The DALAI Lama once said, “Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.” Milan-born Gayane Khodaveerdi, an Armenian educated in Italy, the U.S. and Spain, and commercial manager of a fashion company, has inherently lived by that wisdom in her desire to contribute to her ancestral Armenian homeland and culture.
Inheriting a close affiliation with AGBU from her parents, Gayane’s journey with the organization began with AGBU Sports Games in Argentina and Bulgaria. This involvement enhanced her circle of Armenian friends and acquaintances beyond borders.
Later, as a young professional, she attended the biennial AGBU FOCUS summit, held in different destination cities like New York, Chicago, and Paris. This further widened her global connections with likeminded Armenians eager to learn, share, and give back.
Her international perspective has served her well. Currently, Khodaveerdi’s role as chair of AGBU Milan gives her a platform by which to grow AGBU’s presence in Italy. Yet, Milan isn’t the only place where she is making a mark. She also finds women’s empowerment an imperative for developing countries like Armenia. And as a dynamic professional, her actions in that country have already made an impact.
When the pandemic halted everyday routines, Khodaveerdi decided to join the AGBU Business Mentors Program and share her work expertise as a fashion manager. She was recruited to share her know-how and experience in the fashion industry with enterprising women across Armenia and Artsakh enrolled in the AGBU Women Entrepreneurs (WE) program. As a component of the broader initiative called AGBU EmpowerHer, AGBU WE has grown over the last five years to touch the lives of over 464 female entrepreneurs.
From one of the world’s fashion capitals to a small South-Caucasian country, Khodaveerdi introduced the women to recent trends in the Italian and European fashion scene; the mechanisms that make businesses sustainable; methods of effective marketing and business communications; and opportunities for expanding professional networks and attracting new investments.
Within three years, she trained over 35 WE participants through four mentorship sessions—running three of them online and one in Yerevan. “I was amazed to see how the participants were so fascinated with the trends of Milan’s fashion industry and how they believed they could apply their learnings to their own businesses,” she noted.
One participant is Armine Aghajanyan. She was able to enhance her line of hand-made accessories, inspired by Khodaveerdi’s passion for her own career. Aghajanyan explains: “I’ve always been into fashion. And although I previously had the chance to attend a few professional courses, this Diaspora mentorship was unique for me. It mainly focused on international markets and personal success stories. This put my business in a new perspective and I was able to polish what I already knew and acquire new skills that can open new doors for me.”
Within the same year, while the pandemic shook the world, Armenia was shaken by the disastrous 2020 Artsakh War. Khodaveerdi believes that this mass humanitarian crisis, which still weighs over the Armenian people, triggered the revival of Diasporan Armenian national spirit. While major relief organizations poured assistance into the homeland, individual contributions across the world made a difference in numerous ways.
I was amazed to see how the participants were so fascinated with the trends of Milan’s fashion industry and how they believed they could apply their learnings to their own businesses.
Taking on the role of chapter chair just before the outbreak of the war, Khodaveerdi confronted the challenge, both as a leader and as an Armenian woman. She tapped into her network of designers and commercial experts in the fashion industry who worked for world-famous brands, such as Giorgio Armani, Valentino and Versace. They collaborated to design a high-quality T-shirt with an authentic Artsakh print as a fundraising device. “We wanted something that would easily attract the youth and raise both money and awareness. So, designer Jeanine Varoujani Yessaian designed this beautiful T-shirt,” she notes. Its promotion gained momentum, especially when Armine Harutunyan, a famous Gucci model of Armenian descent, shared a photo of herself wearing the product on Instagram.
Recently, AGBU Milan raised and donated 3,000 euros to the AGBU Global Relief Fund for Artsakh and 1,700 euros to the Hayastan All Armenian Fund with another fundraiser organized with famous kickboxer Giorgio Petrosyan. “If every Armenian in the Diaspora activated their own networks, the impact would be immense,” insists Khodaveerdi.
She is quick to add, “Over the decades, the Italians have demonstrated a keen interest in Armenian culture and heritage. With this in mind, we try to collaborate with them in our projects, expanding our connections even further.”
One such example was The Turin International Book Fair of 2021, where the Piemonte region aimed to support war-torn countries. Eventually, the Right to Read initiative of the Circolo dei Lettori Foundation donated 2,500 euros to Artsakh’s School No. 1 of Stepanakert to renovate the library and enrich it with 118 new children’s books and this happened thanks to the collaboration of AGBU Milan with AGBU Armenia.
During the 2020 Artsakh War, AGBU Milan joined the YERIA initiative, a delegation of journalists, public figures, and officials from over 11 European countries. They traveled to Armenia and Artsakh on a five-day mission to assess the humanitarian crisis and make official reports from the conflict zone to share with decision-makers and thought leaders back home. One year after the war, AGBU Milan organized a conference with these journalists in Milan to dive deeper into issues surrounding the war.
Khodaveerdi emphasized how essential it is for Diasporans to optimize the lasting impact they can make as a united force. “Particularly for the Armenian communities in Europe, this is the best time for us to cooperate and stand behind our people. Everyone has a role to play.” And Gayane Khodaveerdi is living proof of that.