In Turkish philanthropy, a few foundations (among more than five thousand) managed to go beyond charity by channeling their philanthropic funds to tackle many of the most difficult social problems. The Sabanci Foundation, for more than a decade, has been supporting NGOs systematically to attack the fundamental problems of society in Turkey.
While 144 grant projects have been supported to date, as Sabanci Foundation team, we are observing that a new set of actors are emerging who think that money is ‘evil’.
Two years ago, we carried out a strategic assessment, upon which we decided to prioritise the issue of social integration of Syrian refugees given that more than four million of them are here to stay. We analysed the current situation and the prevailing actors and determined that even though Istanbul hosts the largest number of refugees (more than half a million people), there are not adequate programmes addressing social integration.
We decided to partner with one of the leading NGOs in the field and support a community centre which is located in the middle of an under-resourced community where Turks and Syrians live together as neighbours.
Despite all the different approaches of bringing the two populations together, including cooking classes and handicraft workshops, to name a few, to our surprise, the neighborhood relationships didn’t improve that much. The reason may be that we need much longer time to develop these relationships through the community center model. Or maybe, the heterogeneous and conservative structure in this specific neighborhood doesn’t allow the community to embrace the centre as a socially attractive meeting point.
We observe that many NGOs and INGOs have been extremely successful in distributing relief supplies like food and sanitary material. However, very few approaches seem to work effectively when it comes to integration and cohesion of both cultures.
Among all the different programmes implemented at the grassroots level, we witnessed that the most effective ones were implemented by smaller NGOs which are led by people from within the under-resourced communities. We have met with three NGOs which work in different neighbourhoods using the same model.
All three of them have a few characteristics in common: first and foremost: they work without money. Turkish people who live in the under-resourced neighbourhood, face a similar kind of poverty as refugees are facing. Whenever a Syrian family moves into the neighbourhood, Turkish people from the community NGO organise themselves to share their supplies with the newcomers. They ‘share the poverty’ as they state it. This solidarity creates the basis for the trust relationship between them. That’s exactly where neighbourship begins.
The second common thing is the mobilisation of volunteers. I’m not talking about a simple, conventional volunteerism here. Rather, it involves a deep commitment of time and resources. When you question the sustainability of the volunteer-based mechanism, these guys will tell you – ‘none of your money can achieve the level of commitment of our volunteers’. They claim that if money is involved, i.e. if community people receive a salary for undertaking the duties of the NGO, the trust relationship they have developed over time will collapse. These people approach the issue from a different perspective and refuse to get involved with philanthropic funds.
The third and most important common characteristic is the existence of committed community leaders who work for these NGOs. These change maker actors commit 100 per cent of their time into integrating and transforming different groups into the community, while working in full time, paid jobs elsewhere.
It looks like in communities where Syrians live together with Turkish people, sharing poverty and developing trust are key factors to achieve an equal relationship. Volunteer led efforts including language courses, art workshops, etc seem to work well at the moment. But when considering issues like professionalism and sustainability, how far can this model go? As foundations, our mission of working to make the world a more just place, is challenged by situations like this, where we find effective approaches which we cannot support or scale with grants.
When we open ourselves up to a more critical and honest discussion about deeply rooted cultural norms and structures, we discover that traditional grantmaking may not be an appropriate tool all the time when addressing inequalities. Grantmaking may not mean change making in certain cases. Also, the kind of trust created among the communities may not be the case between the community and the grantmaker. The chair of Synergos, Peggy Dulany, discusses in her new book Building Trust Works: Why Inner Work for Social Impact that creating trust is a prerequisite for leaders who aim for collaboration and social change. For us, grantmakers, it’s time to think about more creative ways of making use of our philanthropic resources while building a relationship based on trust, presence and humility. Only this way we can work with NGOs on more flexible support structures to turn their good practices into more sustainable and scalable solutions.
Rana Kotan is Director of Programs and International Relations at the Sabanci Foundation