There are about 240 million children with disabilities – one in 10 children. Across the three-million populated Republic of Armenia, the latest data shows 8,771 officially registered children with disabilities (CwD). Of the over 86,000 families in Armenia receiving family and social benefits, 2,933 are families with a child with disabilities, and 2,726 are single mothers.
As sole caretakers of their disabled children, single mothers are at a disadvantage when it comes to securing flexible jobs to supplement their meager state-provided pensions.
Now one social enterprise is shifting that paradigm!
“At Ardook we believe that everyone should have the opportunity for a decent life,” says Shogher Atanesyan, Founder and CEO of Armenia-based Ardook (ironing) Household Assistant–social enterprise which launched last year and provides sustainable income to single mothers with disabled children.
A certified project manager, with over a decade of retail management experience in four countries, Ardook is Atanesyan’s third social impact project. “I hate ironing and love designing projects with social impact,” she explains.
Serving both residential and commercial customers, Ardook currently has five mothers/employees–with another five in training. All employees train with industry-standard washing, drying and ironing techniques and work from home and care for their disabled children. Two of the five employees have multiple disabled children with disabilities ranging from severe autism to cerebral palsy to blindness.
Ardook offers daily washing, drying and ironing services to over 160 customers who regularly, or on occasion, request services received via Facebook and Instagram. Individuals crunched for time, and commercial businesses like such restaurants as Ankyun and Avocado Queen in Yerevan (Armenia’s capital city), and owners of apartment rentals in need of clean daily linens value Ardook’s personalized customer service.
Once requests are received, couriers pick up the items and deliver it to the five employees. Up to five kilograms of clothes/linen items are serviced overnight–there’s a 2000+ AMD ($5) fee for each kilogram. They assign each customer to a specific mother and overloads are usually divided between the employees to meet the 24-hour turnaround deadline. Couriers pick up and deliver the clean, ironed items to the customers.
Hayk Aslanyan, who owns rental apartments in Yerevan, considers the social enterprise a “beautiful initiative.” He has contracted Ardook for nearly a year.
“We could not be happier. When we heard of Ardook, we realized we wanted to be a part of it and haven’t regretted our decision. From the first day of our cooperation, it was impossible not to notice the love and care the whole team puts into what they do. We look forward to continuing our successful cooperation with the team,” says Aslanyan.
Providing Sustainable Income
Ardook pays employees based on the quantity of orders they service. On average, the mothers earn a monthly income of nearly $200. Minimum monthly wages in Armenia are nearly $170.
I meet up with one of Ardook employees, Kristine Arakelyan, at the outskirts of Yerevan as we wait at a street corner for her nine-year-old son, Grigor, to be dropped off from school. As one of Ardook’s first employees, she is now a manager and coordinates all the pickup and delivery schedules.
“We have an excellent team of mothers right now. Ninety percent of them live in rental apartments and are single mothers. We have a strong camaraderie and help each other out a lot with chores,” Arakelyan explains as a white minivan stops in front of us and a cheerful dark-haired scrawny boy is assisted out of the van and embraced with a tight hug and kisses by Arakelyan.
The government provided special needs bus is a blessing since Grigor can’t walk, eat, or perform any bodily functions without help. Besides a state provided 24,000 AMD ($60) monthly pension and 39,000 AMD (nearly $100) for Grigor, all other expenses–from rent to clothing to diapers and physical therapy are Arakelyan’s responsibility since Grigor’s father left when he was four years old–and never took much responsibility for his son’s care.
I follow the mother and son through a metal doorway and up a set of dilapidated cement stairs. Grigor walks ahead of me. Grasping the loose iron railing, he pulls himself up each stair, balancing his twisting legs as his mother walks ahead to open the door to their apartment.
Grigor is only now able to climb the stairs after a month-long muscle therapy afforded by a fundraising Ardook organized. With shortages of physical therapists–there’s a two-year waiting list for additional therapy services.
As we enter the tight, warm apartment, Arakelyan leads us to a room where a large industrial ironing board sits at the foot of a bed against the wall. On the opposite side sits a couch and a couple of easy chairs–a TV screen sits against the wall.
Grigor drops on the couch, cradles a large plastic Coke bottle, and is totally immersed in the TV program on the screen while his mother puts on his slippers.
“I’m Grigor’s hands and legs and life,” Arakelyan’s contagious laughter echoes in the room. Disappearing from the room, she reappears with a plate of food and takes a seat by the ironing board. Grigor walks over and leans himself against his mother as he’s fed.
Arakelyan does most of her ironing while Grigor is at school or busy watching TV. She can’t work while he’s asleep since the sound disturbs him. Childcare is her full-time commitment during summer months and for most of December when school is out. But a few friends and family members help out.
Meeting UNSDG Goals
As a profitable social enterprise that fosters inclusive growth, Ardook employees receive 50% of profits. The “primary goal is to provide salaries to the mothers,” Atanasyan explains how profits are divided as bonuses between the mothers–or cover unaffordable transportation costs for the children.
In advancing two UN Sustainable Development Goals: reducing inequalities, while providing decent work and economic growth, Ardook also adhers to eco-friendly business practices by using recycled plastic hangers and woven bags for deliveries. It has already earned international awards: Social Impact idea and the Creative Spark by the British Council in Armenia, as well as two European Union grants which afforded the purchase of a delivery car and state-of-the-art equipment for the employed mothers.
“Shogher Atanesyan’s Ardook was a well-designed social enterprise business idea that showed a firm commitment to impact a unique and deserving group in Armenia–mothers of disabled children. After going through our five-month-long training workshop mastering marketing, financial planning, business model aspects of her social enterprise, her business idea pitch was a winner at our annual Social Impact Award,” explains Gevorg Poghosyan, CEO of Impact Hub, Yerevan–a social innovation incubator, community, and space that supports promising social impact projects and enterprises with a “positive social change in Armenia and beyond.”
Spread across 1200 square meters and three floors of offices and open co-working spaces the Hub’s 360-member “community of change makers and innovators” enjoy educational workshops, mentoring, networking, valuable resources and programs that elevate projects from “idea to implementation to impact” and help “prototype a future that works for all.”
Ardook’s services are currently available only in Yerevan. But Atanesyan plans to expand to other regions in Armenia and across post-Soviet countries.
10 European cities awarded by EU for plans to reach climate-neutrality by 2030
10 European cities have been awarded the Label of the EU Mission for Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities, one of the EU Missions in Horizon Europe. The EU Mission Label is an important milestone as it recognises the cities’ plans to achieve climate-neutrality already by 2030 and aims to facilitate access to public and private funding towards that objective.
The cities that have received the label are: Sønderborg (Denmark), Mannheim (Germany), Madrid, Valencia, Valladolid, Vitoria-Gasteiz and Zaragoza (Spain),Klagenfurt (Austria), Cluj-Napoca (Romania) and Stockholm (Sweden).
The EU Mission Label is an acknowledgement of the successful development of Climate City Contracts, which outline the cities’ overall vision for climate neutrality, and contain an action plan as well as an investment strategy. Cities co-create their Climate City Contracts with local stakeholders, including the private sector and citizens. A first group of cities presented their Contracts in April 2023, which were reviewed by the Commission with the support of experts, including from the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Joint Research Centre (JRC). Following a positive review, cities receive an EU Mission Label, which is intended to facilitate access to EU, national, and regional funding and financing sources, in particular private investment.
In total, 100 EU cities participate in the EU Cities Mission, with 12 additional cities from countries associated to Horizon Europe.
The Commission, through the Mission Platform, will continue to support cities with hands-on advice and funding programmes, such as a €32 million pilot programme combined with a twinning programme. Another call for pilot cities with a budget of €20 million is currently open until 6 November.
How does solar energy work and why to use it?
The impact of the climate crisis has never been more evident, with flooding, rising sea levels and high temperatures now becoming common occurrences on national news.
But renewables are a relatively unfamiliar technology, which means that we first need to raise awareness about how they work in order for people to feel comfortable using them. In this post, we explore solar energy – how it works, how you can use it at home, and why you should make the effort to switch to green energy.
Solar energy is probably the most well-known form of renewable energy, but it’s massively underutilised. In fact, some research suggests that in just an hour and a half, the amount of sunlight that hits the earth could actually power the world for a year.
To harness the power of the sun, we need to use solar panels, which capture the sunlight (solar radiation) and then turn it into power that we can use in our homes. A conductor material in the panels, such as silicon, releases electrons when exposed to light, which in turn produces an electric charge. This then creates a direct current, which is passed through an inverter to create an alternating current – the type of electricity we use in our homes.
When most people refer to solar panels, they tend to mean solar photovoltaic panels (PV panels) which we’ve outlined above, but there are actually two types. Solar thermal panels are made up of tubes or panels filled with water and glycol. They harness solar energy, converting it to heat.
The fluid is then pumped around the solar thermal circuit, which goes through the hot water cylinder used for the house. So, they do not offer solar electricity, but rather solar powered hot water, which can be used for washing as well as heating a property.
Solar PV panels can either be placed on a residential property, for direct use by the homeowner, or they can be part of a solar farm. If you have solar panels on your home, you’ll use solar power first, before topping up your electricity supply from the national grid. UK homeowners can also take advantage of the Smart Export Tariff, allowing you to sell back any excess electricity you generate but that you don’t use to the grid.
Alternatively, if you’re renting, don’t want to or can’t have solar panels at home, you can choose a renewable energy supplier to provide you with your electricity. Whilst there’s no way of ensuring that only green energy flows into your home, these renewable suppliers will put more green energy units into the grid mix, increasing the overall percentage of eco-friendly electricity – so you’re essentially voting for clean energy with your money.
The most significant reason to choose solar energy is that doing so can slash your carbon footprint, reducing your impact on the environment. Your installer will be able to advise on the best solar setup for your home, based on the orientation of the property, size of the roof and how much energy you’re likely to need. Whilst solar panels won’t be able to provide all of the necessary energy for your property all the time, there’s something satisfying about running your devices on energy that isn’t harmful to the planet.
Generating your own solar energy can help you cut your energy bills at home, both because you can use the energy directly and through the Smart Export Tariff. You’re simply making the most of the geographical orientation of your property, utilising a previously untapped resource to generate power for your home. In a time where energy bills are notoriously high, this is a welcome idea for many homeowners. Whilst there is the initial cost of the panels to consider, in the long run, you’re likely to end up saving money.
UK to study environmental impact of fashion industry
The lack of a collective approach to measuring and assessing the sustainability of the fashion industry means many consumers are still unaware of the impact the clothes they buy have on the health of our planet.
Now a major project, led by Northumbria University, will address the issue by bringing together a network of academic experts, manufacturers, major fashion brands and consumers to examine how the environmental impact across the fashion and textiles industry is measured and assessed.
The project has been awarded almost £2m of funding through a joint programme between the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and the UK’s national innovation agency Innovate UK.
The aim of the programme is to fulfil UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) ambition to transform the circular fashion and textiles sector. A core component of this mission is to fund Networks that bring together different communities to identify, prioritise and develop emerging research and knowledge exchange challenges.
The project will be led by Dr Alana James of Northumbria University, whose research focuses on creating sustainable change in the future of the fashion industry. She will work alongside colleagues from Northumbria, as well as King’s College London and Loughborough University, covering a variety of expertise, including water, air and soil pollution, forensic science, design, and big data.
They will be joined by representatives from global fashion brands including Barbour, Montane, and ASOS; sustainable clothing companies Agogic and This is Unfolded; campaign groups Fashion Revolution and WRAP; and the Northern Clothing and Textile Network, Newcastle City Council and Newcastle Gateshead Initiative.
Over the next two years the group will work together to gain a better understanding of how the environmental impact of fashion garments is currently measured, sharing their expertise to get a true picture of the scale of the problem.
“There are many issues with the current process for assessing environmental impact within the fashion industry. For a start, it relies very much on the self-reporting of data and is operated on an opt-in basis rather than as a mandatory requirement.”, says Dr Alana James. “We also need to start thinking beyond the carbon footprint of a garment and look at factors such as how microfibres from clothes are shed and the impact this has on the health of our oceans, rivers, soil and air quality.”
Working alongside Dr Alana James are Northumbria academics Dr Kelly Sheridan, a forensic scientist and expert in the transfer of microfibres from clothing; Dr Miranda Prendergast-Miller, an environmental geographer specialising in soil ecology; Professor Anne Peirson-Smith, Head of Fashion and expert in sustainable fashion and youth style; and Professor of Air Quality Management Anil Namdeo, whose research covers the monitoring, modelling and management aspects of air quality.
They are joined by Dr Tom Stanton of Loughborough University, who researchers the impact of clothing fibres on freshwater environments; and Dr Matteo Gallidabino, a Lecturer in Forensic Chemistry at King’s College London, who also specialises in the transfer and impact of microfibres from clothing.
The fashion and textile industry is estimated to be worth £21 billion to the UK economy, and provides more than half a million jobs. But globally, the sector causes 8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and 20 per cent of wastewater. Fashion uses more energy than both aviation and shipping combined. The complexity and reach of the industry means true impact on the environment is not fully understood.
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