By Jimmy Cuneyt Gurkan - Founded in Istanbul in September 2002 by 37 successful women entrepreneurs, KAGIDER (Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey) is a nation-wide, non-profit civil society organization. Its mission is developing entrepreneurship among women to strengthen their status economically and socially. Sanem Oktar, KAGIDER President, talked to TURKOFAMERICA about the organization’s future and its projects.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m from Izmir. I went to Bornova Anadolu High school, later I studied international relations at Marmara University. I was in the basketball team, and played sports in school quite a bit. In college, I grew interested in theater, and at the Herman… theater I acted for a year as a hobby, and one year as a professional actress. Later, I went to Canada to study marketing, and when I returned from there, I started working Colgate Palmolive for about four years. Back then, there was a leadership candidate program, and I started there. I was the trade marketing manager, when I left. I got married, had a daughter, and I took a break from work for about six months. In those six months, I continued my career as a mother.
How old is your daughter now?
My oldest daughter is 21 years old, and so I was 25 years old when I had her. When I stayed home for a little bit, I realized that it wasn’t for me. And in 1997, I founded my first company. Tribeca public relations company.
Why the name Tribeca?
Because one of our partners lived in Tribeca. We looked for a name for a long time, and one of my partners who was very special said that he had lived in tribeca and loved it, that it stood for triangle below canal, and that we should name our company tribeca.
In 1999, we founded a company that provided in-store merchandising, and in 2000 direct tele marketing, In 2002, we created Peppers and Rogers consulting, with my American partners Don Peppers and Rogers in Turkey. 20% American owned, 80% owned by us. And we created a marketing for different companies. IN 2008, the American Trt group, bought the Peppers and Rogers company, and I had thereby done my first exit. In 2008, Direcom, … marketing company.
In 2010, I created a social media company, I think that’s the sixth company. And last year in July, WPG group, the world’s biggest advertising and marketing firm, sold 60% of the company. I found companies and sell them, which is why I call myself a serial entrepreneur. Yes, I am an entrepreneur.
How did Kagider come into your life?
2010, Kagider organized a contest with Garanti Bank, for Turkish women entrepreneurs. And I was selected as one out of 10 entrepreneurs in this contest, because I had been working with Garanti Bank for a long time. And this is how I came across Kagider. And one of the prizes was membership to Kagider for one year. And this how I entered Kagider. But at the time I thought that I was doing these things from my own perspective, and that anyone could do them etc. But when I saw the actual numbers, and how far removed women were from opportunities, and that they did not have equal opportunities, and that not everyone could complete their education, and could easily found their own companies, and that they needed to be supported, and that these issues didn’t just apply to Turkey, but were apparent across the world, and that there was a strong relationship between education and entrepreneurship.
I also struggled a lot when I created my own companies, and I wished someone had guided me, and that I could have taken advantage of being part of a network, and I started working more. And when you start these volunteering activities, it is hard to not give a lot of yourself. And It made me happy to see that I was making a difference. And last May, I was elected President with the support of the team. And for one year now, I have been the President of Kagider. I am still continuing my work, and I am acting as President of Kagider, and I have two daughters.
But, you are very busy. How does family, your job, and your engagements with kagider work together?
We, women, multi-task, and we can do a few things at once. I think that is the greatest secret. And secondly, setting the priorities right, thirdly, we women try to do everything perfectly. I accepted during this journey that I was not going to be able to do certain things. And I learned to ask for help for some things. This also happens in women after the age of 40. Fourthly, I love what I do, it doesn’t feel tiring to me.
What can you say about the past and future of Kagider?
It is a network founded by visionary and entrepreneurial women, leadership. Founded in 2002, it is 14 years old. It is important that it can exist in Turkey. Let’s empower women through entrepreneurship, but while doing that, it is not just an economic undertaking, but also socio-political empowerment. Because half of the society are women, and women have to be part of the political environment, in making decisions, and in employment.
What do we have to do for that?
Even if we start with entrepreneurship, there is a path in entrepreneurship, you get a good education, and then you start working somewhere, later you become an entrepreneur. And when you look at my story, you see this.. First, the question is how we can turn women into entrepreneurs, how can we support them through education and mentorship, and facilitate access to financial support. With regard to employment, the question is how we can keep them more at work. How can we work with the private and public sectors to enable that? That’s why it [Kagider] works with the private sector. It supports women in leadership. It looks at the entire process to support women after they have been employed. Thirdly, education, women are supported to get and continue with their education. And that they receive education in new technologies. Science and Technology (STEM).
Where do we see ourselves as Turkey in this regard? Where is the woman?
Let me tell you a little bit about numbers to shed light on where Turkey stands. We are at 27%, OECD average is 58%. If you look at Europe, the closest to us Greece, and Greece is at 42%. World Economic Forum
Do you know where the US stands?
The US is above 58%. But I am not sure, we can look it up. I want you to understand to what number of entrepreneurs this corresponds to . 8 million.
8 million women. If 30% of those not working could be included.
How much of a difference would it make?
We have a very clear goal. Until 2025, 3 million women will be included in employment, and 50.000 women will become entrepreneurs.
Why 3 million?
Because as you know, the G20 was held in turkey, and there the W engagement group was formed, TIKAT, and the ministries of finance, up till 2025, employment difference between men and women will be lowered by 25%. G20 countries. 100 million women employment. 3 million in Turkey, so we need to increase our number to the 40s%, because men are at 78%.
What are the greatest challenges to these goals and projects?
Worldviews. Attitudes and worldviews.
They play such an important role. What do we need to change?
The social and family ministry intends to make sure girls get more education. Currently girls finish about 6.7 years of education, and 8 years among boys. There is not that great of a difference between girls and boys in this regard. If education increases, participation in employment will also increase. 72% work. When there is less education, earning goes down as well. This applies universally. Therefore it is important to keep women in education. For most social problems, like early marriage. Women should have education up to the age of 18. Then she can make her own decisions. She can do what she wants after. This is one of the greatest issues. Entrepreneurship is our main focus, 98.000 entrepreneurs, 8% of all entrepreneurs. Registered companies, we are looking at female co-owned companies 98.000 entrepreneurs. We don’t know, however, how active women are. If they own part of the company, the are considered owners, and we accept them as entrepreneurs.
I will give you some numbers, and I will tell you about some women I have worked with. If we look at numbers, we are ahead of Saudi-Arabia, both in employment participation and entrepreneurship. North Africa, we are also ahead. But these numbers are very similar to each other. The OECD average being 58%, the numbers are much lower than the average.
There is affirmative action in America. Basically Positive discrimination. Should Turkey do that as well for women?
Yes, it should. That is what the quota does effectively.
In America, most buying decisions are made by women, about 80%.
That is right. Actually women buy, women make the decisions, most decision making is in woman’s hands. When women spend money they distribute it pretty equally across five sectors. Textile, food, house, education. Men are more focused on two channels, like technology and cars. When women receive money, and spend it, they develop every sector.
Do women support other women sufficiently?
Albright has a quote. I would like to start with it. “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” This is about awareness. Women are very exhausted on this journey. I work with women and am part of a woman’s organization. And I believe in its premise.
Do you have male members?
Yes. We do. Most are women entrepreneurs. But we have board membership. Erdal asked me about being part of it, because the issue is about men also. You can also become a member, if you want. You cannot vote, but you can be on the board.
Why are you in New York?
I was part of GE’s (General Electric) one week training, a woman leadership CEO program. Middle East and North Africa, and Turkey, MENA region is included. Women from this region are participating. We were at the stock exchange this morning, they rang the gong this morning for April 1st. It was a great program. It was rewarding in two ways: It was wonderful to meet women from this region. It is rewarding to have a woman’s network, male networks exist already, learning from each other, leadership, and long-term relationships, and the quality of the education was great. Canan Ozsoy, GE president in turkey invited me. There were about 60 people.
Where do you see yourself In 4-5 years?
I hope that I can pass on the leadership of Kagider to another great woman entrepreneur, be successful in my current companies, and find other entrepreneurial opportunities, and work toward women empowerment. I want to continue on this path.
Where will KAGIDER be?
Known internationally, and help include more women as entrepreneurs, and produce knowledge and information.
Where would Turkey be?
Safer, economically stronger. 1923 goals. The last reform package was declared. The government supports women entrepreneurs strongly, and in a serious manner. Hopefully, they will lead somewhere.
Let’s move on to more personal questions
Before that I want to give a message to your readers. In September, International Trade center and UN, women vendors exhibition and forum in Istanbul. Last year it was in Brazil, the previous year in Rwanda, and it is in its 5th year. It is an important forum, women owned companies and buyers from all over the world are brought together. It is a place where people can sell and buy, applications can be accessed through Kagider. They can fill out the application on the Kagider website. We are aiming at 350 women entrepreneurs. They will be able to sell their products internationally. At the same time, if there are companies here that want to buy, they can find these women on the website.
When will it happen?
September 1st and 2nd, in collaboration with the United Nations and International Trade Center.
Your favorite word?
Your least favorite word?
You can’t do it.
Your favorite sound?
Your least favorite sound?
The sound of nails.
What profession would you like to have tried?
Interesting. What profession would you have hated/ least likely?
Probably, being a doctor. I can’t see blood. Would have been physically challenging.
In the last few years, what embarrassed you most?
I was confused about a conference date. And I showed up a day late to the conference.
When did you laugh the most?
With my daughter, we went to carnival in Venice. We walked around with those costumes. I didn’t know about this festival. It was great to do it with my daughter, and her friends’ mothers.
What did you feel most proud about lately?
I am proud of my daughter. She is taking university exams, and she works hard regardless of the outcomes, I am very proud.
What is the biggest taboo in the world?
Women’s periodic cycle.
Do you know where the word taboo comes from?
It means having your period. It comes from an Indonesian island. It’s from one of those countries.
Keanu Reeves, for example. I find him very handsome. And I like him in the Matrix movie.
New York or Istanbul and why?
New York, It is a cosmopolitan city, Istanbul is trying to be one.
What is your favorite location in New York?
Soho. I love Soho. Balthaazar, Spring street, Broadway, I like walking around there. It’s like NY, but also Europe. There’s also design and taste.
That’s a good analysis.
What about Istanbul? What’s your favorite spot?
Karakoy, I really like it right now. It’s a place I go to personally. Taksim, Kadikoy, Bosphorus. Sunset restaurant maybe, depending on the person.
When was the last time you cried a lot?
I will answer if you don’t ask why. Two nights ago.
What is your most annoying habit?
I want to do everything right away. Action-oriented, do it, and finish. I am working on it though. I have to calm down, because process is important.
When we say America, what does it mean to you?
It is still one of the world’s most important powers, but I think it went through a tough economic crisis lately. I believe that the foundations and systems work, and that it is able to criticize itself. And there’s a learning cycle, and the investment in technology and brands are important. And while doing all that, America has the luxury to feel like the big brother, this would be my criticism.
What about the Turkish population and community in the US? Can we compare it to other Turkish communities in other countries? Do you have a message for Turk of America readers in addition to the one you mentioned before?
I hope in the near future, we can do a project with US and Turkish women entrepreneurs and foster relations. I would like to invite everyone to the conference in September.