Birthright Armenia subject of USC case study "Moving Forward"

Students help chart the next five years

Published: Thursday July 23, 2009

From left to right, USC graduates Sevana Melikian, Meri Davtian, and Tzoler Oukayan look forward to helping Birthright Armenia in the future.

Los Angeles - Sevana Melikian, Meri Davtian, and Tzoler Oukayan, three soon-to-be masters' graduates of USC's School of Policy, Planning and Development, had one last, but very important, project assignment. They had to develop a case study on a nonprofit organization and present it to the rest of the graduating class, allowing them to come up with suggestions on how to solve or approach the major issues outlined.

After spending a semester researching the organization, the graduate students were to determine the most important priorities for the organization to consider as it moves forward in a five-year strategic plan. For their project, Ms. Melikian, Ms. Davtian, and Ms. Oukayan chose Birthright Armenia as the subject of their case study.

"All three of us are very involved in Armenian organizations here in Los Angeles, so selecting an Armenian nonprofit organization for our case study came naturally," said Ms. Melikian. "I had heard great things about Birthright Armenia throughout the years, and the three of us were genuinely interested in learning more about the organization and finding ways in which we could help."

Through a series of interviews with board members, staff, and alumni of Birthright Armenia, the USC team delved heavily into the organization's background, operations, finance and administration, recruitment practices, marketing, and communications. The case also provided a thorough organizational analysis of Birthright Armenia's strengths and weaknesses, opportunities for growth, and long-term strategy. To present a strong and accurate case to their professor and fellow students, the three graduate students would need to have a strong understanding of the organization's operations as well as grasp its vision for the for the next five years.

"We were fortunate enough to work with an organization whose leadership was willing and able to help us throughout our research. They really went out of their way to provide us with the resources necessary," said Ms. Oukayan.

Founder and board member Edele Hovnanian welcomed the student initiative wholeheartedly. "In their case study, these young women did a really nice job of laying out the challenges we will face in continuing to grow the organization" Ms. Hovnanian said.

She added: "They collected valuable ideas from their classmates and professor on how to increase recruitment, creative ways to increase revenue and sponsorships, and more. They presented us with a 'Results' section, which in my opinion, is worthy of board-level discussion. As an organization that services the youth, we never shy away from fresh ideas and input that comes from the youth themselves, and this particular case study includes practical and implementable recommendations for our serious consideration."

Among the recommendations the students provided in their report were creative ways to increase Birthright Armenia's recruitment efforts, especially during nonsummer months, as well as alumni involvement.

Establishing sponsorships, for example, with business schools, international relations programs, and with U.S., Armenian, or European corporations that have strong international components and/or Armenian studies programs was one idea. Also, creating seasonal volunteer campaigns focusing on demographics, or through partnerships with local events taking place in Armenia, could assist in reaching higher numbers of applicants in traditionally off-peak months. Further encouraging the current Birthright Armenia alumni base of over 400 to host their own recruitment and fundraising events in combination with reunion events was another recommendation.

In the end, the whole process of this case study was a success not only for Birthright Armenia, but also for the three graduate students. "Our professor emailed us to say that we ‘did a nice job.... The case was very professional, clear, and focused.' He is going to use our case as a teaching tool for the class next semester," said Ms. Davtian.

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