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Scouting Social Enterprises in Istanbul

Henna Engagement Party - Palm

Diyarbakir’s Citibank Entrepreneur of the Year

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Tuesday evening, I met Sevdet, a Grameen Bank client in Turkey. We arrived at her store – a sizeable place where she produces and sells speciality clothing and items for traditional henna wedding celebrations – and, thanks to our wonderful translator, we were able to hear her story.

The following questions and answers were translated by Hulya Ozonen, our host and an employee of the Karacadag Development Agency, and then written down in my notes.

What motivated you to start your own business?

Several years ago, my husband and I were unemployed and struggling to provide for our children.  I heard about the microcredit program, obtained a loan and got to work. First, I used a room in my house to sell t-shirts, pants, and other basic clothing that I made. It went well and I turned the room into a store. When I made more money, I rented a place.

Why did you choose to start a business that focuses on henna ceremonies?

Henna ceremony dresses are local, so there is a big demand for this type of clothing. I also sell other textiles.

[Note: Another Grameen client, Zeynep, who owns a similar business in a different neighborhood said in response to the same question: "There are 283 wedding houses in Diyarbakir. People used to get these products from a nearby city. Now we able to produce these products on our own and conduct wholesale to other cities in Turkey."]

Do you have any advice for other women considering entrepreneurship in Turkey?

Go find financial resources and be an entrepreneur. It is fruitful and worth the pain, especially if they have children.

Don’t be afraid of trade – the people here live in desperate conditions.

My husband didn’t support me at the beginning but now I am employing two other people, I sent my children to university and I own my own car – I am very thankful for that. He’s okay with it now.

Where do you see your business in five years?

I want to grow my business to the point that I can export. I have exported to Sweden before and there are many Turkish people living abroad, so there is a market for henna ceremony clothing.

Have you ever taken any business classes, or participated in entrepreneur trainings or competitions?

No, I’ve never had any schooling. I grew up in a village. The only course I’ve ever taken was on how to use the machines for tailoring purposes.

Grameen representative interjects- …Sevdet can’t read or write but she was granted an award by the Women’s Entrepreneurship Citibank Competition. Our Grameen branch identified successful female entrepreneur clients and submitted their bios. She was awarded the 2010 Citibank Most Successful Woman Entrepreneur.

Sevdet continues- Last week the microcredit institution started a “Power of Women” Campaign in Turkey. I was invited to Istanbul for the campaign. I was very thankful.

The visit was quick - 10 minutes of a twelve hour day, a 5 day trip, and 18 meetings – but I can’t stop thinking about it! I have only begun to process the experience. Sevdet’s story is truly inspiring. It shows that hard work and dreams pay off as she described entrepreneurship as “fruitful and worth the pain.” On another note, I can’t imagine a more direct reminder that we live in a globalized world than meeting a Citibank Entrepreneur of the Year in a random neighborhood in southeast Turkey (I could unpack that further but I’ll leave it to you). Finally, in the context of our work here, it leads to as many questions as it does answers… Was she born an entrepreneur, or, at least, with entrepreneurial instincts? If she was, were these ‘entrepreneurial qualities’ the same ones that helped her to find financial resources where there were few and to overcome social and family pressure? In certain cases, can necessity driven entrepreneurship have the same positive affects on a business as traditional competition?

The potential of microcredit in developing areas is wonderful but not new. I had heard stories like Sevdet’s before. Still, meeting these women contextualized and humanized micro entrepreneurship. What I witnessed this week – the talent, the business sense, the aspiration to take part in foreign trade, the drive, the vibrant sense of hope and the belief that all things are possible and attainable – brought the emerging market concept to life in a new way. Meeting Ebuzeyt, the other henna shop owner, quoted above, also made it clear that family structure may play a role too. She told us that she is training her daughter to succeed her. Maybe this helps her to dream even bigger and look even further ahead as she envisions the life of her business and the continued prosperity of her family beyond a single generation.

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