Who will tackle unemployment in Turkey?

Who will tackle unemployment in Turkey?

The unemployment rate in Turkey is continuing in the double-digits and the country’s working age population is increasing by around one million every year, according to Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK) figures.

Unemployment is one of the biggest concerns of people in Turkey, as proved by different surveys. But who is going to bring solutions to this problem?

Expecting solely the government or the private sector to address the issue will not lead to a solution. We have a tendency to expect the government or private sector leaders to find solutions to unemployment and create new employment opportunities. Indeed, well-educated segments in Turkey remain “unappointed” by the state, as millions of people are already trained to be only employed by the state. While the “unappointed” ones wait for a solution from the government, the rest rely on the private sector, some expect private companies to increase the number of their employees under the banner of the government’s much-vaunted “employment mobilization” campaign. But is it sensible to expect the country to solve the problem through only these two ways?

Around the world, the problem of unemployment is not solved only by bosses and governments. New enterprises are seen as being vital in the creation of new employment opportunities. New small and medium-sized enterprises make up two-thirds of jobs in OECD countries. Perhaps Turkey does not need new public sector vacancies or more private sector bosses deciding to hire more people to improve the employment situation. Perhaps it needs more new startups.

Unfortunately, the situation of Turkey regarding entrepreneurship is deteriorating. The Global Entrepreneurship Network measures startup ecosystems in 130 countries around the world every year, including Turkey (https://genglobal.org/content/about-gen). While Turkey previously ranked in the top 25 countries with the best ecosystem for new startups, it was ranked 37th in 2018. This should not be considered as acceptable for any G-20 country.

In order to reverse this trend, Turkey needs to go back to structural reforms, as I recently described in detail in my book “Yol Ayrımındaki Türkiye” (Turkey at the Crossroads). We also need to see more role models opting to take their chances as entrepreneurs, despite the tough conditions. That is why I try to introduce a new entrepreneur every week through this column. After articles on entrepreneurs in Kars, Ankara and New York, this week we will talk about Silicon Valley.

I invited Duygu Öktem to entrepreneurship events that I hosted at New York University as soon as I heard about her inspiring story. As a computer engineer from the Central Anatolian province of Eskişehir, Duygu started her career in the Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) and represented Turkey at the European Commission at an early age. After she completed her masters at the Middle East Technical University, she quit her civil service job in Ankara and transferred to the private sector in Istanbul, drawing criticism from her family and friends. Certainly, her transfer to the private sector was not an easy path. But going through an uphill path is a must for success. Duygu became the head of Research and Development at Türk Telekom, a company that has around 30,000 employees in Istanbul, and started to manage large-scale projects with a budget of over $100 million at a young age. She soon realized that the bureaucracy in big companies impedes the emergence of new startups, so she worked to convince high-level directors at Türk Telekom to break new ground. That’s how “Türk Telekom PİLOT” - the first startup acceleration program in a private country in Turkey - was launched in 2013.

Duygu to give lectures at Stanford University

After launching PİLOT, Duygu set off on new journeys to try her chances in Silicon Valley. She is today travelling through many different places, from San Francisco to Istanbul, from Adana to Austin. She is striving to help improve the startup ecosystem on a global level, and will be sharing her story at Stanford University on Feb. 5. I certainly believe we will be hearing her name more in the coming years.

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