From Here to Singapore?: 2020 Project holds further debates on Armenia’s near future

In 15 years, Armenia will have a standard of living comparable to today’s Singapore.

Perhaps.

Or: In 2020, Armenia will be hardly better off than it is today, with a spending power of about $5,000.

These are the extremes calculated by the Armenia 2020 Project, and discussed in its forum “Strategy of Armenia’s Stable Development: Competitiveness and Productivity Growth”, held Tuesday at the Armenia Marriott Hotel.

The forum attracted about 350 participants, and some of Armenia’s top officials. President Robert Kocharyan sent a message in which he hailed the research/analysis think tank as “playing an important part in the amendment of the policy of Armenia’s economic development”. Also attending were members of the Armenian business community who discussed issues such as Information Technology, tourism, healthcare, jewelry, diamond-cutting, etc.

Over the past 3 and a half years, Armenia 2020 (link to apri’s story, 9/09) has tried to answer the basic question from which its name is drawn: “Where will Armenia be in 2020?”

“Singapore” may be one answer, where the average citizen now has about $12,000 per year spending power. (The 2020 Project calculates "spending power" according to currency value and cost of living. Armenia's current spending power is about $5,000, while the actual per-capita income is about $1,315.)

But whether that or other scenarios end up fitting future Armenia, 2020 members say it is not the project’s mission to be psychics, but only to gather and analyze data that might offer worthwhile avenues for the country to pursue.

“Our first step is to try to understand in what ways Armenia can develop, what is the program of Armenia’s development that will be presented not only by Armenia 2020 Project members, but also by the government, the public, the people living in Armenia,” said Ruben Vardanyan, Project Board member, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Russian Troika-Dialogue Group. “And after this it will become possible to create a mechanism to help bring Armenian and non-Armenian money to Armenia to work for the country’s development.”

Diaspora businessman and Armenia 2020 Board member Noubar Afeyan said the goal of the second stage, beginning now, is the establishment of a national competitiveness trust to shore up economic growth in Armenia.

For his part, Vardanyan added that board members and others could bring investments from abroad ranging to more than $2 billion for promoting Armenia’s economic growth and ensuring the country’s development in the next decade and a half.

(Initially, the trust structure needs $300 million and the Board members said they had an opportunity to ensure this sum).

But at the same time Vardanyan said: “We think that the idea of the trust can work only if you have a strategic idea of where Armenia is going, what program is there for Armenia for the next 15 years. In that case the establishment of the structure has sense, as it is already clear in what directions to invest.”

Director of the Armenia 2020 Project Artashes Kazakhetyan said the participants had useful working meetings and discussions both during the forum itself and on its sidelines. “The main subject concerned ways of ensuring Armenia’s competitiveness in various fields,” said Kazakhetyan. “We also discussed the idea of establishing a trust structure of Armenia’s competitiveness and all issues connected with the strengthening of the ‘second wave’ of economic growth.”

Founded in 2001, the Armenia 2020 Project works to develop models of development for Armenia and help transform them into concrete scenarios. (Such programs have had good results in Russia, Portugal and Belgium.)

The project is funded by business persons of Armenian descent from Armenia, Russia, the United States and Europe. So far, Armenia 2020 has spent about $2 million developing patterns that might be instructional for future policy.