Serra Titiz: ”Social Entrepreneurship İs To Design The Solution; Together With The People Who Has the Problem”

While we have just embraced the terms "entrepreneurship", "enterprise" and "start-up" and begun to consider "entrepreneurship" as an honorable profession, we have discussed with the founder of Mikado Sustainable Development Consultancy, Serra Titiz, a new term that we begin to hear often in recent years: "Social Entrepreneurship".

What is social entrepreneurship? What is the difference between social entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship that we have known so far?

The social entrepreneur is a person who commits himself to solving a social or environmental problem by developing an innovative method. While both establish an enterprise and profit by selling a product or service, whereas commercial entrepreneurship maximize profits, the purpose of social entrepreneurship is to optimize profit and work more on its social impact instead.

The difference between mainstream entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship is very clear to me. A social entrepreneur establishes an enterprise because he worries about solving of a social problem. If such enterprise does not work or the solution he found does not work on the target audience, a mainstream entrepreneur may think of closing or changing the enterprise and move on the some other. The emotional bond in mainstream entrepreneurship with the enterprise founded may not be as high as in social entrepreneurship. The commercial entrepreneur can easily lead to a different path, but if the social entrepreneur is obsessed with a specific problem, then he finds another method if the first one does not work, so that rather than closing the enterprise, social entrepreneurs would decide to change the operation method and in the end, social entrepreneur continues until the social problem is solved.

How is the social entrepreneurship in Turkey? What are the differences comparing to the rest of the world?

I think that people may fear taking risks here. The number of social enterprises in some areas was way less before, for example there were few social enterprises in the fields of agriculture, environment and human rights. Such number begin to increase now, that is a good development. In addition, the interest of young people to this field has increased, the new generation is more concerned with social entrepreneurship, today’s young people want to do things and they see social enterprise as a new career alternative.

Most social enterprises in the world are in countries such as India, Brazil, because there are serious problems in the social sense. Since the existing system is weak in order to solve their problems, social enterprises are established with the individual efforts of the people and then spread all over the world. In places where very big problems are experienced, more innovation is needed and of course more solution is found. In developed countries, the number of social enterprises is not much, it is more in disadvantaged countries.

Now we launched the Social Entrepreneurship Network Project with partners like KUSIF, Vehbi Koç Foundation, Ashoka Turkey, Ted Social Entrepreneurship University Incubation Center. The project’s objective is to spread understanding of social entrepreneurship notion to the whole Turkey. In this regard, many development agencies in Turkey are partners in the project, capacity building activities have already been initiated in Bursa, Van, Gaziantep, Kayseri, Muğla and Samsun. In Turkey, we will work in order to support, encourage and  uncover the potential in this area for over 2 years.

What are the barriers against the social entrepreneurship in Turkey?

You need to do a social work in this field and use the tools of the system, but tools are very challenging in Turkey. Since there is no definitive term in the legislation, that is why you are most likely setting up a company. In that case, even if you do not intend to maximize the profit, you pay a serious amount of tax as you established a company under the law. You pay income tax, the taxes you pay over the employees are incredibly high. No tax advantage is offered, you pay like an organization with the purpose of profit-making, this is a huge burden. If you had a little tax advantage, you could have worked with two more people for example, the existing system does not give you any support to make it easier. There are no cuztomizations like credit advantages, tax exemptions etc. like other countries. Previously there were even no grants but now they are, however they are still not enough. In addition, there was no incentive or encouragement, and social entrepreneurs used to look like mad people so to speak. When I first started, then current perception was like “What do you do for real?”. It was much more challenging process, no one really understood, we did not understand ourselves too, we did not start saying “we are social enterprises” from the very beginning we started, since we did not know what we were. The international channels appreciated us and made us feel that our work is meaningful and we are not alone. We were together only a few people in Turkey. Ashoka made important contribution to all of us in those years.

At the moment, at least the first perception in society has been broken, the work is appreciated, admired, valued. People are aware that social entrepreneurs should be supported for sustainable development. It is now a more advantageous time, because this area has become more known, the level of consciousness has increased, young people are more interested, there are competitions in schools, and also lessons, certificate programs, awards etc. relating to this field started. More importantly, the private sector started to support. As the level of perception and consciousness increased, I think the number of barriers decreased.

What was your own reason for choosing social entrepreneurship and when did you decide?

Starting to work in the civil society organizations changed my whole perception fully, it made me discover myself and what I am able to do. I did not really want to work in a private sector company after all. I gained some experience in civil society, and later I set up Mikado in 2007 thinking about what is needed in Turkey in terms of sustainable development and what I can offer.

What do you think should be the three key features of a social entrepreneur?

I would say passion first of all, because sometimes only passion stops you from giving up, it keeps you moving on. Second, the ethical standing I would say, at least for me it was valuable, the principles and a ethical standing. We can also say that being flexible and innovative, so that you do not fall before hardships and stay up. There is something I always say, you also have to be innovative to yourself, and you have to be creative all the time in order to survive in this field.

What do you think is the top priority steps to be taken for the sake of strengthening the social enterprise ecosystem in Turkey?

The legislation has long been on agenda and a lot of efforts have been made for it. Firstly, TUSEV held a meeting with Ankara to discuss the topic. This have been on the agenda of governmental development agencies for a while and now the Social Entrepreneurship Network Project is preparing a proposal for the legislation. An attorney team will be working just for this for 2 years.

I believe the legal legislation is crucial because then you have a definition, you are legally part of a certain category. This legitimizes you, you know then you are accepted. When you are better understood and accepted, special products, mechanismsn and incentives can be developed for you. Banks may develop a special incentive for you, or a special exemption policy may be adopted within the tax legislation. So without that legal definition, no product or support mechanism specific to the social enterprise / entrepreneurs can be created. However, for the sake of clarity, this does not mean that the social entrepreneur cannot continue his life when there is no legal regulation, because of course it continues, as we have been continuing on since 2007.

How did you manage your sustainability? There is a perception among the people in the field that sustainability is a “dream” for social enterprises..

I believe that the sustainability is related to how successful the enterprise will be and in order to maintain sustainability, the problem that you are interested should be related to your area of expertise. It is important to know your subject well, know the problem you focus well, and design the solution together with those who actually struggle with the problem in reality. I really do not think that designing an idea or project on your desk without knowing whether it is the right solution for the person who has the actual problem can lead you to success. It really needs to be a model that people are in need of. The model has to be prototyped first, it is necessary to try it within a small scale.

We had a nice project with KUSIF named “Know Your Impact”, the theme was “impact management”, I believe the importance thereof. As a social enterprise is an enterprise for creating social impact and social benefit, you need to set up the measurement tools and continuously measure your social impact from the very beginning of the road. So that you can know whether you are on the right way or not. Because the goal is to create a change.

One of my biggest recommendations is to implement social impact management phases and tools into the business plan at the very beginning. This is to see if your enterprise is working well. We provide social impact management and social impact measurement services in Mikado.

I am calling on social entrepreneurs to Mikado, then! Do you have any suggestions for those who have an idea in this field?

Having a team which believes in you is important, because those people stand by your side and face various problems with you whereas they could just go to private sector and make more money or have more social rights. Of course this field is more flexible, has more enjoyable working environment, it is more educational because if you work in a private sector company you cannot improve yourself this much because you would have just one task / responsibility there. Being here has many advantages, but it also has its limitations. It is important to be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses, and to able to cooperate with the team. One of the most important things is not to give up on this journey, internal belief and motivation is important. It is important to follow the course and ecosystem, and be flexible.

Besides, being too in love with the method can cause a trouble. You should not obssesively stick with one method, because you never know what method will work ultimately. It is clear that it is necessary to follow the world and adapt to the existing tools. Last but not least, having ethical principles and an ethical standing were very important to me, it still is. This has maybe led to a couple of negative things for me for some time, but overall it gave me strength and I never regretted.