Written as part of Bodler Giving's Global Givers initiative by a regional partner.
Happiness stems from sharing. I came to realize this through my teachers’ teachings and volunteering my time building gardens and constructing schools in underserved communities when I was still young. These experiences played a vital role in shaping my sense of social responsibility. It’s almost like a benign virus … earlier it gets into your blood stream, the bigger the benefits it provides.
After getting education in Management I started working at a major bank. Despite my busy schedule, I realized that if you’re motivated enough, you will find time for things you care about. My motto was: “I don’t want to die as a banker” and just when I turned 50 I made the decision to quit the banking job and join the civil society. My ultimate goal was to help reform the education. I am the one who criticizes the educational system in Turkey that brainwashed kids from early age with governmental dogmas. I wanted to create an exemplary school where kids were encouraged to question norms and were given opportunities to discover their own talents through the exploration of individual curiosities. I believe that this approach empowers children’s creativity and self-confidence. But soon I realized that I wanted to change the student we had to change teachers and school administrators first. Thus, The Teacher Academy Foundation was born. It provides free seminars for teachers to bring interactive communication tools to classes and provide opportunities for children’s mobility, freedom of expression and creativity. In 4 years, more than 75,000 teachers have participated in these seminars and transformations in teaching methods have been profound.
During my banking years I used to discuss these topics with Suna Kirac and Prof.Dr. Tahir Ozgu. The question “what can we do to increase the quality of education?” was always on our minds and soon it became clear that we had to focus on extracurricular activities rather than regular curriculum if we wanted to ignite the power of change. The education system in Turkey does not provide space for 7-14 year olds to discover their talents during school hours. We wanted to provide that space outside the classroom. We wanted to show kids that there are other learning opportunities outside the oppressive classroom environment. We established centers in which kids could join artistic, cultural and sporting activities run by volunteers and with the dedication, hard work and involvement of so many we established Educational Volunteers Foundation (TEGV).
Change starts with the youth and sweeps into society from there. By involving youth in social responsibility projects we encourage first the self and then external societal transformation. On the other hand, we try to change the societal perception about young people. As part of our initiative, young people produce close to 900 projects a year. This means that from the day TOG was established, young people have designed and implemented thousands of projects in a variety of areas. The impact and benefits these projects create are important without a doubt. But what we consider as real success is the fact that, in a country where discrimination is felt in every corner, we manage to bring in young people from all over who work together while respecting their differences. These young people, who will graduate in 5 years and take on different responsibilities, will steward a better direction for the society. Already they’re the leaders of social change.
I don’t necessarily have to serve as a board member to support an organization. But if I serve as a board member and closely follow the work they do, I am more eager to donate. For me to support other organizations I have to see their work on the ground and have a conversation with project managers to understand their philosophy of change. I would like to know how much of their donations are used as administrative fees and how much of it goes to actual mission-related projects. The organization that I’m going to support has to go through an independent audit every year and share their financials and program activities with the public through its website and yearly reports. It shouldn’t have a hidden agenda or an ideology. I can learn a lot by doing a field visit with a check-list of criteria or by observing in-person. I admit to having a discomforting obsession to follow the development of projects that I personally support. I not only want to know where and how the money is spent, but also how the work is going, who is getting the benefits, and what kind of an impact is created. Receiving reports and obtaining information is every donor’s right. The flow of information between an NGO and donor is quite important. As long as NGOs demonstrate their transparency and accountability standards and make this an integral part of their work, they can prevent donors from having doubts so the same people can donate with a clear conscience in the following years.