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.