A multiplier of social change
The country representative of Ashoka in Turkey, Şeyda Taluk says that despite the focus of the third sector in her country on charity, there are brilliant Turks having a multiplier effect on social change through their innovative approaches to social problems. It is their determination that fuels her to continue fighting for change in Turkey
ISTANBUL- Turkish Daily News
Seyda Taluk, 43, sees herself as a different kind of social entrepreneur than the ones she seeks out year round. Her role as country representative of Ashoka, the global association of the world's leading social entrepreneurs, is to help shift Turkey's social change movement from charity to sustainability.
Ashoka was founded by U.S. native Bill Drayton in 1981 and has now grown to a network of 2,000 entrepreneurs who act as agents of social change in 60 countries. Since it started its operations in Turkey in February of 2005, Taluk has been working solo to promote the idea of entrepreneurship as social change and to find Turks with innovative solutions to the country's biggest challenges, from poverty and human rights to education.
Taluk, says that in the process she has found determination and feels blessed to be working for the more than 20 Turkish fellows with the help of her family and friends. In her search for qualifying nominees in Turkey and securing funding for them, Taluk said the process has not always been smooth and at times she has felt overwhelmed.
Of course I have depressing days and I feel unmotivated, she said. Then I go to our Web site, read a profile of an Ashoka fellow and remind myself that I work for wonderful social entrepreneurs… their challenges are bigger than mine. I don't risk anything.
Taluk is not afraid to take on the demons of Turkey's third sector nor the mentalities that keep the country from moving forward in social change. She described how in the last year she and some of the Ashoka fellows received threatening emails from a nationalist group that called her and Ashoka the Trojan horse of U.S. intelligence. Taluk laughs at the accusation.
I didn't feel threatened, she said. If you're working in an organization like this, traveling in dangerous neighborhoods around the world… she said brushing it off. The way we receive danger is completely different.
The accusation, however, is telling of something deeper. When she got the job with Ashoka three years ago even her friends came up with conspiracy theories. Why you? they asked. Why not me? she answered. Taluk is aware that being the head of the Turkish chapter of an international non-profit organization is not seen the same way as say the local CEO of an international private firm.
I have to convince people, even close ones, that I don't have clandestine connections, she said.
At the center of the international community from the age of 18, Taluk studied at the University of Paris' political communications department, and worked as a correspondent from France. In 1993 she worked with Cem Boyner's New Democracy Movement and is a founding member of the KADER, the association that promotes women in politics. She was self-employed as a public relations specialist for nearly a decade before she came on board with Ashoka.
I was always really interested in what's going on in the world. It's normal. I'm a very social person, she said with a chuckle. Taluk said that connecting people and increasing their capacity for good is what has made her feel at home at Ashoka.
I want to have a multiplier effect, said Taluk. In Ashoka you are a power broker for your fellows.
Determination to change attitudes
Taluk said Turkey still needs time to shift its mindset from charity to sustainable non-profit work. Turkey is not ready for entrepreneurship, said Taluk. We are in the phase of charity. That's what everyone is doing now. They're just giving fish. But among them are brilliant people who have chosen a different path.
As the country representative for Ashoka in Turkey, Taluk said her role is to create an environment and market that's friendly for social entrepreneurship. Which is a hard job, she said. We call it mind shifting and it's hard.
So far all the fundraising for Turkey had taken place outside its own borders as Taluk wanted Turks to hear more about Ashoka before she tries to convince Turkish funders to contribute. With a $250,000 annual budget, supporting Turkish fellows is a challenge, and she is looking to double the amount over the next few years.
Ashoka and Taluk are also looking across the border to launch operations in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Kazakhstan, to name a few. Taluk said that Turkey can be an international player even in the area of social activism. I want Turkey to be an international player, she said.
Taluk said that in the last three years, working with Turks from all walks of life in all corners of the country acting entrepreneurially in their field has taught her determination. I've learned that I wasn't stubborn enough to make things happen, she said of her time before Ashoka. Now she believes that it is determination of individuals in the non-profit sector that will help bring real solutions to the social problems of the world.