Armenia Nercessian de Oliveira
courtesy of Armenia Nercessian de Oliveira
Armenia enjoys a trip to the open market.

That Thing That She Does: Dotcom executive, former UN official, promoter of the world’s artists and artisans, inveterate traveler, troubleshooter…

Armenia Nercessian de Oliveira moved from her native Brazil to study in Europe when she was seventeen years old. Since then, she has never stopped traveling — and she’s in her fifties now. She worked for the United Nations for 16 years, most of it with three small children in tow. She was stationed with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and with UN peacekeeping missions in such hot spots as El Salvador, Central America, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her work has included some life-threatening moments, such as negotiating tense standoffs between armed rebel troops and governments. She also taught sociology and political science at a Brazilian university, the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro.

These days, though, Armenia is the co-founder and President of International Operations of, which links consumers across the globe directly with more than 1,700 of the world’s artisans. The idea is that buyers pay less than the sky-high mark-ups of an importer, and the artist makes more money by increasing exposure and setting their own prices. Novica’s locally staffed offices in each country are responsible for discovering new artisans, interviewing and photographing the artists, writing descriptions of each piece of art, and handling all shipping arrangements as soon as an item is sold.

In short, then: That cornflower blue Alpaca wool blanket may not be as cheap if you bargained for it hard, taking advantage of a poor artist’s need for foot traffic, in a dusty little Peruvian market miles away from a big city. But it also won’t cost the hundreds of dollars charged by most specialty shops where it’s shipped, either. And most importantly, at, you will see the face and learn the story of the person who worked hard to make it.

As the head of International Operations at, Armenia travels constantly to open new offices in different countries and regions. “Usually, I handle personally all steps involved in the process: I find the premises, hire the staff, make the contracts, and choose the first artisans and artists we are going to work with,” writes Armenia, on the job in Marrakesh, Morocco. Her next stop? Bali and then India. friend and colleague Catherine Ryan describes Armenia as a lifelong adventurer, at home everywhere in the world: “She never ceases to enjoy learning new languages and integrating into new cultures. She has spent her life literally living ‘on the road,’ first for the United Nations and now for” Catherine, travel diva herself, best known as Novica’s “Wander Woman,” travels the world to profile the artists who craft’s products.

But best of all, Catherine says, “Armenia is a fun, fascinating and wonderful woman who has devoted her life to spreading hope and teaching empowerment wherever she works and travels.”

Word from Armenia

Her Next Step: We have a project called “Build a School,” which we intend to expand this year. And we will also focus more on putting’s infrastructure at the service of some UN projects related to education and child labor eradication in the 12 countries where we have offices. In Brazil, there is a good initiative to keep children at school and take them out from the streets — the “Bolsa-escola.” Poor parents are given a “scholarship” — money to replace the earnings the children would otherwise make in the streets to help their families. What else… I am currently trying to learn Armenian, my father’s mother tongue, and look forward to opening a Novica office in Armenia soon.

How She Shakes Off a Bad Day: When something goes wrong or I do not feel in a great mood, I simply put a samba or a salsa CD in my portable CD player, at the highest volume, with a headphone (not to burden others) and I dance for an hour. It’s the best and more effective cure, much better than any anti-depressant!

Her Favorite Way to Travel: I enjoy all methods of travel. Most of the time I travel alone for my work and when possible, without hotel reservations or tickets bought in advance. I like to rent a room or an apartment to avoid big hotels. This way I feel better merged into local societies. To have neighbors, wander to a market and buy fruits or flowers, and talk to locals is a great pleasure for me. I love to discover a place on my own. When I have someone trying to guide me or show me the city, it hasn’t the same flavor or excitement of exploring it with no guide. I never buy package tours, with a guide determining what should I see. I also love to travel with friends or my family. But when you travel alone you are more open to make new contacts with other people – more so than when you are part of a group. Even in Islamic countries, I don’t find it difficult to go everywhere by myself. Typically, for Novica, I spend from two weeks to two months in each country. But sometimes I take short trips elsewhere during that time. Last year, for instance, I made 38 international trips and visited 16 countries for Novica. Our world is a fascinating, wonderful place. I will never tire of it! 


Armenia Nercessian de Oliveira

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