Let us talk about imece first, what are the activities of imece in the social entrepreneurship ecosystem?
We have been conducting a pre-incubation and incubation program called “Support Program (Destek Programı)” for the last two years. We provide training, mentorships, networking etc. for social entrepreneurs and went through two phases that last seven months for each. We have accompanied social enterprises and entrepreneurs in those phases from the very beginning of idea stage until the launching of their enterprise. In this way, we had the opportunity to see the progress and stages of almost 25 social enterprises. How can they act in entrepreneurial sector in Turkey, how can they act in the field of civil society, or is there a new industry born for them, we have experienced all of these together.
Our theme in 2019 will be the Mitigation of Inequalities. In April, we plan to announce its application call.
What are the criteria for calling any enterprise form or model as a “social enterprise” for imece?
The first point imece prioritizes is that the enterprise should be targeting social benefit, it needs to provide solutions to a social or environmental issue, or create a new system, product or service benefitable for the society, and an innovative contribution must be present.
Secondly, we are looking for financial sustainability. Maintaning financial sustainability means they can obtain more than 50% of their revenue from an income model based on their own service or product and feed the rest with grants and funds collected.
Enterprise’s method for distribution of its profit is not a criteria that we consider in our set of criteria. What is important is that it provides financial sustainability and social impact, and measures such impact to mobilize its resources well. Therefore, we call the models distributing dividends to its shareholders / partners also as social enterprise.
Can we say that it is sufficient to have social benefit purpose and financial sustainability in order to qualify an enterprise (association / company / organization etc.) as a social enterprise?
Social benefit / impact, financial sustainability, and a dynamic and innovative approach, we can say these three describe a social enterprise.
Is imece also a social enterprise?
For the development of the social entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem, we have to generate social benefit and measure the impact of each work we do. We also strive to provide the financial sustainability criterion. imece is a two year old formation, we have been able to conduct our operations with the financial support of our founding partner Zorlu Holding for these two years. As of 2019, we are planning to involve different partners into our works. We started our first cooperation with the Consulate General of the Netherlands. We aim to increase our sustainability by diversifying our financial resources with the products and services we develop within the scope of imece.
What do you think is the difference between social enterprises and traditional civil society organizations?
In our opinion, the most fundamental difference is financial sustainability, innovative approaches which are naturally inherent in entrepreneurship and dynamism. When we look at the old, well-established civil society organizations, they do not fully meet the basic requirements of entrepreneurship even if they are the commercial enterprises under associations. What I mean by essentialities are that social enterprises are dynamic structures, they keep up with changes, try innovative projects and are flexible. Social entrepreneurship can not be distinguished literally from civil society organizations in Turkey, because of the complexity of corporate identity, because social enterprise does not have a legal definition in the legislation. When we want to distinguish, it is necessary to look at the values: How innovative they are, how much financial sustainability they maintain, how they move around it independently and scalable, I think social enterprises are distinguished from other civil area actors with these values.
So how do you see the relationship between these two structures (social enterprises and conventional civil society organisations) in Turkey?
I think the awareness of being able to read each other correctly and ability to be more powerful when working together, ability to mobilize the resources of each other is insufficient in Turkey. In fact, these structures need each other, because civil society has field strength, access to resources, operations in different cities, a strong operation knowledge. Their access and field capabilities need to be combined with the innovative products and services of social entrepreneurs. The target group of the social enterprise is the target groups that the civil society has been working on for a long time. For this reason, the ideal would be that these two groups come together, learn from each other, grow together and work together.
What do you think is the most serious concern in the social enterprise ecosystem in Turkey?
Young people are not taught by this field, this is a big issue, thus there is a lack of qualified work force. There are very few institutions in Turkey that develop competence and capacity in this field at the academic level by producing informative contents at a certain level. When these contents are not created for the young people, it is not very realistic to expect new graduates to be aware of the existence of this sector when it is not explained to them. The awareness we need to capture should come from qualified work force, so that they can be channeled to this area. If the qualified work force comes here, more accurate, better examples and projects will come out. Then people realize that they can create social benefit while doing business, and unhappy young people and unhappy masses do not occur. Only then we can have the mobility we expect.
Let us look also the positive side, what do you think the advantages of being in Turkey?
We live in a geography where there are so many social issues, so many different types of social or environmental problems. For this reason, I do not think anyone here have the right to grouch, no matter what job they are daling with. They do not have to be social entrepreneurs but they can contribute to a solution. Take a person who is a manager in the private sector, he can fix certain things. Everyone can contribute to social innovation. There is no obligation to be an entrepreneur to create a change.
How are the other countries? What do you say when you compare Turkey with other examples in the world?
For example, the UK, the Netherlands, Northern Europe, are the advanced ecosystems of social entrepreneurship and innovation. By saying advanced I mean: They are valuable ecosystems that provide an academic infrastructure, draw examples with good financial modeling and make necessary researches to have social enterprises act in a healthy way in the ecosystem. These are the countries that we can call the pioneers providing information and content to the world. The first definition of social entrepreneurship has come from England anyway.
On the other hand, also the social innovation ecosystems in Brazil and India are developed, from a different perspective. It is because their geography is wide, needs are high, target markets are diverse, so you come across different impleentations and entrepreneurship examples. Therefore, we follow Europe in terms of knowledge and follow the other ecosystems whose profiles are more close to Turkey’s profile and try to take inspiration from them.
Do you have any recommendations to the social entrepreneurs with respect to sustainability?
I suggest that they should be flexible. In order to be flexible as an entrepreneur, you need to be in a structure where you know the beneficiary and the customer and you always take feedback from them. If you get the right feedback on your product, service, pricing, and continuously improve your product and service, then you sustain yourself. They need to be fed by both the beneficiary and the customer correctly.
Finally, I have such an observation that you need to succeed if you build an enterprise in Turkey: If your enterprise does not become a success story, the founder feels bad, people start to see him as a failure. However, entrepreneurship is something that is learned along the path. As you develop and fail in your project, you can build a correct and permanent path through trials. Therefore, without worrying about what anyone says, you need to learn on the road and not fall into despair.