks every day for you? Because great people with huge accomplishments are always challenging those around them. And then what was their why? Why did they choose to do this at this point in their lives? When they could be off on their yachts in the Mediterranean and never do any of this kind of very important and critical work.

Armen: It’s fulfillment of different nature. Right? Look. I am very fortunate to have these people in my life. It’s really a different type of an experience being surrounded with people with so much experience as you said, leading or being in the in the middle of affairs that impact every human being on the planet. We did not even speak about Lord Ara Darzi, was also part of our world from the United Kingdom who is also on the forefront of what’s taking place in the space of bio medicine.

John: I was mesmerized when he was speaking. I have to tell you, Armen. Not many people mesmerize me. I was mesmerized. I left him off the list in your so right to include him. He is truly–not only a brilliant man, but he speaks so clearly, speaks so clearly.

Armen: Yes, I mean he is the type of a surgeon he is and where he is specializing in minimally invasive robot-assisted surgery. He has pioneered so many new technologies. He is just a phenomenal human being. So being around these people, be it Lord Darzi, Noubar Afeyan, Ruben Vardanyan, few others, and [inaudible], other co-founders Arturo [inaudible] and [inaudible]. On our board, we have the president of the country or [inaudible] who happens to be a physicist himself. You know that also, so phenomenal. And learning from these people and getting their Vibes. And as you said, watching them not spending–not blowing their money on buying yachts, but continuously doing philanthropic engagements for betterment of societies.

Someone like Ruben Vardanyan has spent as almost his entire fortune and he has committed his entire fortune on doing philanthropic work. And him and his team has spent nearly close to a billion dollars in Armenia doing phenomenal work here. It’s really educational. I mean talking to them and what inspires them, right? [crosstalk] What inspires…

John: And you have done this over and over. I’ve seen this with you, Armen. This is a common theme in your life. There is never a time that I have been with you that you haven’t you surrounded yourself with some of the best and the brightest. Before the Fast Foundation back at Afco and everything you have done. So this is a theme. So obviously, they are attracted to you and you are attracted to them, which is just beyond phenomenal because I see that you are all a fascinating group of servant leaders. You are all doing so much impactful work. So when you are with them, for our audience, what’s their “Why?”. Do they have a similar or they’re similar themes as to their “Why” or is it very personal for them because they’re Armenian or just a philanthropic DNA that runs through their veins or a little bit of both?

Armen: All right. I think it is the depth of the individual, right? I mean these people are extremely deep. Some of it is personal, right? All of us and I think you too John, we all have that weak spot for Armenia because we are all grandchildren of genocide survivors. And there is a reason why you were born in the United States. Noubar Afeyan was born in Lebanon and my father was born in Lebanon. And Ruben’s family was not originally from Armenia only because we were dispersed all around the world. We survived. Our ancestors helped us come to this world and to some degree we are indebted to them but also to the world. I mean there are a lot of societies, a lot of communities that help Armenians back during the genocide. I mean so you had a group of perpetrators, you had Ottoman Turks that were committing the genocide. But then you had groups, you had United States, you had Germans, you have French, you had English. Communities that also saved Armenian lives, helped Armenian lives. Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, these are communities that embraced Armenians, allowed Armenians to prosper. And now, many of us are giving back. Giving back to our ancestors for the jobs that they have done. We give back in Armenia, but we give back to the world, John. You have been incredible philanthropist yourself for Armenian matters, but also beyond, how much time you would spend on doing philanthropic work and the same thing with our partners. What Ruben and Noubar are doing, what Ara Darzi is doing, it kind of becomes part of your DNA . I mean what I have been doing for twenty years of my life being in Armenian and before that, I was doing a lot of work in Africa, it has nothing to do with Armenians. But we are kind of indebted to people that gave us opportunities, gave us who we have become, helped us become, who shaped us to become…

John: Well, I am going to tell you this, coming to Armenia and being with you changed my life. And my children were so excited about me being there with you. They had just come back and they are going to be going back and they want actually as I’ve shared with you, they want us to set up a Shegerian residence there and be coming back a numerous times and spending part of our adult lives there and especially for them and in the future. Armen for our listeners out there, we’ve got my good friend with us today. Dr. Armen Orujyan. He’s called in live from Armenia. He is my first and one of my most important friends that I’ve ever had in my life and made a huge impact on me and the greater community. And he is now the founding CEO of the Fast Foundation. To find Armen and all of his partners and his great work and their great work over there and around the world. You could go to www.fast.foundation, www.fast.foundation. They are also on Facebook and very, very active on Facebook. So you could find the Fast Foundation on Facebook as well. You know Armen, you are doing so much there. Share with our listeners, really what are your top three or five initiatives at Fast right now and let’s talk about coming out of this pandemic and where the rest of the year is going to go in Armenia with Fast and beyond this year. So share a little bit about current initiatives, post-pandemic and then where we are going from there.

Armen: We focus on science. So let me just explain what that means for us.

John: Yes.

Armen: Science, it is the body of knowledge, right? It’s year 2020 not year one, so Science exists. It is not that science needs to be, you can always expand it, but first you need to understand it. And to understand Science to make use of it, you need to have education. Without education, doesn’t matter whether the science exists or doesn’t exist, you have zero appreciation for it. So education is a key element for us. And then so suppose you understood Science because you are educated, you are well educated, you understand it, you can preserve it. But then extending scientific discovery, expanding Science, you need to do research. So that is the second kind of a pillar for us that we pay a lot of attention to and then the third, great to know Science, great to extend science, but then you gotta utilize it for something that benefits humanity.

So we look at commercialization of Science. What is it that you can do to help commercialize Science? And so we, our all work is around those areas in education research and commercialization of Science. And if you put science in the center of it, so we have some [inaudible] phenomenal initiatives to do in all these three areas of its peek. Maybe I’ll give you an example of one or two for each, one probably for each to make sense of things.

John: That would be great.

Armen: Yes, for instance for commercialization of science. We have this initiative, we call it Advanced Solution Center ASCENT. We actually structured this with Noubar Afeyan. Believe it or not, his group in Boston flagship pioneering that was also the entity that founded Moderna, right? Moderna came out with flagship pioneering that is an incredible Venture Builder that has venturing to incubation and venture funding all in one. So we worked with nobody on this team to create that very model here in Armenia.

We were all skeptical to see whether something of that nature could work in Armenia because you need the echo system especially in Boston. You have MITs, MIT labs. You have a lot of physical infrastructure and then human capital for you to be able to do biotechnology and similar types of discoveries there. But we were pleasantly surprised. We established it here and within very short period of time we send some of our people to be trained in Boston. And some of it trained here, their team came in from Boston to train some of the guys. And now, we’ve already generated a startup that has an incredible potential, it could possibly become a unicorn. It was all made in Armenia. We really, really, I myself was big time skeptic whether it would be possible to think of platform technologies out of Armenia that is not looking at Armenia as a point of solution, but just point of creation and the solution is a global solution. So it’s a platform technology that could impact all sorts of verticals or sectors regardless where you’re doing it physically. So that’s really phenomenal. We have a group of young men and women working at space. Right now, and we already have a startup that has gotten external funding. And we have several other companies or possible startups of that nature in the pipeline that could go for major funding in the next a month or two also.

John: That is awesome.

Armen: So that’s one, and we are very, very, very excited about this. We recently launched a comprehensive granting scheme which funds and connects distinguished international researchers for local postdocs and accomplished researches here locally and bind them in a two-year program that will produce publishable and patentable work. This cohort currently is on bio medicine, AI, and advanced materials. And this is a large grant, maybe between fifty to seventy five thousand dollars a year for a group to work. So this is nothing of that nature exists here and I don’t think anywhere in the world of shape up this way that would lead all the way from finding a team or founding a team to publication and patenting, everything is funded. So we launched this and we’re right now in selection process. So that’s on the research side. It would be for fundamental scientific discoveries rather than applied scientific discoveries as it would be with ASCENT on the commercial side.

John: Got it.

Armen: And then on the educational side, we have this, we have number of progress with this one that is fascinating. And I think you and I, we spoke a little bit about this in Armenia that we are training young men and now also women for the unit 1991 and a military. So in Armenia, conscription is mandatory and we are, right now, training seventeen, eighteen year old young men who will end up in army for them to join this unit 1991 that will focus on artificial intelligence and machine learning for them to compose intellectual side of military. Not only serving in the army to protect the borders, but also think of, for them to become highly educated while they are serving in the military. So when they finish their service after two years they come back far more knowledgeable and far more educated than otherwise, they would have been even if they’d stayed behind and gone to universities. So we’re changing the narrative, where defense was or military was all about going to serve for defensive purposes. Now, military is also about education and making better citizens. So these young people don’t lose two years of their life just learning how to protect the country but also the country is giving them opportunities for them to be highly educated young men. And then we’ve also created an opportunity for young women who can actually volunteer in some cases also get contracted by the military for them to work on some of these solutions that will be focused on AI and ML, machine learning and whatnot. So it’s major educational component for the military, but I speak of it only because it’s kind of a creative way of bringing education to families, not only through professional educational or academic structure, but also in a creative way, going into other aspects of human life and giving them education there as well.

John: That’s awesome. So it all really–Science is the base of everything and then from there you build everything off of that.

Armen: Yes, yes. We look at science as–I mean it is. John today when we talk about what’s happening in our reality. I mean really, imagine if we were all properly trained. This science–regardless what type of we’re speaking about, was properly funded as well. It would be a different… Absolutely, I’m hoping there will be a shift in thinking for the government and that’s what we’re doing in Armenia and we are very fortunate. As you said to be working with so many phenomenal people, the President of the country, we have the Minister of Education and Science on our board as well. And also, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Prime Minister himself, very interested engaged. You met him briefly at our forum when you were in Armenia.

John: Yes.

Armen: They are also very thoughtful, very mindful of necessity and importance of Science and scientific discovery.

John: Armen, I also know you are so multi-dimensional. It goes way beyond science with you. You are also a true environmentalist for all the right reasons. Share a little bit about when I was in Armenia, one of your ideas that you created with then the minister of the environment, common friend of ours Eric, and the Prime Minister was around the environment that you are going to be doing this fall. Share a little bit about how you did that. How you announced it and what is happening with that initiative right now? Because I think that is so important to it, to show how–you are not only impacting Armenia and the rest of the world by showing great leadership there with your incubation of Science and entrepreneurs but you are also nurturing and reinventing the environment of Armenia, which is going to help lead that whole region to a greener future.

Armen: I appreciate you bringing this up John, because you are one of the leaders in the space around the world when it comes to looking at environment climate change and making something of value out of it. I have been always impressed by the work that you have done. It is really phenomenal what you have done on many fronts but in your spent on electronic recyclers, it is so important and in how we take all this poison into landfills and you potentially not allowing this to end up poisoning our environment. For that I thank you…

John: Thank you.

Armen: As a citizen of the globe because it’s such an important work that you are doing. In Armenia, look, I think somewhere after the Soviet collapse, we have lost our focus as people, as nation, I think Armenians and also between 1992-1994, the war with over Nagorno-Karabakh with Azerbaijan didn’t help because there were major energy crisis in Armenian and they’re cold winters in Armenian people needed to get warm. So there was a lot of logging, a lot of trees disappeared from all parts of the country because people needed to survive. When people need to survive a lot of bad things could happen. So we did not really–and since then it has been over twenty five years. We have not really done the right things when it comes to the environment. We do not have as many trees, we are good because we have got a nuclear power plant here. So we get a bulk of our energy from that source. But we haven’t really meaningfully invested in clean technologies and alternative renewables and we haven’t planted trees, at least, we haven’t planted in enough trees and that’s something that needs to change. And that’s what we are looking forward here to do. We made an announcement during our forum that we will plant ten million trees on October 10th of 2020.

John: Ten million trees. That is amazing.

Armen: Ten million trees, ten million trees. It’s significant for a number of reasons. There is about ten million source to say, there are about ten million Armenians around the world. So we wanted to signify that, ten million trees Armenians, ten million trees for every Armenian. But also, Armenia wants to plant about a billion trees as part of their trillion tree campaign around the world and we need to start somewhere. So we wanted to start in one day, in single day, October 10. So it is 10/10/2020 to plant ten million trees.

John: Wow.

Armen: But now, we still plan to do this. But Covid-19 derails some of our plans as well. We needed to do a lot of planning, planting. This is important, the trees, you just can’t find them, right? You have to grow these things. You have to bring them from other places. If you do not have them enough here, so what we are planning to do and that was something that Minister had a conversation with the Prime Minister here too. For us to at least do a million trees this year, sometime in October and then push this for next year till next fall for us to come back to that ten million. The reason behind this because we want, besides planting trees. We want people like you. We are not here to be here for us to have this major collective event where we as people come together and we take care of our country. We take care of our nation, but now it is dangerous. We do not want to do that in October. We do not know where we are going to be when it comes to this virus, bringing all these people to Armenia and not having all the protective elements in place. We can’t risk it.

John: That makes sense. But it is an initiative that once things come back to some new normal and there is a vaccine out and the world becomes a safer place. It is an initiative that will be picked up on and continue to move forward with, in the months and years ahead. I take it.

Armen: Absolutely. Absolutely. We absolutely come back to this. This is important. It’s necessary and on Monday, I planted five trees myself with the help of friends naturally. And then on Tuesday, I wasn’t there but they planted another five trees in my house. So I’ve planted ten trees this week only. So we are going to do everything possible individually as a group for us to bring more plants to Armenia but do the right thing. Without them, we have no chance of survival. We got to learn how to live better with them. We got to live. We got to make sure that we understand them better and we take care of them the same ways they have been taking care of us.

John: I love it. And for our listeners out there if you have just joined we have got Dr. Armen Orujyan. My great friend on from Armenia from Yerevan. He’s the founding CEO of the Fast Foundation. To find out what him and his colleagues are doing, their great work at the Fast Foundation, you could go to www.fast.foundation or Facebook where Fast Foundation has a very lively area on Facebook as well. Armen, we were talking before we started taping the show. You travel a lot. You are very busy, you have meetings around the world. You are also on the board at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. So I know you go to Houston a lot and you are also on LA to visit your family. How has it been during this pandemic and when do you think you are going to be traveling next again? And how do you see the rest of the year in Armenia? How is Armenia coming out of this pandemic? And what does the rest of the year look like Armen Orujyan but for Yerevan in Armenia.

Armen: I think that’s the million-dollar question. I came back from my last travel. I was in Jakarta, Surabaya, actually, but through Jakarta, I went to Surabaya. I was in Indonesia for about a week. Elijah’s here, March 14, and then Indonesia closed down on March 15 and Armenia had a special emergency laws in place from March 16. So I just made it like here, right? And then I have been here since. I had a flight to LA on March 23rd, which got derailed. So I’ve been in Armenia the longest now, to over two months continuously. And I haven’t been in LA since January, so I haven’t been in LA with the family for a long time. The first flight that was announced out of Armenia, commercial flight is scheduled for July 3rd, and I am already on that flight.

John: Wow.

Armen: So that will be nearly six months not being home. I’ll travel home on July 3rd, and I will be in LA on July 3rd. Hopefully, I will be able to stay there for a while but there’s a lot here. Now, in terms of how Armenia is taking care of it, Armenia, look we’re kind of insulated, right? So we have only four neighbors. Two of them, two borders are closed. We’re kind of used to not having a lot of activity here in Armenia. We’re nicely situated or prepared to take care of ourselves in situations of this nature.

So the country is doing relatively well. People are learning how to live with a virus. People are learning how to have this physical distance, some people do it well than others and some entities are doing better than others, it’s normal. But there are also conspiracies all around. Actually that’s normal when you do not know what’s happening, when you do not know all the information, conspiracy, theories, they just rise, they just ripe. It’s normal, it happens in every society. Let me do it, look what’s happening in the United States. So that is also rampant here.

The case has increased whereas, about three weeks ago, you would say about forty cases a day. Now, you are close to four hundred cases a day. So that’s a big jump only because on May 3rd, the government announced that they are going to be opening the society for March 4th. And then when you look at numbers you would see from about March 14 or so, the numbers started increasing and then after that almost like exponentially because times ten is exponential to me.

Everyone is learning, including the government is learning how to deal with the situation. You do not know how much of it, how much does the economy can keep shots. This is dangerous, it’s a give and take. Not here, meaning it’s a give and take with this current situation for anyone on the planet. I mean relatively well, you want to be here than in New York City for instance.

John: Right. Right.

Armen: And you want to be here rather than in Italy or in Spain or definitely you do not want to be in Brazil, right? The government is handling as best as it could, given all the information that we do not have and all the resources that we do not have in trying to address this issue and handled it. I think we should be in better shape and in few months, we will learn better of how to work, how to coexist, how to live with this and hopefully we will reach a point where there’s enough herding unity that will be able to ride the wave or our Noubar Afeyan and Moderna come up with a vaccine and enough people will be vaccinated. So the numbers will decrease and eventually be meaningless. I do not think it’s going to completely disappear. I do not see this virus as one of those that you would just kill off, at least not quickly, not for the next few years. It will probably be with us at least for a few years. If not longer. So we will just have to learn how to live with this.

John: Armen, Before we say goodbye for today and let you have your evening back in Yerevan. You have any final thoughts for our listeners, we have a lot of young listeners around the world that want to become part of the new economy, part of the new normal, part of an entrepreneur and they want to make an impact. They want to make the world a better place like you have done over and over again. Any final thoughts for our listeners before we sign off for today.

Armen: John, I would say one of the key things moving forward, many jobs are going to disappear and many of the jobs that we lose today, they may never come back. One thing is very important. Anything that has to do with creative thinking, anything that has to do with creative analytics is going to be with us at least for the next decade too.

For young people, I think learning mathematics, learning hard sciences it’s so important. It is more important today than any other time in the history. With that type of a power kit or toolkit, they have chance, they have opportunities for them to reinvent themselves for them to do any types of, to participate in any type of economic activities and they would be able to weather any type of a storm.

Learn physics, learn chemistry, learn biology, learn mathematics. Absolutely, Data Sciences, anything in data analytics, AI, ML, all of those things are so important. Doctors may be replaced, lawyers may be replaced, absolutely. There is no way to argue that there cannot be a smart machine that will have access to so much information and so quickly than any other attorney that could be in the courtroom. There is no way to compete with that type of a powered–with that type of access to information but being on the forefront of scientific discovery, knowing hard Sciences are critical for young people.

I would absolutely encourage our young listeners for them to spend some time, six months, take six months a year, two years out of their lives right now and get a toolkit of that nature. For them to really be able to have the power, the strength, the right set of skills for them to compete better, for them to be able to be competitive and also contribute. Contribute to betterment of society for them to be able to be those types of phenomenal inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs we’re going to make a difference in not only in their lives, but your life, my life and every and the society’s life.

I mean what if one of them is the genius that is going to find solutions where no virus can ever impact the human being. No cancer can impact the human being. No person will be killed through an accident because a human is driving the car. In all of these things to be eliminated and the young folks that are listening to us. They could be the engineers of that. They could be the minds that are actually doing things of that nature for us.

John: Armen. Thank you so much. Those are wise words from a great man. You’ve made a tremendous impact on my life. You have made a wonderful impact on Armenia and every community you’ve touched and you’ve made the world a better place. Thank you again, for joining us today on Impact. This is your first time on, it’s not going to be your last. And it is really an honor and privilege to have you as a friend.

Armen: And John, I really want to thank you. You said we’ve known each other for many years. I met you some thirteen years ago. I have seen you pursuing your dream, building a tremendous business empire contributing heavily to the global sustainability through as I mentioned electronics recycling but also traveling the globe and always put a smile on your face, which is contagious. As those of us who are fortunate to be in your company always smile because of you and I am really, really grateful for the planet to have a son like you. I really wish I can do my little part and that you and I can come together and do something massive both for Armenia and the planet. It would be my privilege and thanks for really being a part of the show.

John: Thank you so much. And you are going to be back and join us and talk about all the great updates that are happening at Fast and then also in your life. And I look forward to seeing you in July in Los Angeles and being able to, not be distanced from you, to be with you in person. It is always an honor and wonderful to just be in your orbit. So thank you again Armen. And for all of our listeners in Yeravan, we’re so grateful to have such a wonderful community and for Armen to be there among you all leading the way it was just one of the most exciting experiences of my life.

Armen: Thank you, John and thanks everyone for listening. This really has been a phenomenal experience. Until next time John.