Managing Director Tom Garabedian Continues ATP’s Mission


By Gabriella Gage

Mirror-Spectator Staff

WATERTOWN — In early 2012, Tom Garabedian was named the new managing director of the Armenian Tree Project (ATP), a non-profit organization founded to promote Armenia’s reforestation and subsequent socioeconomic developments.

For Garabedian, a former actuary consultant, the decision to get involved was an easy one. “There is no question that more emphasis needs to be focused on Armenia’s environment. The Tree Project is one of the key organizations whose sole focus is on Armenia’s environment, and that is personally motivating,” he said.

Prior to joining the ATP team, Garabedian had worked for Aon Hewitt, retiring in early 2011. He first joined ATP as a management consultant for its Executive Committee. “I had an opportunity to interview management and staff both in Watertown and Yerevan and was able to develop a sense of ATP’s strengths and to identify areas needing improvement,” said Garabedian. From there, Garabedian took his skills managing both people and projects and his newly acquired intimate knowledge of the organization into his new role as managing director of ATP in early 2012, taking over for Jeff Masarjian.

Garabedian is responsible for all of the operations of ATP both here and in Armenia. He oversees the finances of the organization including fundraising and expense perspectives, the programs underway in Armenia and staff assessment and development. While he has far-reaching responsibilities, Garabedian is quick to credit his fellow ATP staffers with aiding him in these endeavors. “We have very competent managers both in Watertown and in Armenia, so that relieves some of the pressure on the Managing Director,” said Garabedian.

While he does help to oversee operations in Armenia, his managerial focus is in the US and Director of ATP Armenia Operations Areg Maghakian has day-to-day control of activities there. “I usually plan three trips to Armenia each year to meet with our managers, review our projects both in the office and out in the field, discuss strategy and manager development and handle any people issues that arise,” Garabedian said.

A knack for producing results and a passion for ATP’s cause made the position an ideal one for Garabedian.“My involvement stemmed from a desire to be engaged in a pursuit that was both challenging and interesting mentally and that was producing meaningful results in Armenia, he said.

ATP was founded by Carolyn Mugar in 1994, and its primary mission at the outset was to plant trees in urban and rural sites as a way of overcoming the tree cutting that had occurred during the energy blockade that Armenia experienced. According to Garabedian, that mission led to the development of two nurseries within a short distance of Yerevan and employment of a full-time staff in Armenia of nearly 40 people.  Since its founding, ATP has broadened its mission to include environmental education which it accomplished by developing a curriculum which is now in use throughout Armenia’s public schools.

New developments are always on the horizon for the organization, which continues to evolve. Garabedian noted, “Within the past 10 years, we established the Mirak Family Reforestation Nursery in Margahovit to develop seedlings for large scale reforestation efforts and two Environmental Education Centers sponsored by Michael and Virginia Ohanian.”

There are now 60 full-time staffers in Armenia and hundreds of seasonal and part-time workers engaged in forestry work. “As far as new projects, we are evaluating the need for a fourth nursery in the southern part of the country and considering ways that tree planting could become an integral part of an expanded environmental curriculum in every public school,” said Garabedian.

The actual planning and continued upkeep of trees after planting are both essential to the process. One of the primary responsibilities of planting managers is site selection. According to Garabedian, planting managers “review potential planting sites to ensure that there is proper soil and water and that the community is committed to maintain trees once they’ve been planted.” He added, “We need to ensure that our sites are protected from livestock who view our seedlings as a tasty addition to their diets, and that often means that we need to fence areas that are planted. Generally, we will return to communities for a three-year period following planting to ensure that maintenance is being handled properly.” As far as large-scale reforestation efforts, ATP hires seasonal workers for a similar period to cut grass around the planting sites to improve the likelihood that seedlings will survive. “In community planting, we expect a three-year survival rate of 85 percent or better; in forestry, the threshold is somewhat lower because we’re at the mercy of the weather to produce an adequate amount of water. These are expensive commitments but you must undertake the maintenance.  Otherwise you’re just wasting your nursery stock,” he explained.

In addition to proper planning and maintenance, there are many challenges that ATP faces in its pursuit of reforestation. Garabedian explained, “The first challenge is recognition by the Armenian government that deforestation and illegal logging will threaten the country’s long-term survival. Trees deliver an abundance of benefits to a country; they serve as a food supply, they protect against erosion, they clean the air and protect the water supply. They are a renewable resource and should be used, but only in a sustainable way. He added, “We would like the government to devote more resources to restore Armenia’s historic forest cover and to enforce existing laws against illegal logging.” Another daunting challenge that ATP faces is that it is one the few organizations undertaking large scale reforestation in Armenia. “We constantly need money in order to support our reforestation activities,” explained Garabedian.

Their education efforts are primarily directed to children through the environment al curriculum that we’ve prepared for Armenia’s public schools and through classes taught at the Ohanian Environmental Education Centers.  “We have conducted a few agricultural classes at our new Ohanian Center in Margahovit specifically for the region’s farmers. These classes are extended without cost to the participants,” he noted.

With Garabedian at the helm, ATP is currently in the midst of a sustainable forest management project in Margahovit. “Working with Hayantar, the Armenian forestry agency and the village, we are developing a pilot plan to manage a 200 hectare forest in a sustainable way,” he said, adding, “ If the pilot is successful, we hope that the model can be spread to other communities throughout Armenia.”

ATP has worked with several other organizations, most recently partnering with the Norwegian government which provided a four-year, $1.2 million grant to support reforestation activities and with the Acopian Center for the Environment at the American University of Armenia on “Regardening of Eden” activities in Margahovit.

For more information on ATP, to donate or to get involved, visit www.armeniatree.org.