Saving Armenia’s Leopards - A Fundraiser's Perspective
30th April 2019 By Imogen Ward
Hayk Tiraturyan is based in Yerevan, Armenia and was recruited by AAW to become Fundraising and Partnerships Manager at WWF in the Caucasus region two years ago, as part of a wider AAW consultancy project to develop a fundraising and communications strategy for the WWF regional office.
We interviewed Hayk about his role in a country that has gone through huge changes over the last few years and the opportunities and challenges for fundraisers working in Armenia.
Can you give us some background on WWF’s work in your region?
The Caucasus Ecoregion is a hotspot of biodiversity with a huge amount of flora, fauna and insects and is therefore very important to WWF. WWF’s programme work covers three countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. I work in our Armenia office. Armenia is quite unique – we are as big as Belgium but with a population only the size of Wales. We have an abundance of wild animals here, including leopards living in the wild. WWF started working in Armenia to protect the Caucasian leopard in 2002. There were no leopards in Armenia at that time, they had all been poached. Thanks to WWF’s hard work, we first started seeing leopards in 2008 and now have ten animals that roam the country. This is a very big achievement. By protecting the leopard, we are also protecting the whole chain of animals and prey species that are also important, including the endangered Armenian mouflon, a type of wild sheep that only exists in small numbers in Armenia.
Tell us a little about you and how you came to work at WWF
I studied languages at university and am a specialist in English and Spanish. After graduation I went into IT and hospitality but then wanted to get more academic qualifications to get a better job. I went to Italy to do a master’s degree in sustainable development and green energy for a year, something I was very curious about, and learnt my fifth language. In Armenia you have to be multi-lingual. I then decided I wanted to move into the NGO sector and started work at a local NGO ‘Development Principles’, a rural development project helping border villages. Then a year later I moved to WWF.
Why did you want to work for WWF, why did this particular job appeal to you?
Firstly it was because of the organisation itself – WWF is one of the most reputable organisations working worldwide and is widely known in Armenia. People here know that the organisation is working hard to protect our species in protected areas. It was also my dream to work in a big organisation because it offers a very large network and a lot of opportunities to develop your career and learn new skills. I was very lucky to get the job and the last two years have been quite a journey.
I also like animals and wildlife. I’m a cyclist and ride my bike in the mountains in my free time. I really care about nature, so there is a good synergy between job and my interests.
What was the process of applying for the job?
It was a long selection process over a few months and with four interviews! I had an interview with Imogen and Tobin and some fun and challenging interview tasks before I got the job.
Once I started work, I attended two AAW workshops for myself and colleagues from Georgia and Azerbaijan covering the basics of fundraising, communications. We also obtained useful tips on how to work across the organisation. During the first six months of my employment Tobin and Imogen provided me with a coaching service.
Can you tell us about your role at WWF and how you fundraise in the country?
I’m a Regional Fundraising and Partnerships Manager. There are 17 staff in total, but I am the only fundraiser and the first one WWF has had in the country. My job is to mobilize resources and we are trying lots of different fundraising activities – digital, major donors, corporates etc. Sometimes it works out, but often it doesn’t.
In Armenia it is very difficult to fundraise because we don’t have a big culture of fundraising here but it’s not to say it doesn’t happen. We have had successful fundraising in the country but only for social causes, e.g. development and alleviating poverty etc. People may not have a lot of money but may give some savings to help sick children for example, but when it comes to wildlife, it is quite a challenge.
But there is some hope. It is somewhat easier to fundraise on a corporate level where companies are regional branches of big international companies. They are much more likely to have a CSR strategy and have to deliver on certain goals, which may include the environment. This makes it much easier to fundraise from them.
However, it is much harder with local companies, despite us trying many times to approach them. They would prefer to give to causes that provide more visibility, such as helping children.
We do have a digital platform we created for our leopard work - www.leopard.am. Through this we managed to fundraise $3000 which is a lot of money for us, but most of this was donated by foreigners. The few local donations were for very small amounts.
Previously fundraising wasn’t a priority for WWF here because funding for operations came from the wider WWF network and we didn’t spend any time or resources in this country. Now we are on track to become a national office (rather than a programme office cover Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan), we need a dedicated fundraising department and my position was created.
What have you enjoyed most about your job so far?
My personal development journey with WWF has been very important for me. When I started with the previous NGO I worked for, I didn’t have any experience in the NGO sector or of fundraising, and the scope of the work there was very limited. It has been an amazing journey with WWF, with lots of challenges and difficulties, some of which were almost impossible to overcome at the beginning. I had so much to learn but now I’ve done some amazing things which I’ve really enjoyed.
One of my main challenges was my optimism when I started – I thought fundraising would be really easy to do and was very naïve. I thought you could simply go and meet companies, individuals and foundations and ask for money. I also wasn’t aware of WWF internal regulations and ethical guidelines which naturally prevents us from working with certain types of corporations and partners.
Another big challenge for me is the perception of WWF as an organisation that invests in Armenia – people expect us to give out funds not ask for them. Organisations and foundations don’t necessarily want to understand that we need local funding from Armenia to do more projects and have greater impact.
What is the role of WWF in the wider region?
The headquarters for our Programme office in the Caucasus is based in Georgia. As a result of political conflict, Armenians and Azerbaijanians can’t travel between our two countries, so regional meetings take place in Georgia. Each country’s office is more or less semi-independent, making their own decisions but co-ordinating our efforts togethers.
Tell us about the network you have established called the Association of Fundraising Professionals of Armenia.
I set up the AFPA (the Association of Fundraising Professionals of Armenia) after WWF gave me the confidence to reach out to other fundraisers in the country.
I set this up with a partner who worked for the Red Cross in Armenia at the time and who I met through being a trustee of the ‘Awesome Foundation’; an organisation that operates in cities across the globe and allows people to pitch awesome ideas to trustees. The Foundation has funded over 70 awesome projects in Armenia and this was a good network for meeting with people from different organisations and companies, and different professions.
After a conversation with my partner about whether we could or should be doing anything differently in our own jobs, we wanted to set up a network for fundraisers to allow us to share creative ideas, our fears, honest feedback and to help each other. So, we found a third partner – a fundraiser at a local NGO. We started by researching all the organisations present in Armenia where there were fundraisers and then sent out a market research questionnaire to ask fundraisers whether they wanted to be involved and what they would expect from us. The response was overwhelmingly encouraging. We learnt to our surprise, that almost all fundraisers in Armenia had no academic background in this field or prior fundraising experience. All of them said it was a very big challenge to learn fundraising and to learn how to do things properly.
The main demand from us was for more learning opportunities, especially as not a lot of people speak English and it is a big challenge for them to find fundraising materials in Armenian or Russian. So we decided we would adapt best cases, best scenarios worldwide and translate these into Armenian and localise them. We also established networking opportunities as it turned out most fundraisers felt that they were the only fundraisers in the country. They didn’t realise there was were so many of us! We now want to organise short-term one day events and longer-term training for fundraisers on different topics.
We have now just registered as an official organisation and we are hosting an event this week to present the work we have done so far. We started activities last September, but we spent four–five months battling our own lack of confidence to tackle such a big project. All of us had inner fears that maybe we were not good enough for this. But then we understood, no we just have to have the courage to move on and now we’re doing a great job bringing together the fundraisers of Armenia.
How have things changed in Armenia in recent years and has this impacted on your work?
Last year was a very important one in Armenia’s history. In 2018, we had a revolution and after a month of peaceful protest, the government changed overnight replacing the government which had governed the country for over 10 years. We now have a democratically elected prime minister. We have a very young parliament with lots of smart individuals.
Previously our country had a big problem of corruption but now things getting much better and this is very good for the private sector. Before we had a lot of oligarchs controlling the main sectors of industry.
What are your hopes for the future?
The next three to four years will be quite interesting - if we can manage to keep up this level of positive change, I think the country can be transformed into something really beautiful. I am optimistic that this will happen.
Currently, however, these changes haven’t affected the way we are working now, it is still a bit early, and it’s unpredictable whether these will make fundraising easier for us. If the business sector stabilises and there are more businesses that might help (before the revolution a lot of fields were dominated by one or two people, now they have gone, everyone can start a business and have the same opportunities to grow), I think the situation will improve, but not very dramatically.