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Using Impact Investment to Build Sustainable Development in Armenia – International Policy Digest

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Following the start of another political crisis in Armenia, the future for the country in the mountainous Caucasus region looks unclear. The latest events have seen thousands taking to the streets to call for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s resignation. Following a tumultuous 2020 with the Nagorno-Karabakh war, the COVID-19 pandemic, and economic stagnation, political tensions are high. Pashinyan has faced mounting protests and calls from the opposition to resign since the six-week armed conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia last year. At the heart of this turmoil, is the Russia-brokered ceasefire, which has seen Russian soldiers deployed as peacekeepers and resulted in Armenia ceding control of parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts.

What is clear, is that the war and loss of Nagorno-Karabakh have exacerbated socio-economic issues in Armenia and have proven a catalyst for social division. The question now lies in Armenia’s future. How should those within the Republic of Armenia look forward? Until now, the focus of the Armenian state and diaspora has largely been on the past. However, energy and focus must now be directed toward the future of Armenia and creating a unique, successful country. To achieve this, cooperation between state, community, and diaspora is essential.

The war and COVID-19 have accelerated every existing issue in the region, making it clear that in order to emerge from the other side, a more solid long-term strategy for the country is required. Strategic investment in developing countries can have a hugely positive impact on local economies. Impact investment has proven to be successful in a number of developing countries because of its long-term focus on strengthening local economic and social environments. Its core emphasis is on the merger of commercial and social ventures and promotion of investment into companies, organisations, and funds that will generate a positive social and environmental impact.

In Armenia, a country long held back by its landlocked location and geopolitical constraints, impact investment could be used to spur both an economic and societal flourish. Ruben Vardanyan is a champion of developing a long-term strategy and has been driving impact investment in Armenia and Russia for over thirty years. Vardanyan, along with Noubar Afeyan, an American-Armenian entrepreneur, inventor, and philanthropist, have implemented partnership projects that have transformed the socio-economic environment in Armenia. Twenty years ago, they began a joint life-long journey to initiate the Armenia-2020 project by creating anchor projects.

Their foundation, the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative along with Vardanyan and Afeyan’s other pioneer projects; the IDeA Foundation, UWC Dilijan, and FAST Foundation, have all helped build sustainable initiatives that promote positive long-term socio-economic impact and preserve Armenian identity. Numerous philanthropic projects have been implemented – with the aim to aid the development of a more coherent and thriving economic and social ecosystem in Armenia. The Armenia-2020 initiative called on Armenians to discuss the future of their country and formulate a project plan of how that vision could be achieved. Armenia-2020 and Armenia-2040, both involved large-scale research and the decision to follow the concept of holistic development.

Multi-purpose breakthrough projects are being used to promote Armenia as a future regional hub for healthcare, technology, and education. UWC Dilijan is Armenia’s first international boarding school, welcoming students from over 80 countries. The school, part of the Scholae Mundi Foundation, has played a wider role in the development of Dilijan – it is a key employer and helped Dilijan prosper economically. The FAST Foundation was launched in 2016 and drives technological innovation in Armenia and the region. The anchor projects implemented all have long-term and tangible benefits. Recently, FAST announced a new project in collaboration with the British Council. The project part of SciNova will focus on the commercialisation of science – in order to promote science as a lucrative career path for young Armenians.

Vardanyan and Afeyan’s strategy for impact investment has recently been studied in a new book by Blair Sheppard, head of global strategy at PwC. In his book, Ten Years to Midnight: Four Urgent Global Crises and their Strategic Solutions, Blair Sheppard sets out the most urgent global challenges and what he believes are their key solutions – rebuilding and reinvigorating institutions. At its core is a simple idea, one that believes if globalisation is to truly work, we need strong local economies and ecosystems. Blair Sheppard underlines the components used by Vardanyan and Afeyan in Armenia and argues they should be used more widely in the country and as a blueprint for how other countries can develop on a local level, allowing them to go on to become a global actor.

The formula used by Vardanyan, Afeyan, and partners in Armenia, covered in Sheppard’s book, highlights a change in how we should address investment in developing countries. It emphasises the successes that have been made in Armenia, and what more can be done. If their calls for further engagement and discussion are listened to, Armenia has the potential to quickly and successfully develop – especially with the large swathes of talented diaspora, who could provide counsel and financing. Being a small country makes you vulnerable, but it also gives you the power to change things quickly, to change them for the better. The holistic approach to impact investment should be reflected across other projects in Armenia. For a country to truly work towards sustainable development, the evidence shows that long-term investment, partnership, and independence is far more successful than the traditional triad of help, charity, and advice.

If you’re interested in writing for International Policy Digest – please send us an email via submissions@intpolicydigest.org

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British Columbia tackles innovation investment gap – The Globe and Mail

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Lt.- Gov. Janet Austin delivers the Throne Speech at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., April 12, 2021.

CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

The B.C. government will create its own investment fund to help promising B.C. companies scale up and keep jobs here at home, as part of its post-pandemic recovery plan.

The InBC strategic investment fund, announced in Monday’s Throne Speech, will be administered by a new Crown corporation. The initiative is designed to respond to concerns that the province’s world-leading innovations in sectors such as life sciences are consistently flowing to other jurisdictions with better investment climates.

The Throne Speech, read by Lieutenant-Governor Janet Austin, offers a self-congratulatory account of the government’s response to the health and economic challenges brought by COVID-19 over the past year, and acknowledges that the province is still in the grips of the pandemic. But it also focuses on plans to rebuild the economy.

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“We open this sitting of the legislature at a turning point in our fight to end the pandemic,” she read. “The threat of new variants means we cannot relax, even as your government accelerates the largest mass-immunization program in B.C.’s history.”

Ms. Austin cited the province’s contributions to the global effort to fight COVID-19, noting that its life-sciences companies have helped develop a vaccine and a treatment for the virus, as well as the development of an ICU ventilator for use in Canadian hospitals.

“Their work will not only help bring us out of the pandemic, it will position our province for success in the years ahead,” she said.

The speech predicts the province will find continued growth in trade. “Global markets are changing in ways that offer significant opportunities for B.C.’s goods and services. Prices are expected to continue to reflect environmental, social and governance aspects of production,” it states. “British Columbia firms will be able to take advantage of a premium paid for inclusive and sustainable products.”

But leaders in health sciences and the high-tech sectors have noted that B.C., while it excels in research and development, fails to foster a business environment where those innovations can stay and grow.

Quebec and Ontario have helped secure life sciences investments by partnering with Ottawa to offer incentives. Most recently, the global pharmaceutical giant Sanofi unveiled its plans to build an influenza vaccine manufacturing facility in Toronto, after the federal government and the province of Ontario committed to invest close to half a billion dollars in the project.

The B.C. government provided no detail on the new investment fund on Monday, and it is unclear how the new agency will assist. “This new strategic fund will help promising B.C. companies scale up, anchor talent – keeping jobs and investment at home in British Columbia,” it reads.

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It also promises additional funding to address the challenges that COVID-19 has exposed for the homeless, for health care and for seniors in long-term care. “In the year ahead, your government will continue to improve care for seniors by hiring thousands of new workers for long-term care and fixing the cracks COVID-19 has exposed.”

The Throne Speech also promises initiatives to assist British Columbians who struggle with the cost of living. The budget, which will be introduced on April 20, will include funds to help get thousands of rental homes built throughout the province, and will expand access to the province’s $10-a-day daycare spaces.

The government is also promising changes to its vehicle insurance rates through the Insurance Corporation of B.C. ICBC will deliver a 20-per-cent cut to car insurance rates, in addition to the COVID-19 rebate that was issued earlier this year.

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

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eBay Is Helping Gen-Y and Gen-Z Get Their Investment Kicks

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At a time when Sotheby’s is auctioning off rare sneakers, you know the nature of investing has changed. Those changes are coming as Generations Y and Z are looking to invest in what they love, while changing the nature of what investment-grade goods look like.

eBay, for one has been leading the charge and looks to remain the go-to agent for its monetization. And, to combat counterfeiting while supporting the segment’s growth, the online marketplace is innovating. eBay has begun a series of pop-up authentication events, intended to give their collectors and sellers a new source to both authenticate and value their rare kicks, as well as high-end watches, and collector cards.

Sneakers and watches are two of eBays most popular luxury categories. There are more than a half-million sneaker listings on eBay, and over 165,00 luxury watches listed on any given day. And over the past year the marketplace saw a 10 percent increase for high-end time pieces like Rolex, whose sales have jumped 60 percent since 2019.

Authentication Station

The on-site authentication events are an extension of the recently expanded “Authentication Guarantee” services that eBay offers, utilizing an independent team of industry experts. It’s the same group that authenticated a $1 million pair of 1985 Air Jordon 1’s, signed by non-other than the “Air-apparent” himself.

The program first launched in LA’s Koreatown, back in November 2020 in a vintage, fifties-looking converted gas station. Participants handed the goods off to an attendant, who brought the items in to the inspection teams. The process was in full view via large outside screens, and successful assessments earned an eBay Authentication Guarantee. Participants were able to receive “on the spot” offers or elected to list the items themselves.

The East-Hollywood, LA experiment was successful enough to replicate. And pop-up authentication events took place this past Friday and Saturday in Atlanta. They are expected to again be replicated in Las Vegas, Seattle, Nashville, and Austin in coming weeks. Admissions to the events are free, without an appointment.

Playing A New Card

In a parallel effort, by late April eBay will add an imaging listing tool to its mobile app, designed to facilitate more efficient listings of trading cards. This is another category that has evolved from mere collecting to high-buck investing.

Beginning in late April 2021, eBay plans to launch an image listing tool in its mobile app to initially support Magic the Gathering cards and ultimately Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! as well.  Users will point their camera at the card and hold to scan. A list of possible matches will pop-up, along with details on game name, title, card set, number and rarity. After tapping the closest match, the user can add their details and pricing to post. eBay plans to add other collectable and trading cards to the offering later in 2021.

Source: – Forbes

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Joe Biden tax plan affect US investment in Ireland?

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Wander around Dublin’s Grand Canal Quay and you get a sense of how successful the Republic of Ireland has been in attracting US technology companies.

Google has its international headquarters across a campus of offices and will soon have more space nearby at the Boland’s Mill development.

Just across the canal, Facebook has its international HQ with Tripadvisor and AirBnB close by.

Stripe, the United States-based payments firm, could soon be in the area.

Last month its Irish founders said they’re planning about 1,000 new jobs in Ireland.

The head of the country’s inward investment agency, Martin Shanahan, described the Stripe investment as a “phenomenal signal from Ireland and about Ireland”.

But there’s now a risk that the pipeline of investment from the US could dry up if President Joe Biden can lead a major change to global tax rules.

Irish tax advantage under threat

In among those tech company HQs in Dublin’s docklands, you will also find the offices of the lawyers and accountants who help US firms use Ireland’s tax system to reduce their global tax bills.

For the last 20 years Ireland has had a simple message: invest here and you will pay just 12.5% tax on your Irish profits.

That compares favourably to headline corporation tax rates of 19% in the UK, 30% in Germany and 26.5% in Canada.

It is an article of faith in Irish politics that the 12.5% rate has been vital to attracting US investment.

But that tax advantage could be seriously undermined if President Biden gets his way.

 

Google head office Dublin

 

The most striking of his proposals – and the one of most consequence for Ireland – is for a global minimum corporate tax rate.

The US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has suggested a 21% minimum rate.

“We are working with G20 nations to agree to a global minimum corporate tax rate that can stop the race to the bottom,” she said in a speech last week.

“Together we can use a global minimum tax to make sure the global economy thrives based on a more level playing field in the taxation of multinational corporations.”

What would it mean for Ireland’s economy?

Essentially that would mean if a company paid tax at the lower Irish rate, then the US (or other countries) could top up that company’s tax in their jurisdiction to get it to the global minimum.

So if a US company had a presence in Ireland primarily for the tax advantage, that advantage would disappear.

This is a matter of urgency for the Biden administration because it is planning to raise corporate taxes at home and would prefer not to see more tax revenues leaking to other countries.

Peter Vale, tax partner with accounting firm Grant Thornton in Dublin, thinks a global minimum rate is now an inevitability.

“If you’d asked me six months ago I’d have been quite sceptical, there was a lot of opposition,” he said.

“But it’s now moving by the day and, with the US behind it with its plans, I think we’re going to arrive at some sort of global consensus.”

He said the key issue for Ireland becomes the level at which the rate is set.

“I don’t think 21% is where it will land, I suspect it will be somewhere in the teens.”

 

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Other details will be important too: “Exactly how will you work out what the rate is a company is paying in Ireland and what does that mean in terms of any top up? The detail becomes pretty critical.”

The Biden proposals have reinvigorated work which is being led by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), an intergovernmental economic organisation.

It began a project known as Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) in 2013, which aims to mitigate tax loopholes which currently allow companies to shift profits from higher tax countries to lower tax countries like Ireland.

‘Intention to target Ireland’

Perhaps ironically Ireland appears to have been a major beneficiary of some of the early outcomes of the BEPS project.

The country’s corporation tax receipts have soared from about €4bn (£3.5bn) in 2013 to around €12bn (£10.5bn) in 2020.

That is the principle that companies should declare their profits in the location where they have real operations or activities.

“Countries like Ireland have been a huge winner from BEPS mark one,” he said.

“The objective was to align profit with substance and we actually are one of the countries where these companies have substance, whether it be pharmaceuticals, computer chips, medical devices and the ICT companies.

“I think when countries in the G7 looked at this they thought ‘that’s not quite what we wanted’ – maybe the intention was to target countries like Ireland, not benefit them.”

When could we see an impact?

In the next round of BEPS, with the US on board, those other rich countries are more likely to get what they want at Ireland’s expense.

But even if President Biden can agree the reforms at home and abroad, how quickly would that have an impact in Ireland?

Mr Coffey thinks any negative effects would not be instant because tax is not everything.

“Are the ICT companies likely to head off around the world, scattering their headquarters to various different cities?” he said.

“There are benefits to being co-located. At least in the medium term we are not likely to see a huge shock.”

That is echoed by the IDA (Industrial Development Authority), the inward investment agency, which points to Ireland’s workforce and significant clusters of specialisation in areas like medical technology and pharmaceuticals.

The IDA also sees the Brexit angle, pointing out that Ireland, unlike its UK neighbour, is part of the EU’s single market.

In a statement, it said: “Ireland is at the heart of Europe. Ireland’s continued commitment to the EU is a core part of Ireland’s value proposition to foreign investors, offering a base to access the European Single Market and to grow their business.

“Ireland also benefits from free movement of people within the EU, giving businesses located in Ireland access to a European labour market.”

The Irish government has been engaged in the BEPS process, though in a speech last year the Finance Minister, Pascal Donohoe, said he remained to be convinced of the need for minimum taxation, beyond the specific challenges relating to the digital economy.

This week a government spokesman said: “Ireland is aware of the US proposals.

“We are constructively engaging in these discussions, and will consider any proposals carefully noting that political level discussions on these issues have not yet taken place with the 139 countries involved in this process.”

Source: – BBC News

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