Alumna Verginie Touloumian Steps Into Leadership Role at the Armenian Relief Society

Verginie TouloumianVerginie Touloumian received her B.A. in Management from Woodbury in 2014. We caught up with her to learn more about her career path leading to her current role as Executive Director of the Armenian Relief Society (ARS), a nonprofit organization founded in 1910 that is dedicated to serving the humanitarian needs of Armenians and non-Armenians.

Tell us about the educational and professional path that took you from Woodbury to your current position at the ARS.

As a high school senior, when it was time to apply for colleges, I only applied to Woodbury. Out of all the schools, I knew that Woodbury was a perfect match and I put all my hopes and dreams in my application cover letter. Woodbury believed in me and throughout my four years there, I received an education that provided the resources needed to pursue the goals I had outlined in my application package. With every class I took, every professor I learned from, and every person I interacted with, Woodbury offered an educational experience that taught me problem-solving, creative-thinking, and the interdisciplinary skills needed to tackle real-world work challenges.

But most of all, Woodbury taught me to be a life-long learner. So, only a few months after graduation, I earned my Human Resources Certificate from Loyola Marymount University, and two years later, I received my Master’s in Management and Leadership from Pepperdine University.

Upon graduation, I started working for my high school, Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian school, as a project coordinator and high school teacher on Armenian Politics until I got recruited by the Armenian Relief Society in 2017.

How did the Oxford Study Abroad program come about?

When I was studying at Pepperdine, the school selected 20 student representatives to attend the Oxford program. I was lucky enough to be one of the participants to study at Oxford and receive a certificate from the institution in Organizations, Environments, and Political Economy Management.

The most exciting part of the trip was seeing the management and the operations facilities of Jaguar. It was an eye-opening experience to learn how different companies operate from one country to the other.

Tell us about your work at the Los Angeles Mission’s Anne Douglas Center for Women?

With a group of four other students from Pepperdine, we formed a team to provide pro-bono consultative services to the organization during the year. First, we researched and collected data on the management of the organization, and then we implemented a series of workshops to help the organization reach its maximum potential.

How did your role with the Armenian Relief Society come about?

Both my grandmother and mother have been members of the Armenian Relief Society. Therefore, the organization was not new to me. Over the past 108 years, ARS has been on the frontlines of our people’s struggle for liberation and nation-building. In addition, with their mighty volunteer army, ARS has been committed to offering services to society at large.

I was in Boston for a tri-regional meeting of the Armenian Youth Federation and members of their board of directors were having a quarterly meeting. I was able to cross paths with someone who is a member of the Board of Directors and they asked if I was interested. They had been searching for the perfect candidate since January 2017. I was interviewed in June and assumed my role in October.

Were you actively pursuing a career with a nonprofit or NGO? What triggered your interest in that sector?

Yes. I’ve always had my eye on NGOs. I think it’s because I’ve always felt like I wanted to do something that made a difference, and I believe that non-profit organizations, no matter how large or small, are set to change the world. I am motivated by the purpose of my work, and what better way to do something that I know is really helping people? I definitely think I will always pursue a career in NGOs.

Your activism began at an early age. How did you get started?

I can’t overlook the fact that my parents have both been members of different NGOs, and from a young age I looked up to them as they were committed to the idea of national service. My activism began when I became a girl scout for the Armenian General Athletic Union and Scouts (HMEM) and a junior at the Armenian Youth Federation. And from a young age I began to learn necessary life skills through these organizations. I’ve been involved in planning events, setting visions for programs and overseeing them until completion. This has definitely given me the necessary background and skills needed to manage the multiple projects that I have to oversee now in my every day work.

You are ultimately responsible for ARS entities in 26 countries. How much travel do you anticipate doing and what will determine that schedule?

I am expected to travel a lot. The ARS is also an NGO on the roster in consultative status with the United Nations. I try to go to New York whenever I can to participate in UN meetings, conferences, and sessions. There is a lot we can learn there from other NGOs and member states and they can also learn from our organization and its 108-year old legacy. We recently presented on our activities in empowering women and girls in rural areas of Armenia during the 62nd session of United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

We are currently planning a Conference in Armenia on the Women’s Role from Renaissance to Republic on the occasion of the Centenary of the First Republic of Armenia. So I will be there for a majority of May. I will also be traveling to France at the end of the year to have a regional meeting with ARS members of the countries of Europe and Middle East. I definitely have an exciting year ahead of me and I am excited to travel around the world and meet the women who carry out our work in the different communities.

How much travel had you done prior to your appointment?

I try to travel once a year. I think that vacations are necessary, so you can come back and focus on your work. The first time I was really away from home was in 2011, when after my freshman year I traveled to Armenia to run a 6-week summer camp for the children of Armenia and Artsakh, through the Armenian Youth Federations’ Youth Corps Program. It was a way to give back to my homeland but also connect with it. It was a way for me to understand that I have a duty to give back. I was so inspired by all of this I participated in a similar program in Javakhk, Georgia in 2013.

The following year after my sophomore year, I lived in New York where I did an internship at the United Nations. And I have traveled to some countries in Europe and different US States. I was also born and lived in Lebanon for about 12 years.

You have both business management and HR expertise. How large of an organization is ARS, and how do you describe your management style?

The organization has about 15,000 in members who all contribute to the programs and mission of the organization on a volunteer basis. Every four years they elect a Board of Directors who oversees the organization and its projects. Although, there is only a handful of employees that work under my supervision, more than 15,000 people carry out our mission. In spite of difficulties presented by the many time-zones and continental divides, I always try to remind them of our mission and humanitarian and pan-humanistic ideals so they can work with renewed energy. Our programs pretty much speak for themselves and all our employees and volunteers work enthusiastically to make sure that it’s always a success. Since most of our decisions are on the principles of democratic values, I try to also do that in my day-to-day job.

To the extent you’ve had time to distill it, what’s your vision for ARS? What are your immediate priorities? Longer-term goals?

On the threshold of its second century, I would want the ARS to always remain receptive to the calls of the growing changes and diversity in the vital needs of people and remain alert and steadfast with its mighty volunteer army. I’d also like to strengthen the organization to be self-sufficient and financially stable to carry out future conquests on the road of its noble mission.

Learn more about the Armenian Relief Society
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