Founders' Vision

 

We believe that education is the best equaliser. That is why, in 2006 we started dreaming of developing an international school in Armenia, a school that could be an incubator for the kind of intercultural education crucial for today’s fragile planet, and one that would inspire students to respect and learn from each other and become true global citizens. We wanted the school to be founded on solid international practices while anticipating challenges ahead and embodying the future of education, focused on each student’s potential. To achieve this, we envisaged bringing the transformational power of education to young people from diverse geographies, cultures and backgrounds. 

Thus, in 2014, we, together with a group of like-minded individuals including Noubar and Anna Afeyan, Gagik Adibekyan, Vladimir and Anna Avetissian, established UWC Dilijan, the first international boarding school in Armenia. Dilijan, a resort town in Armenia's 'Little Switzerland' and previously a place visited by many artists and writers, straddles the ancient silk route and is at a crossroads of Europe, the Middle East and Russia, making it the perfect location to promote the idea of internationalism and friendship.

Armenia's hospitable people have welcomed our diverse international community to a country which is only too conscious of the realities of suffering as well as threats to hope and sustainable development as it reimagines itself in a post-Soviet world. 

Our vision is for UWC Dilijan to make an impact, primarily, on our young people so that they, like us, can pursue their dreams and reach their potential in a creative and supportive environment. Our ambition is for the school to be a force – through the power of education – in enhancing global efforts to achieve a more peaceful, equitable and sustainable world that we can pass on to our children.  

 

Founders Ruben Vardanyan and Veronika Zonabend

About Our Founders

Ruben Vardanyan

UWC Dilijan Co-Founder, impact investor and social entrepreneur 

Ruben Vardanyan is an evolutionary visionary who, for over 30 years, has brought together people with different backgrounds, experiences and capabilities to implement partnership projects that transform the socio-economic environment. He explores cyclical historical processes and prevailing trends, and, based on his analysis, builds a picture of the world for the coming decades to identify the most effective courses of action that can be taken today.

Ruben and his family, together with a diverse group of partners around the world, have made more than $1.5 billion in commercial and philanthropic investments in key areas for human development – global education, healthcare, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), humanitarian issues, succession and philanthropy. His projects to date have brought together a wide range of participants and had a tangible social and economic impact at local and global levels. Of these, the best known are the investment company Troika Dialog, SKOLKOVO Business School, Phoenix Advisors and PhilinPhilgood in Russia, United World College Dilijan, the Foundation for Armenian Science and Technology (FAST), the Wings of Tatev cable car in Armenia and the global Aurora Humanitarian Initiative.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Ruben was part of a group that initiated a public discussion on the future of Russia and Armenia within the framework of “Club 2015” in Moscow and the “Armenia 2020” project. In 2021, Ruben and his partners launched The FUTURE ARMENIAN public initiative, which intends to foster a dialogue that would lead to a common framework of understanding around sustainable development for Armenia and Armenians as a nation.

Ruben is the recipient of numerous international awards, including the AIB Presidential Award for his contribution to education and the Common Ground Awards to honour his outstanding accomplishments in conflict resolution, community development and peacebuilding. In 2001, Fortune magazine listed Ruben as one of the “25 Rising Stars of the New Generation” and the World Economic Forum named him one of the 100 Global Leaders of Tomorrow.

In November 2022 Ruben was appointed Artsakh's Minister of State.

Veronika Zonabend

UWC Dilijan Co-Founder & Chair of the Board, impact investor and social entrepreneur 

Veronika Zonabend is an impact investor and social entrepreneur. She is a Co-Founder and the Chair of the Board of Governors of UWC Dilijan College in Armenia, the first academic institution in Eastern Europe and the CIS to join the United World Colleges network. She is actively involved in philanthropy, focusing primarily on the promotion of global education. Together with her husband, Ruben Vardanyan, she is the founder of the RVVZ Family Foundation, the IDeA Charitable Foundation and Scholae Mundi Foundation, which implement philanthropic sustainable development projects in Russia and Armenia. Veronika sits on the Philanthropy Committee of UWC International (UK) and on the boards of the American University of Armenia and the Teach for Armenia Educational Foundation.

During the 2000s, as an entrepreneur she undertook projects within such diverse sectors as hospitality, film distribution and production. Notable amongst these was the co-production of “Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky”, a film that closed the Cannes Festival in 2009.

Prior to that, she worked for several years in the banking sector, becoming the Deputy Head of the Foreign Exchange Department of Tveruniversal Bank in 1993. After training as an aeronautical engineer at the Moscow Aviation Institute, she began her career at the Research Institute of Avionics in Russia.

In 2014, the President of the Republic of Armenia awarded Veronika Zonabend the Order of Friendship in recognition of her many contributions to fostering educational development and international collaboration in science and education, as well as for her substantial efforts in building the international school in Dilijan and implementing academic programmes.