Serra Titiz

Ashoka Fellow
fellow-22157-Serra foto kucuk.jpg
Turkey
Fellow since 2013
Gelecek Daha Net (Future is Brighter)
This description of Serra Titiz's work was prepared when Serra Titiz was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2013 .

Introduction

Gelecek Daha Net empowers and encourages youth self-determination with the ability to make informed education, career choices and life choices. This results in lower high school, university and job dropout rates, fulfilled personal lives and a more productive economy and society.

The New Idea

While most Turkish youth are taught to refrain from asking questions and passively follow the choices adults make for them, Gelecek Daha Net (The Future is Brighter) envisions young people as self-determined, proactive, and well-informed citizens. The initiative inspires youth with role models, raises awareness of existing social and personal opportunities, encourages them to make choices, and empowers them through a combination of guidance, mentoring, coaching, and skill development services/opportunities.

Gelecek Daha Net adds value to existing services/opportunities by placing them under one initiative. Capitalizing on Turkey’s high Internet penetration, it makes access to opportunities ubiquitous through gelecekdaha.net, a free of charge web platform youth may access anytime and anywhere, regardless of economic or social status. In addition to its web platform and online modules, Gelecek Daha Net facilitates offline forums and workshops countrywide, and is introducing mentoring manuals, handbooks, and training modules to allow high schools and universities to replicate and localize the initiatives.

Gelecek Daha Net leverages the experience, knowledge, skills and networks of hundreds of volunteer role models, professionals, organizations, and companies all over Turkey by providing youth with mentors and training. The exchange is multifold and mutually beneficial. Volunteer mentors and coaches connect to a younger generation and engage in a meaningful social activity, youth receive access to inspiration, experience, knowledge, and guidance from professionals in Turkey’s private sector and civil organizations (COs).

The Problem

With half of 75 million people under 30, Turkey has the largest youth population of all European countries. And like most societies it faces a number of challenges to successfully prepare them for their lives and careers.

Youth in Turkey are mostly unaware of their opportunities or even discouraged from making self-determined choices for their lives, studies and careers. “My goal in high school was to get good grades”, “I studied what my parents suggested” or “I chose the job my father does” are very common expressions among Turkish youth. As a consequence many make life and career choices that do not reflect who they are and what they’re capable of, but rather, what they’ve been taught. In addition to their disorientation, the education system fails to develop and match talents with existing opportunities. And while career counseling or life coaching become more popular services in Turkey, in most cases they are only available to a few, provided only at certain institutions at certain times and limited in reach.

This results in a myriad of negative economic consequences: youth unemployment in Turkey is 17 percent, on-the-job productivity is low and the economic costs of hiring, training, and then shortly after losing disappointed employees due to early dropouts are staggering. It also brings severe social consequences: Long years of education do not guarantee a fulfilling job, many degrees are irrelevant to the job graduates later have, many are dissatisfied with their career choices, and many youth become desperate—e.g. of 10 people in Turkey who commit suicide, 3 likely did so due to feeling they failed in life; another 3 because they couldn’t find a job.

It is also obvious that teaching youth skills such as teamwork, leadership, empathy, communication, or taking initiative is not the primary concern to teachers and educational institutes. Not only do many youth lack guidance, a majority are not equipped with the skills they need to lead successful lives and careers. From an early age, youth in Turkey are trained to repeat knowledge and succeed in exams—rather then be empowered to discover their talents, passions, and ability to create.

The fact that adults and professionals in Turkey are to a large extent detached from youth and only a minority engages in volunteer activities further engraves the issue and makes it a broader challenge. Adults often feel they do not properly understand the challenges of their own children or cannot play a positive role to help youth with important transitions in their lives. At the same, time many youth are exposed to the professional world for the first time at their first job interview, many years after making their education and career choices—and in most cases too late to reassess.

The Strategy

Gelecek Daha Net launched its pilot in 2009, in collaboration with high schools and universities in selected Turkish provinces. The regions were chosen for their socioeconomic diversity to prove the model’s relevance for all youth, independent of background. For the first three years the initiative focused on two core programs—matching youth online with mentors and demonstrating inspiring role model videos—while building a growing network of volunteer professionals, companies, and organizations. Having successfully proven the positive impact of their early work, Gelecek Daha Net gradually introduced additional models and built a countrywide network of volunteer mentors.

Gelecek Daha Net produced dozens of videos of professionals from the corporate and citizen sector, who share insight about their work and their personal experience. Youth can watch these profiles online for free, learn about different vocations and are then redirected for specific additional information. Young people who prefer a more personal and permanent exchange are invited to apply for the mentorship program. Gelecek Daha Net then assigns them to experienced volunteer mentors, who provide ongoing guidance, encouragement, and inspiration in the form of online chats or video conferences. In addition to role model videos and personal mentoring, “Find Your Profession,” lets youth fill out online surveys and then directs them to existing education and career opportunities which best fit their survey answers, regarding their talents, passions, and dreams.

To engage youth in an ongoing conversation about their future and provide them with relevant skills Gelecek Daha Net also facilitates on and offline skill development trainings. Partnering again with their group of volunteer professionals and organizations, who offer a continually increasing number of online webinars and e-learning sessions. To take their efforts beyond the Internet, Gelecek Daha Net hosts forums and conferences at high schools and universities throughout Turkey. At these day-long events youth get a chance meet and engage with selected role models and participate in skills workshops. For example, role mode entrepreneurs deliver inspiring speeches after which youth may ask questions, more intimate workshops to share professional experiences, information sharing about possible career paths and more.

Gelecek Daha Net also encourages new forms of inclusion among youth and adults. More than 405 professionals have participated in the program—engaging more than 1,000 youth—many interact personally with young people for the first time through mentoring or trainings. In addition, Gelecek Daha Net ensures that everyone, youth, adults, and organizations alike, are involved in shaping, catalyzing, replicating, and localizing the initiative. Youth are encouraged to recruit participants by organizing local activities around the work of Gelecek Daha Net in their schools and local communities, often incentivized by access to additional mentoring, trainings, or events. Thanks to special mentoring guidelines and handbooks, high schools and universities may also begin to embed the initiative’s modules in the curriculum and activities of their respective institutions. Over and above—inspired by Gelecek Daha Net and consulting by Serra—an additional independent initiative of several dozen local and multinational corporations emerged recently, to provide cost-free vocational training and career services to youth around Turkey.

After the first three years of the initiative, Gelecek Daha Net is seeing a promising trend among former mentees, who are reengaging with the program as mentors. Thinking about a strategic alumni program to include former mentees is now among Gelecek Daha Net’s top priorities. With positive feedback and strong interest from organizations and individuals worldwide, Gelecek Daha Net has the potential to scale and expand beyond Turkey’s borders. While Serra’s focus lies in making the program a nationwide success in Turkey first, she and her team have engaged in a number of promising discussions with potential partners in Egypt, Spain, and Portugal.

The Person

Serra grew up in a family of textile entrepreneurs in Istanbul, Turkey, giving her the chance to receive a good education from early childhood. Though she grew up with privileges Serra would later recall the feeling she shared with her generation of being lost, disoriented, and uncertain about what life and career choices to make. Having received high grades in Turkey’s centralized high school exam she was admitted to study sociology at an elite university in Istanbul and later graduated with an additional degree in business administration from a business school in the UK.

Feeling responsible to support her family Serra joined the family’s textile business, which her parents started in 1960. Though she successfully steered the company through challenging times for a number of years, she soon realized that being a textile entrepreneur did not satisfy her.

Following in her parents path for four years, Serra decided to break the cycle when confronted with the “most important decision of her life.” In 2003 Community Volunteers Foundation (TOG), an organization Serra volunteered for, and Turkey’s first almost entirely youth led CO dedicated to youth empowerment, asked her to join full-time as program and fundraising director. Though a career in a CO was unheard of and completely unusual, and despite discouragement from friends and peers, she quit the family business and joined TOG. Serra traveled the country to give empowerment workshops to youth, designed and implemented fundraising campaigns, and established many of TOG’s first corporate partnerships.

Serra realized after some years that—just like her family business—something was missing. She didn’t just want to implement programs or follow an organization’s board decisions, she wanted to be an entrepreneur and create her own ventures.

In 2007, despite repeated doubts from her family and friends, Serra launched Mikado, a social business which crafts and implements new models and projects around sustainable development, corporate social responsibility, and society capacity-building in partnership with the private and social sector. Through the resources and networks of Mikado she could realize what had been in her mind for several years—a global initiative providing youth with guidance, inspiration, and empowerment to lead self-determined lives. Gelecek Daha Net, which began as a pillar of Mikado, gradually became a more independent national initiative.

Serra is an alumna of the INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship Programme and is active on their global steering committee. In recognition of her contributions she was elected an Eisenhower Fellow in 2012.