All posts by Galen Rohn

Evaluating the Social Impact of The Cultural Museum

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This morning we had breakfast at Hezen Cave Hotel, which is rated one of the best hotels in all of Turkey. Afterwards, we were assigned field work regarding the social impact of Cappadocia Cultural Museum in Ortahisar, Cappadocia. Berrin Yıldız and Murat Sarikaya, the founders of the museum, are recognized as change makers by the Sabanci Foundation and we were interested to explore whether the museum has created social change. After watching the Sabanci change maker video, we set out for our assignment with Yusuf, a resident of the area, to try and develop an understanding of this social impact from the Ortahisar  community members themselves.

Yusef grew up in this area and first told us about the history of the lemon industry in  Ortahisar, which has suffered over the years due to government regulations and the competition of neighboring towns. This area used to be known for lemon storage because, during the summer time, the caves remain nice and cool for preservation. In the 1990’s, the government shut down many of the lemon caves in Ortahisar because they felt that it was potentially dangerous and could be damaging to historically significant land. Because of this, and other economic motivations, lemon growers went to neighboring towns to store their lemons. Prior to this time, the lemon industry contributed to 80% of the Ortahisar’s economy, but has drastically decreased to 20%. Due to the nine-year restoration of the Castle of Ortahisar, the tourism industry also suffered during this time. Yusuf explained that the castle has recently reopened and is located across the street from the Cultural Museum. While both of these sites are creating a positive impact towards the tourism industry of the town, Yusuf explained  that many tourists visit these sites in three hours, and that without hotels in this town, these sites would not be enough. This made me question why the Culture Museum is considered a change-making venture, while the other hotels in this area are not.

When we visited the museum, I was amazed to see that the majority of the building was actually a restaurant, and that only one room was designated as the museum part of the venture. As we talked to community members around the area, they too, explain that they felt as though the Culture Museum was primarily a restaurant and that the actual museum gets less attention. The restaurant is particularly appealing for  large tourist buses because it is able to accommodate  large groups of people. This was kind of disappointing for me because it made me feel as though the original purpose of the building was getting lost through its fancy restaurant. Some locals confessed that they do not feel welcome in the museum because they feel that they would disturb dining customers. This too was an interesting comment because, while the museum is about the culture of the local community, it seemed like they are unable to experience the museum as frequently as tourists. On the other hand, many explained their appreciation for the museum. A local cafe owner and a local barber both explained that, while the museum does not create drastic amounts of business for them, it still has a small positive impact. They told us that even if that impact is small, it is still greatly appreciated by them. Everyone who we interviewed, and who has seen the museum, also added that they believe it to be an accurate portrayal of their culture.

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The Sabanci Foundation website, outlines the criteria for change maker recognition. When looking at their website, I think that founders Berrin Yıldız and Murat Sarikaya fit the criteria for “supporting education and learning”, “providing economic development” and “contributing to culture and arts”. While studying the museum, I realize it is sometimes very difficult to understand which ventures are social enterprises and who gets to be called a change maker. I feel as though the Culture Museum is an example of a venture with many positive aspects, yet to me, it seems to also have several outcomes that are less related to social change.

On our way home from the Culture Museum, we had the unique opportunity to go into a lemon storage cave that is still working as such. It was a family run business and they were all so welcoming and kind.  Although this was a subtle moment compared to rest of our experiences this month,  it was very valuable and heartwarming for me.

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Gümüşlük Akademisi; The anti-social social venture

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June 14, 2014

During a delicious breakfast at Gümüşlük Akademisi this morning, we prepared for afternoon interviews, which we would be conducting with a variety stakeholders in this community. While brainstorming and discussing in the Academy’s thought garden, Latife Tekin, one of Turkey’s most famous novelists and the Gümüşlük Akademisi director, came by our table. When we asked her if she would be available for an interview today she suggested, “Why don’t we do the interview at the beach!” With that, we took a last bite of breakfast, gulped down our çay, and hurried off to our rooms to put on our bathing suits.

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Latife and Emre, the operations manager of Gümüşlük Akademisi, brought us to a very remote beach with a breathtaking view of the Aegean Sea. Under a shaded canopy, built by Attila and Emre,  Latife told us about the establishment of Gümüşlük Akademisi. She explained her desire to leave the busy city life of Istanbul and her aspiration to live in a place where one could live freely and independently. The Academy is an artist community where a variety of workshops are held for painters, writers, sculptors, etc.

She explained that among the founding leaders of the Academy was Ahmet, a mechanical engineer who was educated in Germany and founded the Green Party in Turkey. He was the original visionary of the Academy and came from a very wealthy family. Unlike Ahmet, Latife came from humbler beginnings, but was already a well-known and highly influential author at the time of the Academy’s inception. The third co-founder was Hüsmen, a Turkish architect who was educated in the United States. Each of these individuals came from very different backgrounds and because of that, they each provided unique ideas about how the organization should be organized. This multidisciplinary team was very important for creation of the Academy.

As we listened to her story, I was impressed with her bravery and perseverance throughout the construction of the Academy. She spoke about obstacles relating to funding, zoning requirements, and conflicting visions amongst founding leaders.While she laughed and joked about all of these challenges, I imagine that they required a great amount of strength to overcome. It is clear that the Academy is extremely important to her, and although difficult to establish, she felt very strongly that a place like it needed to exist. We all left the beach feeling very fortunate to have spend a beautiful day on a remote beach with one of Turkey’s most influential authors…not your average study abroad!

When we returned to the Academy, we broke up into teams to interview some other key stakeholders of this venture. Kim, Andrew, and Attila interviewed Zübeyde, the Academy’s cook; Sofia and Cansu interviewed Mehmet, Zübeyde’s husband and the Academy’s grounds manager; and Lisa and I interviewed Emre.

The aspect of Emre’s interview that stood out to me the most was when I asked him where he sees the Academy in ten years for now. He told me that it will be exactly the same. One of the academy’s main beliefs is to fight against establishment and remain in the foundation stage of existence. This is something that was hard for me to understand at first. While studying businesses and social ventures, it always seems that a company’s goal is to become developed, establish its brand, provide sustainable cash flows, and perhaps even expand. Yet, for Gümüşlük Akademisi, those are not the goals but rather the fears! Emre explained that establishment means categorization and restriction, which are the antithesis of the Academy’s values of freedom and independence. He discussed the fact that cash flows are intermittent, and maintenance projects have to be done one at a time over several years. It was important and very interesting for me to hear this because it shows that there is no fixed path that a venture must follow throughout its existence. I never really thought about the fact the there are organizations that choose not to practice a standard business development model. Emre explained that their conscious decision to avoid establishment is a reminder for its guests that this thought mentality exists and can be an option for how one lives her life. For me, it is not about whether I agree with one business structure or the other, but its about understanding that they both exist. It is easy for a system to become so ingrained that into one’s lifestyle, that they cannot see that other systems are possible. This mentality seems to be very important for social change. It reminds me of Defne’s comment “I don’t believe in nations, I believe in geography”.  Again, I feel that regardless of how you view the physical spaces of the world, it is important to understand that both mentalities exist. The Academy provides a reminder of this for its guests.

Emre explained that the Academy’s conscious lack of establishment is also responsible for providing the unique feeling and spirit of the place. Even during our three-day stay here, I feel as though I have some understanding of the feeling that Emre is talking about. The Thought Garden of the Academy is made up of a small pond with lush greenery surrounding it. There is a winding path through the small trees and shrubs, which leads to many private and protected work spaces. The environment feels very tranquil and welcoming for creativity, personal expression, and solitude.

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Before dinner, we spoke with Dr. Mustafa Sütlaş, who told us about his experience as a user of the Academy. Dr. Sütlaş is a former dermatologist who specializes in Leprosy. Throughout his career, he dedicated himself to advocating for the destigmatization of lepers and his efforts have allowed these patients to seek aid at every state hospital, rather than specialized leprosy hospitals as they previously had to do. His work has also improved how police officers, imams, and other community members treat lepers. After spending many years in the media spotlight during his activism, he greatly values the seclusion and privacy of the Academy. I think that the Academy’s social impact is less obvious and transparent than Dr. Sütlaş’ leper- related activism. Its goal is not to affect a wide-reaching audience like many social ventures, but rather provide a space for a small and selective amount of people.  Social innovation requires creative and unconventional ideas. Change makers must often challenge preexisting systems and explore alternative functioning methods. The Academy provides a space where these visionaries are able to do this with complete political, social, and spiritual freedom. Dr. Sütlaş explained that the academy’s existence is extremely important because, while other organizations have tried to create a similar space, the Academy’s lack of establishment and selective membership make it “water in the middle of the desert”.

Turning Trash into Totes

Galen in Dedetepe

This morning we enjoyed our last breakfast at Dedetepe before heading to Ayvalık. Serdar and the whole Dedepete staff made us very thoughtful homemade gifts. They presented us with a rock from the İda mountains that had a stock of wheat and an olive branch tied around it. Wheat, which originated in Anatolia, symbolizes bounty and the olive branch represents a piece of the Dedepete land, as well as the spirit of the land. We left feeling very grateful for Dedetepe’s hospitality and innovative environmental practices. As the Eco Farm continues to go through a managerial transition phase, I am excited to see what the future holds for this venture.

The town of Ayvalık is situated along the Aegean coast and faces many nearby Greek Islands. Prior to the 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey, the area was primarily a Greek Orthodox town. However, after the agreement, these residents were replaced by Turkish Muslims from Crete, Macedonia, and other parts of Greece. As we explored the area, it seemed that artifacts of the former community continue to lurk within the cobblestone streets of Ayvalık. Former houses have crumbled down to roofless, abandon, structures; Greek Orthodox churches have been transformed into mosques; and the eerie silence of the town makes one feel as though this place has a historical significance. The silence is spontaneously interrupted by passing tractors, mopeds, sedans, and occasional horse and buggies as well. As we walked around the town, the two characteristics that stood out to me the most were the abundance of cats along the street, and cultural norm of residents who peacefully sit outside their doorstep, simply watching the generally minimal street life. While there still seems to be lots of Greek architecture within Ayvalık, reoccurring Turkish flags and images of Ataturk remind visitors that the town is no longer Greek.

For dinner, we met up with Tara Hopkins, who is the founder of çöp(m)adam and an old friend of Lisa’s. çöp(m)adam hires local women, who have never worked for a wage, to make homemade bags, accessories, and other products out of garbage. Tara venture aims to address women’s unemployment, poverty, and environmental degradation. As it goes into its sixth year, the company has become well-known in Turkey. Tara’s energetic, passionate and humorous personality made for a very entertaining and thought-provoking dinner. As a former Sabancı University professor, she established Turkey’s first civil participation program at the university level, and continues to have an ongoing passion for local engagement and social impact. She explained the dangers of civil society when it becomes too “green” and controlled from the top of an organization or government. When starting Cop(m)adam she consciously decided to create a way in which social problems could be addressed on a grassroots level.

Tara also explained that social initiatives are often compartmentalized into different categories. However, Tara has creatively found a way to bridge three of these categories together. This idea reminded me of our conversation with Nick McGirl from Ashoka. He spoke to us about Dr. Frank Hoffmann who hires blind women, with very strong tactile senses, to perform mammograms. He too refrained from categorizing social initiatives when he bridged blind empowerment with women’s health. Entrepreneurs such as Tara and Dr. Hoffman inspire me because their ideas require an ability to see preexisting systems through a lens in which compartments do not exists, and they must creatively image how systems can be different. Many social problems are interwoven within each other, yet I think that it frequently requires unique visionaries to see these connections. Tara explained that, while one cannot address all social problems, several can become related to each other when he or she stops compartmentalizing.

çöp(m)adam sign 2014Tara has invited us to come by the shop tomorrow to speak to some of the women and learn more about their experiences as Cop(m)adam ladies. I’m looking forward to learning more about the company through their perspectives, as well as doing some Cop(m)adam shopping as well!

“I don’t believe in nations, I believe in geography”

IMG_0283Today we headed to SALT Beyoğlu, a beautiful and contemporary art center in Taksim, İstanbul. We journeyed up to the top floor and entered into a serene and lush greenhouse. Who knew that such a place could exist directly above the chaotic foot traffic of İstiklal Street! We were greeted by Defne Koryürek who runs a Slow Food convivium in İstanbul. Slow Food is an international movement whose mission is to counteract the dependence on fast food and to bring awareness to local, clean, and fair food practices. After introducing herself, she explained that Slow Food was a “movement” rather than an organization, because there is no hierarchy and people are able to work autonomously on local initiatives. To her, a bottom-up approach is highly important for addressing social changes, especially those that relate to the environment. One of her convivium’s main initiatives has been to bring awareness to the overfishing of lüfer (bluefish) in the Bosphorus.

Defne told us, “I don’t believe in nations, I believe in geography.” I found this to be an interesting comment because when thinking about global spaces, I naturally organize them by nation. When looking at a social problem such as the depletion of lüfer, the issue involves a specific community made up of people from different countries. While the community may involve many Turkish people living in İstanbul, the problem is not very related to people living in other parts of Turkey. While I think that nations are important for generally organizing geographic spaces, Defne allowed me to question whether we sometimes view these borders too literally. These abstract lines become so ingrained into the process of dealing with issues, that it is often difficult to take a step back and think reflexivity about the system itself. This reflexive thinking is very important for social innovation because it allows an individual to think critically about what is in place and how it can be modified.

Defne mentioned that bottom-up and small-scale approaches are particularly important for Turkey. She explained that, to her, “Turkey is still a third world country” because rules are not followed, and thus changing them does not matter. I found this to be an interesting remark. Regardless of whether this is true or not, it has influenced the way what Defne has addressed the lüfer. Her convivium established a lüfer festival, which entailed a fishing competition to see who could catch the biggest lüfer. She explained that an event like this, engages the community and spreads awareness about the proper keeping sizes for the fish. Attendees are able to celebrate the cultural significance of lüfer and develop a personal connection to fishing regulations. When addressing social problems, change makers must understand the cultural context of the space with which they are working. If Defne focused on addressing this issue through solely government policy, she would be ignoring the cultural norm of rule ignorance, which she feels exists. Defne’s unique perspective was very thought provoking for all of us. Her ideas reminded me of the importance of reflexive thinking for social innovation.

Cansu generously invited us to her house for dinner tonight. We took the ferry over to the Asian side and had a wonderful dinner with Cansu’s mother and sister. We all enjoyed hearing about her family history while eating delicious food!

Bu Daha Başlangıç

We have arrived in Turkey! After a delicious meal in İstanbul last night, we headed to Bursa this morning to attend an art exhibit called “Bu Daha Başlangıç”, which translates to “This is Just the Beginning”. Attila is the curator of the exhibit, and I was very excited to not only meet him, but attend this excited event as well. The exhibit featured photographs by Kemal Aslan that were taken of the Gezi Protest last year. Today is the one year anniversary of the protest; however, many have said that they do not call it the “anniversary” because the word indicates that the movement has ended.

Before the event, we stopped by the “Koza Han” silk market. This was originally a part of the Silk Road and is currently home to smalls shops that are filled with beautiful scarves, and pillow cases. The colorful rows of brightly colored silk, peaceful sounds of ezan (the call for prayer), and reoccurring images of Ataturk remind me that I am not longer in the United States.

The “Bu Daha Başlangıç” exhibit was filled with a range of different people, many of whom attended the Gezi Protest last year. The emotion of each photograph took down all language barriers. The photographs captured the pain of tear-gassed victims crouching in the street, the aggression of fully equipped police men, and the bravery of teenagers who peaceful face armed forces. The determination and importance of this movement amongst the people becomes powerfully transparent. The exhibit made me realize the effectiveness of photography as a medium of exchange for both knowledge and emotion. Part of social innovation requires the ability to communicate an initiative or mentality to a larger audience. When dealing with language barriers, photography provides a platformfor people to engage regardless of whatever language they speak.

After the exhibit, we attended a dinner with Kemal Aslan and many individuals who are connected with “Bu Daha Baslangic”. The dinner was hosted by the Nilüfer Municipality. I sat across from a man who described himself as a social media expert for an activist organization. As we ate a delicious meal, I listened to his experience at Gezi last year. He told me about his persistent frustrations which the national government and the Adelet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP). The AKP is an Islamist party that is currently ruling a secular state. The man feels that the government only listens to the demands of a specific population demographic and that many feel as though their needs and beliefs are never considered. Gezi is a part of a much larger and ongoing movement for a secular Turkey.  As was start our one-month jounrey, I am facisinated to see how this movement is impacting other parts of the country.

After one day in Turkey, I already know that this trip is going to be powerfully informative and emotionally inspiring!