Working for social good still not mainstream in Turkey
Finding it difficult to make change through politics, more and more Turks are looking for ways to work for social good, says the co-founder of Adım Adım, a volunteer-based organization. Despite the rise in awareness in the last decade, the concept of social good still needs to become mainstream in Turkey, Itır Erhart adds.
Ranking very low on the World Giving Index, working for social good, an action that provides some sort of benefit for the general good has still not become mainstream in Turkey, according to Itır Erhart, the co-founder of Adım Adım, a volunteer-based organization that promotes charitable giving through sponsorship of athletes in local sports events. “Universities, companies and government offices started to talk widely about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals [SDG], but when you ask a person in the street about them, it is still fairly new to them,” said the academic and marathon runner Erhart, who is also one of the speakers of the Social Good Summit that will take place Oct. 15 in Istanbul.
Q: Tell us briefly about the summit.
A: Organized by the United Nations Development Programme, the main goal of the summit is to talk about SDGs, and the motto is “2030 now!” We are supposed to achieve progress on reaching those goals by 2030, but we just can’t sit and wait.
So the idea is to see where we are and what needs to be done as if 2030 is right now.
I’ll be talking about advertising goodness. It is an interesting issue for me since I have been working with NGOs I have faced this dilemma; is it ok to talk about the good you do as a person, as a business or government representative. We will talk about the answer to this question.
Q: How familiar is the Turkish public about the concept of social good?
A: More and more people are becoming familiar about the concept. Universities, companies, and government offices started talking more widely about SDGs. But I think it still is not mainstream yet.
When you ask a person in the street what a social good is, what SDGs are, it is still fairly new.
Three questions are asked in the World Giving Index. Have you donated last year? Have you volunteered for an NGO? Have you helped someone you have never met before?
Turkey is towards the very bottom, and interestingly there are several countries whose GDPs are lower than that of Turkey’s but are above Turkey on the list.
Q: But would you agree that more and more people in Turkey are looking to work for a cause and want to do something about it working together with others?
A: I definitely agree. We realized that we can contribute as individuals but for more impact we need to collaborate. Collaboration itself is one of the goals.
Q: Tell us about Adım Adım (Step by Step) and how it developed in years.
A: I discovered while I was in the United States that people were running and raising funds for NGOs and social good. I ran for an NGO for my first ever marathon, which was my first ever fund raising run. It was a wonderful way to first deliver the message, because you tell all your friends the social problem you are targeting and you also raise funds to improve. On my return to Turkey, I was looking for ways to do it here too. Renay [Onur] had come across the idea abroad as well. And on his return he ran by himself for an NGO. I found about him through an interview and we got together. We found out we were trying to do a similar thing. I was trying to get together a group of people and he joined us as well. We founded Adım Adım. When we started 11 years ago, very few people were interested in doing something for an NGO. They were unmotivated, they felt whatever I will do wouldn’t make a difference. NGOs, on the other hand, were not targeting individuals. They would go to the same companies or same EU funds.
We thought development will never be achieved if individuals are not part of the process. We really needed to mobilize individuals. So running serves like a metaphor. You get them moving and they are moving towards a better world.
We started running for one NGO. We currently run for more than 70 NGOs. Through all these years I got a chance to work with all these NGOs, getting to know them. We realized how it is important for them to learn from each other. We started all these events where for instance NGOs share their experience of fund raising or their social media experts get together. Peer-learning really helped.
Q: What is your current membership?
A: We started with six people talking about it in 2006/2007. Our first fundraising run was in Antalya in 2008 and there were 45 of us there. And now we have 45,000 runners. In the 2007 Istanbul Marathon, 7000 of our members ran and collected 10.5 million Turkish Liras. Adım Adım also provides a comprehensive online platform for all stakeholders to connect: Fundraisers, donors and NGOs.
Q: And then came Açık Açık.
A: When we were asking individuals to run for Adım Adım and pick an NGO, we realized they were concerned about transparency. From day one, that was something we really valued. We made sure the NGOs shared their financials online on their page, that they are accountable.
And we thought other people also need to have access to this information, and we said: “How about starting a platform everyone can use?” We realized there was no such marketplace for NGOs. Individuals lack information about which NGO works on which issues, which ones are big or small etc. So it targets individuals and companies who want to find an NGO on a particular issue and have access to their financial and administrative data.
Q: Many people in Turkey are discouraged by politics. Do you think when people find it difficult to make an impact via politics they started looking for other ways?
A: Indeed. When people lose hope in one end they look for other ways. A small number of people can make a difference in politics. But in civil society, anyone can make a difference. Becoming a top politician who can actually change policy seems difficult to achieve. Here even like a newcomer volunteer can make a difference and when you see the impact of your work you are more and more motivated. I think that’s why more people are moving in this direction.
Q: How is the official authorities’ approach towards the concept of social good?
The government could help make the concept of social good and SDGs mainstream. We need more awareness campaigns. I was very happy to hear that the Industry and Technology Ministry wants to invest in social innovation. They are putting an expert panel and they want to open calls for social innovators.
Social innovators for instance need more visibility.
I am on the board of ASHOKA, which supports entrepreneurs globally. Every year I observe the age of social entrepreneurs go down. I see young people from Turkey and other countries motivated to solve the world’s problems instead of starting a business and generate revenue for themselves.
I wish there could be tax exemption or reduction for social innovators.
Q: How are the companies’ approaches in Turkey?
A: International companies in Turkey are doing much better. They have a corporate culture of giving and volunteering. We have around 400 corporate teams, for instance running for Adım Adım. The problem with companies is that they do a volunteer work for one day. Coming up with sustainable projects with high impact is relatively new.
Q: In your view, what are the areas that Turks are more willing to work in?
A: Health and education. But lately environment and animal rights are also trending topics.
Who is Itır Erhart?
Associate professor Itır Erhart studied philosophy and Western Languages & Literatures at Boğaziçi University. She completed her M.Phil in Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. Since 2001 she is teaching at Istanbul Bilgi University, Department of Media and Communication Systems. She is the co-founder with Renay Onur of Adım Adım (Step by Step) a volunteer-based organization that promotes charitable giving through sponsorship of athletes. in local sports events. Erhart and Our also co-founded Açık Açık a platform which unites donors with NGOs that respect the rights of donors. In 2016 Açık Açık received Transparency International’s award for civil society.
She is Ashoka Turkey Board Member, since 2017, TEGV (Educational Volunteers Foundation of Turkey) Trustee, since 2016 and Advisory Board Member, Sabanci Foundation, since 2014.