The marvel of modern Turkey
Admittedly, it’s a strange sensation to marvel each morning at the stunning Istanbul skyline and glistening Bosphorus waterway, while simultaneously reading the daily newspaper, which, in recent days, has chronicled the launching of airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition in neighboring Syria against the Islamic State, the mixed international reaction to the new military campaign and the massive streaming of Syrian refugees (more than 150,000 over the last week, it was just reported) across the Syrian-Turkish border.
As if experiencing this dynamic city’s culture and history wasn’t enough, members of the IU delegation have traveled here, to Turkey’s largest metropolis, at a time when the entire world is focused on the strategic significance of a nation that, recent electoral and constitutional challenges aside, remains the clear economic, military and political power in the region.
Indeed, current developments have demonstrated that, despite a remarkable history that spans the world’s most ancient civilizations, cultures and legendary empires, Turkey is, in 2014, a modern and ever-changing country.
Philanthropy in action
The mission of the Vehbi Koc Foundation, the first, large-scale private foundation in Turkey and now one of the country’s biggest non-governmental charitable organizations, reflects the country’s dynamic stature.
Established in 1969 by Vehbi Koc, a renowned Turkish entrepreneur and philanthropist, the foundation strives to improve conditions in Turkey through a focus on education, culture and health care. Its efforts have resulted in the establishment of Koc University, Koc School and many elementary schools across the country, as well as various dormitories, hospitals, libraries and museums. The foundation has also awarded scholarships to thousands of students in order to create equal opportunities in education.
On Wednesday morning, members of the IU delegation had the opportunity to visit the Koc Foundation and reconnect with its president, Erdal Yildirim, who received his master’s degree in philanthropic studies from IU and, later this week at an alumni gathering, will be awarded with the university’s prestigious Thomas Hart Benton Medallion in recognition of his outstanding accomplishments in nonprofit management and philanthropy over his career in Turkey and around the globe.
In addition to hearing about past, present and future projects at the Koc Foundation, IU President Michael A. McRobbie and Vice President David Zaret shared news of recent major developments at IU, including the establishment of a new School of Global and International Studies, which now houses all of the university’s acclaimed international resources and faculty expertise; a renewed emphasis on enhancing teaching and research capacity in modern Turkish studies; and a plan to create a new global gateway office in Istanbul, which will serve as a hub of university activity both here in Turkey and across the central Asian region.
“Istanbul is a priority,” Zaret said. “Culturally, it has a rich heritage, and logistically, it’s the perfect regional hub for our large and successful programs in central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.”
Given his background and experience, Yildirim, who assumed his current role 17 years ago, talked openly about the challenge of philanthropic governance in Turkey, including new foundations struggling to determine how best to manage funds, design giving programs that are both effective and sustainable, and transition successful business executives from the for-profit to the nonprofit sector.
“We have rich philanthropic traditions,” he said, “but I strongly believe we should be doing more for philanthropy in Turkey, where there will be young people working in this field for many years.”
In raising the issue of how to strengthen the support base for philanthropy in Turkey, Yildirim effectively set the stage for potential future discussions between Koc and IU’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, the first such school in the world, which is dedicated to increasing the understanding of philanthropy and improving its practice worldwide through research, teaching, training and civic engagement. He also suggested a promising path for educational programming and professional training that might help form the basis of meaningful activities at IU’s Istanbul gateway facility, for which the university hopes to soon identify a permanent location.
IU alumni and their impact
Listening to Yildirim talk, it was impossible not to be inspired by his passion and desire to build a better future for Turkey.
Ater leaving the Koc Foundation, McRobbie, Zaret and other members of the IU delegation spent an afternoon meeting with several other successful IU alumni, who, like Yildirim, are making a major impact in Istanbul, in such vital areas as academia, the arts, business and economics, government, media and philanthropy.
Indeed, their success offers a measure of what IU hopes to accomplish on trips like these and with its global partners, like the Koc Foundation today and Boğaziçi University yesterday, in the years to come.
Where there’s a Will
One final thought: You just never know whom you’ll run into while you’re in Turkey.
Just as they were about to depart the airport in Istanbul for two days of meetings in Ankara, members of the IU delegation made one last alumni connection, albeit one that was not on the schedule.
Suffice it to say, it was a slam dunk.
Tags: Bogazici University, David Zaret, Erdal Yildirim, Istanbul, IU Global Gateway Network, IU international alumni, Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Michael A. McRobbie, School of Global and International Studies, Syria, Turkey, Vehbi Koc Foundation, Will Sheehey