The Big Picture Drives All That We Do in Armenia
AUA welcomes philanthropist Garo Armen, a man committed to support the growing needs of a university with a 25-year history in Armenia, into its influential group of 100 Pillars.
“We need to collectively encourage anything that is working well in Armenia. We need to give that little push, that positive reinforcement when something is working, or has the potential to work in the country,” says Garo. “AUA is a successful initiative in our homeland. We need to continue the momentum. The founders did the difficult work. What I am doing through becoming one of the 100 Pillars of AUA, is very little in the context of what they were able to achieve – creating the institution that it is today, and creating it at a time when there was no hope. I feel very privileged to be a member of a team that promotes the further growth and development of this admirable institution.”
During his recent trip to Armenia, Garo visited AUA and was pleased to witness the collaboration and interaction between the students. The image of their bright smiles and the sense of enthusiasm he observed as he walked through the hallways has stayed with him. “How can we not promote that? How can we not support their education? They are the future of Armenia!”
Creating educational opportunities for the new generation of Armenia is not a foreign concept for Garo. As the founder and Chairman of the Children of Armenia Fund (COAF), established in 2004, he and his team developed and implemented a wide range of programs to improve and advance all aspects of children’s lives in Armenia. Since rural areas of the country receive the least attention, Garo decided to concentrate on the villages and create an environment that would allow children growing up in disadvantaged areas opportunities to thrive. “Educational standards that symbolize ‘Armenianism’ were lacking in the villages,” says Garo. “Building schools or renovating buildings is not enough. What matters the most is what happens inside the schools.” COAF leaders know the importance of creating a healthy physical environment for children to learn, but recognize that it is equally important to ensure that the social structure and economy in which the children grow is healthy as well.
According to Garo, AUA is the next step for the children growing up in COAF-served villages. With its need-blind admissions policy, AUA will not only provide new opportunities to youth from Armenia’s rural population, but, in turn, those same students will positively impact the development of AUA. “Sprinkling a little authenticity of our rural students at AUA will bring additional flavor to the University’s student body. They have an incredible potential, a unique character, and will bring diversity to campus, which I am sure will be embraced. Diversity promotes growth.”
Why Armenia? Why now? “The big picture drives all that we do in Armenia. The current reality is: there is Diaspora and there is Armenia. If you look at Diaspora, it is under decline. In terms of preserving our cultural heritage, can we do things to change it? Doing something in diaspora without a nucleus that could drive change is unthinkable. The question is: What is that nucleus? By default, it is Armenia. It is the only thing we have. In spite of the cultural differences between Diaspora and Armenia, we need to mobilize Armenia to be the catalyst to drive the survival and prosperity of all Armenian communities in the world.”
With all of his involvement, including joining AUA’s 100 Pillars, Garo is doing his part to steer Armenia into the right direction. To put things into perspective, Garo recalls a memory from one of his visits to a village school in Armenia. In an attempt to provide an opportunity for the students to express themselves, he asked, “What is it to be an Armenian?” One of the students responded simply and concisely, “Being Armenian is being good, and being able to help.” Investing in the next generation of Armenia is the best way to “be Armenian”, and Garo is leading by example.
About the Pillar
Dr. Garo H. Armen is the Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Agenus, a publicly held immunology company with a portfolio of checkpoint modulators (CPMs), personalized cancer vaccines and vaccine adjuvants.
While retaining his position as CEO, Garo was asked to serve as Executive Chairman of the troubled biopharmaceutical company Elan Corporation in 2002, in which he successfully restructured. Additionally, Garo serves as non-executive Chairman of the Board of Protagenic Therapeutics, a biotechnology company focusing on the treatment of neurological and metabolic disorders.
Garo is also founder and Chairman of the Children of Armenia Fund (COAF). COAF implements programs to improve and advance all aspects of life for children living in rural villages of Armenia. Since 2004, COAF has spent over $20 million (USD) on projects directed at reversing the impoverished conditions affecting people in rural Armenia. These projects have drawn acclaim and praise from international development agencies and experts in the areas of healthcare, education, social and economic development. COAF’s most recent programs include a unique novel concept “Smart Centers” for the purposes of rapid expansion of its programs throughout Armenia and beyond.
Garo is of Armenian heritage and was born on January 31, 1953 in Turkey, and moved to New York in 1970 to pursue his education. He was awarded a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the City University of New York in 1979, and served as a science fellow at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. Garo transitioned to Wall Street and became a specialist in biotechnology investing. He has authored a number of novel partnerships, including one between American Cyanamid and Immunex Corporation.