At the intersection of heritage and opportunity lies the heartwarming tale of Greg Bandikian, a dynamic professional whose journey with Birthright Armenia not only brought him closer to his roots but also paved the way for innovative ventures in Armenia. This dedication to Armenia, combined with his international experience, positioned Greg as a bridge between the global Armenian diaspora and the homeland.
Born in New Jersey to parents hailing from Yerevan, Greg's initial years were marked by a sense of disconnection from his Armenian heritage. However, a move to Los Angeles in 2000 exposed him to the vibrant Armenian community, shaping his identity and igniting his curiosity.
Recounting his initial visit to Armenia, Greg shares, "It was still 'new' to me, the concept of a country where everyone was Armenian, like me, speaking Armenian. After that experience, I was hooked to everything Armenian." This sentiment was further intensified by the warmth and camaraderie he felt from the local Armenians during his visits.
Birthright Armenia: A Life-Changing Opportunity
Birthright Armenia, an initiative aimed at fortifying the bonds between the diaspora youth and Armenia, presented Greg with a life-changing opportunity in 2006. "The program was by far the most impactful," he said. Living with a local Armenian family during his internship at the Ministry of Finance, Greg witnessed the daily struggles and triumphs of life in Yerevan. "These experiences humbled me. I realized many things I took for granted in the West were luxuries here. Yet, I also saw the potential for change and growth and a resilience in the Armenian spirit that was inspiring."
The subsequent internship with the Central Bank of Armenia in 2007 further broadened his horizons. "Interacting with proficient specialists offered insights into the nuances of Armenian economics," Greg shared. "This experience shaped my understanding of macroeconomics, complementing my knowledge in Finance, and allowed me to see the potential for financial innovation in the country."
Optimism Amidst Challenges
In 2009, amidst the Global Finance Crisis, Greg expressed optimism about Armenia's economic prospects. Today, he maintains that confidence. "Our generation faces challenges in the West, from rising living costs to stagnant wage growth," Greg explained. "Contrarily, Armenia presents a unique canvas of opportunities. Despite challenges, there's significant economic activity and initiatives to improve daily life, along with a budding entrepreneurial spirit."
His endeavors in Margahovit, the picturesque village in Armenia's Lori province where his wife was born and raised, exemplify this potential. "Margahovit holds a special place in my heart," he said, detailing his kiwi berry and shiitake mushroom ventures. Initiated as a pilot project in 2016, the kiwi berry farm has since expanded, with increased yield and productivity. The experimentation with shiitake mushrooms promises a double bounty. "I envision a cooperative model where villagers grow these berries, enhancing their income while bolstering the local economy," Greg enthused. His passion for sustainable agriculture shines through as he seeks to introduce more such ventures.
An Immersive Experience
When asked about the significance of the diaspora's ties to Armenia, Greg's conviction was evident. "The more Armenians live and experience Armenia, the deeper their connection," he said. "While some may view Armenia with skepticism, I've always countered that the U.S. too has its challenges. We should be proactive, leveraging our skills and resources to foster growth in Armenia, and acting as ambassadors of Armenian potential."
Reflecting on his time with Birthright Armenia, Greg emphasized the lasting impact of immersing in local life. "Staying with a local family, understanding their day-to-day, and interacting with villagers enriched my understanding," he shared. "These connections have profoundly influenced my sense of identity and commitment to Armenia. It's about creating mutual respect and understanding, which in turn fosters stronger bonds."
Bridging the Knowledge Gap: A Journey of Resilience and Passion
Greg's future aspirations include bridging the financial knowledge gap in Armenia. He envisions setting up a consulting firm that offers business administration services, emphasizing the importance of equipping the youth with skills in economics, finance, and accounting. This endeavor will not only boost local businesses but also ensure a more secure financial future for the nation.
Greg Bandikian's tale is not just about discovering one's roots; it's about intertwining them with the future. It's a story of resilience, passion, and the relentless pursuit of dreams, underpinned by the love for a homeland and the desire to make a difference. Through Birthright Armenia, Greg Bandikian not only found his way back to his roots but also charted a path forward, exemplifying the transformative power of connection and heritage and the importance of giving back.