“Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world,” said Nelson Mandela, South African anti-apartheid activist and the first black president of South Africa.
Mandela, the hero of the nation with his freedom struggle, was extremely aware of the importance of education. Although years have passed, education has retained its importance. Today, new discoveries have been made in education in every other subject. We met with concepts such as “social entrepreneurship,” “social impact leaders” and “quality education.”
Turkey, which has strong potential with its young population, also has heroes fighting for equal opportunity in education. Ece Çiftçi, the founder of the SosyalBen Foundation, aims to discover and shape the talents of disadvantaged children aged 7-13 in terms of access to quality education, being one of them.
We talked to Çiftçi about the establishment of the SosyalBen Foundation, which has touched the lives of countless children with its 15-year history, how her story of entrepreneurship began, and her future projects as a social entrepreneur and social impact leader.
Stating that the foundation of the SosyalBen was laid when she was a 14-year-old high school student, Çiftçi said the concept of social entrepreneurship was introduced to her at university.
“My journey first started with my meeting with volunteering and civil society,” said Çiftci and added that she later turned to social entrepreneurship after considering a working financial model needed for her activities to sustain, apart from donations and sponsorships.
She did her first fieldwork at a youth center in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa, close to the Syrian border. Çiftçi said she was not a very bright student at that age, but she had artistic skills. “One day, I went on stage to play the violin right after a friend who won an award in mathematics. Here's what I realized: He's being applauded, and I'm being applauded too. We can both experience the same things by doing different things,” she said.
“Then I realized that there is no need to destroy our own fingerprints in stereotypical success,” said Çiftçi, pointing out that her journey “was the violin.”
Afterward, Çiftçi said to her parents that she did not want to deal with mathematics anymore because she could do whatever she wanted by playing the violin. “But this realization also caused me discomfort. I started saying what will happen to other kids who don't realize it,” she said. “And that's how the journey of SosyalBen started.”
“Today, with SosyalBen, we discover, strengthen and guide the talents of economically disadvantaged children who cannot access quality education through eight basic workshops. We do this in Turkey and many different countries where access to quality education is difficult,” said Çiftçi, adding that volunteering is always seen as something that we “give,” but it is something we learn the most from.
Stating that one of the most prominent issues while implementing activities of the foundation is sustainability, Çiftçi said, “To ensure that children have access to quality education and its continuity, there must be an order in terms of participation and funding. In this sense, I met with social entrepreneurship and established the SosyalBen store, SosyalBen academy and the whole social entrepreneurship structure of today's SosyalBen.”
“I think being a volunteer, a social entrepreneur, or even doing something about the community is related to the state of being uncomfortable,” said Çiftçi, highlighting that she founded the SosyalBen based on a dream and discomfort.
Sharing an unforgettable memory about one of the many children whose lives she touched, Çiftci said, “One day, we were working with children in a workshop. At the end of an activity, we asked the children to write letters. One of the children wrote, ‘I have not met SosyalBen face to face, but I think he is a very good person.’ All the purity and innocence of working with children is in this sentence.”
The biggest difficulty she faced when stepping into social entrepreneurship was the legal basis for this concept as it was invalid in some countries, “This creates a backlog for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or becoming a company. At the same time, it is one of the biggest obstacles hampering the development of the sector. Because it will grow, the more the concept is recognized and named on a cultural basis in countries.”
“So we decided to continue our work as a legal entity, a foundation,” she added.
“We need to see more success stories in social entrepreneurship,” she said, adding that social investing has become a hot topic in the world these days. The sector will grow even more with investments, however, Çiftçi warned that the focus must be on the effective solution to the problems.
“Because otherwise, the sector may also become an area where we produce problems. But there are very good examples of social investment and social entrepreneurship in the world.”
“Turkey is a very exciting country in this sense. We, young people, want to do something in this field. Maybe we just need to strengthen the sustainability a little more here, but we have a lot of potential ideas here as well.”
She firmly believes in equal opportunity for all when it comes to education. Çiftçi said: “The important thing while providing equal opportunity is to gather all the geographical, economic, cultural and social patterns. Generally, we just focus on one pattern and try to implement it. For example, we focus on the internet access of schools, but in this way, we sometimes lose the cultural fabric of that village, city, or country.”
“The issue is also about what we understand from education,” she said, adding that access to education was on the agenda worldwide before, “but now quality education has come to the fore.”
“We want to raise a generation that takes it through their own pot and takes action with their own interpretation.”
The onus to provide equal opportunity in education is not just on the teachers, parents, or the government, but everyone, Çiftçi said, “Because education is not just inside a building, it is everywhere in life, especially for kids.”
Highlighting that SosyalBen will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2023, she described the foundation as “an NGO of the new generation with its participant demographics, age and corporate identity.”
She also revealed the good news that an agricultural workshop would be added to the eight workshops to teach children the importance of farming and production. “Therefore, you’ll see SosyalBen in the field with the children very soon.”
Stating that it is also very exciting to be able to speak from Turkey to the world, she said, “We have done this in various places for 15 years, but now we are getting ready to do it institutionally as well. We established a Brussels-based headquarters.”
“From the heart of Europe to the world, we will continue to work from there, empowering the youth and raising new social impact leaders as a Turkish NGO and social impact leader.”
The center in Brussels, the capital of the European Union, will be on the agenda of SosyalBen. “We have to set up the headquarter and open our agricultural workshop right now.”