Besides funding CSOs to start or expand social enterprises, Bridge4CSOs’ core mission consists of connecting diaspora professionals with local Armenian projects. Till date, many Armenian, influential specialists and experts from around the world became Goodwill Ambassadors for different social enterprises. By being Goodwill ambassadors, these heroes come back to their homeland willing to invest their gained experiences over the years, knowledge and skills for the further development of the civil society in Armenia.

Who is Azad Chichmanian

This October, we had the privilege to have Azad Chichmanian as our Goodwill ambassador. Azad is architect and partner at NEUF architect(e)s, a 140-person design firm with offices in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, since 2007. He leads a multi-disciplinary team of designers working on a variety of projects, most notably the Nouveau Centre Hospitalier de l'Universite de Montreal (CHUM). It’s also important to mention that Azad is the main architect behind Kharatian Experiential Arts Centre in Gyumri, which is set to begin construction in 2019, and to open in 2021. This wonderful cause is implemented within the frames of Bridge for CSOs project led by AGBU in partnership with EPF and funded by the European Union.

Architecture and Urban Renewal Conference & Professional discussion with Azad

Azad arrived in Armenia to engage in a constructive dialogue based around Architecture and Urban Renewal. He shared his expertise of more than 20 years in the field with young, mid-career and senior architects, and students. We have connected Azad with ARDIscope, the non-profit organisation which aims to expand social awareness about architecture and related issues. ARDIscope tends to enhance the leadership and communication skills and abilities of the students, as well as building a bridge between them and expert architects, through workshops, discussions, competitions, experience sharing, team building activities and etc. During the conference, four young architects have presented their projects. Azad was going through the projects individually, by providing his honest feedback and constructive comments in a lively discussion with the audience.

The four projects revolved around urban development, were the following: 
- Reconstruction project of Nor Gyugh Armenian district in Aleppo, Syria presented by Rita George Deek 
- Reconstruction project of Kilikia Residential district of Yerevan presented by Lilit Grigoryan 
- Evacuation shelter project presented by Tigran Asatryan 
- Reconstruction project of Ajapniak district of Yerevan presented by Varuzhan Kochkoyan.

The discussion session was followed by an interesting presentation. It was Azad’s turn to share his journey and the challenges he went through in his career with the audience. His case studies included the recent projects he has worked on in Canada, including CHUM, the largest health construction project in North America and the largest public-private partnership in Canada to date. Azad played an important role in redesigning the initial programme to deliver 85% of the project in a single accelerated phase.

Azad’s Procrastination

Often when we ask our Goodwill ambassadors for their expectations prior their arrival to Yerevan, we get the same answer; the word “different”. But in this case, different is good. It proves that Bridge4CSOs’ main mission is justified. 
Azad wasn’t sure if the experience he had gathered in Canada was going to be relevant to the context in Armenia. But of course, he was quite pleasantly surprised to see just how relevant it seemed to be – in particular the issues of heritage preservation and its integration into new, very contemporary architecture, and the approaches to different scales of urban renewal. “ I believe in that sense there are examples in Canadian Cities, both positive and negative, that can serve as reference points at a time when architects in Armenia and Yerevan grapple with the same pressures of development, or the integration of new and old.”

“A bridge that works in both directions”

We wanted to rephrase Azad’s thoughts and impression towards his Goodwill Ambassador experience, but he has described in such an inspiring way that we couldn’t but quote what he said. 
“ I concluded my talk with this notion that a bridge, of course, works in both directions, and that with this first contact now having been established across what used to be an obstacle, the experiences and information can flow in both directions: Innovative methods or lessons learned in Armenia can in turn feed the work of other architects abroad, and vice versa. This type of sharing of knowledge is particularly necessary in the design industry. With the talent and energy that I witnessed there, I’m certain that very soon we will see Armenian architects being invited to speak at different venues across the world stage. 
In this regard, the AGBU Bridge for CSO’s program has a uniquely constructive dimension to it, since it facilitates first contact in disciplines where dialogue is key, and allows a lasting exchange to take place. If we see ourselves as a global nation, this type of relationship from diaspora to motherland is essential to the growth and evolution of our culture. The opportunity to serve as Goodwill Ambassador is an honor that any member of the diaspora should see as a privileged venue to contribute to that growth in a meaningful way. I think, like me, they would be surprised to discover just how much they have to contribute, and how much they have to learn.”

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