AREGAK: Celebrating 10 Years of Micro-Financing in Armenia
By Pamela J. Karg*
August 20, 2008—Under sunny skies and with shining faces of smiling children, AREGAK kicked-off day-long celebrations to mark its 10th anniversary of doing business in Armenia.
Founded in 1997 by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) non-governmental organization, AREGAK makes small loans to low-income people, people living in remote areas and women-owned small businesses that create economic opportunities. In April 2006, AREGAK became independent and known as AREGAK Universal Credit Organization. UMCOR is its sole shareholder.
“Aregak means ‘sun’ or ‘kind sun’ in Armenian and it’s a good day for us, a good sun for us, a shiny future for us because AREGAK is here,” said Father Vigen Ter-Manukyan, the Oshakan village priest. He spoke at the official opening of a new playground refurbished by AREGAK employees to mark the organization’s anniversary.
Sam Dixon, the UMCOR top executive recalled his first visit to Armenia in 1993, “People were cold and hungry. There was no heat, no electricity. People were suffering. We asked how we could partner with the Armenian people to help bring relief.”
From those humble beginnings, AREGAK is now one of the largest micro-finance programs in Armenia, noted Vache Gabrielyan, deputy chairman of Armenia’s Central Bank. He said the UCO is also one of the sustainable pillars among financial institutions.
“We have created economic opportunities for low-income people, primarily women,” noted Roland Fernandes, Global Ministries executive and chairman of AREGAK UCO. “It provides high quality, sustainable and accessible financing and other services that can meet the significant needs we see across this developing country.”
What makes AREGAK unique is that small groups of unrelated women guarantee each other’s loans. Clients learn basic business skills, accounting and simple marketing techniques, as well as the importance of loan repayment so they can grow their businesses. In the process, the women learn self-reliance and leadership, and hone business acumen that extends into their abilities to financially support their families and even guide their communities.
Mariam Yesayan, executive director of AREGAK, said this communal approach permeates the organization. AREGAK has extended its mission to create a greater community good, such as the new playground equipment or scholarships to clients’ children studying in university. AREGAK also supports ecological and charitable organizations.
UMCOR is a not-for-profit global humanitarian aid organization. It is working in more than 80 countries worldwide, including the United States. UMCOR’s mission, grounded in the teachings of Jesus, is to alleviate human suffering—whether caused by war, conflict or natural disaster, with open hearts and minds to all people.
UMCOR started its programs in Armenia in 1994 after devastating earthquake, with mission to assist eradicating poverty and socio-economic development during Armenia's transition to a healthy and wealthy civil society.
*(Karg is an award-winning communicator with over 25 years of experience in all media. She has lived in Armenia since 2005 as a self-funded UMVIM with UMCOR.)