Kadın Emeğini Değerlendirme Vakfı (KEDV)
This case is based mainly on an interview with Sengul Akcar, Executive Director of KDEV on March 1, 2021.
KEDV’s headquarters are located in Istanbul, the largest metropolitan area and cultural, economic and financial center of the Turkey. Historically, Istanbul was the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey occupies a geographically strategic location controlling the straights that separate Asia from Europe, and the Black Sea from the Aegean Sea. It is also located on active seismic fault lines, which makes ninety percent of the country, and especially Istanbul, prone to major earthquakes. Turkey hosts the largest community of Syrian refugees and asylum seekers in the world (3.6 million in 2021), which has created additional strain on local governments.
Although economic growth has been fairly strong in recent decades, Turkey remains among the most unequal countries in the world in terms of income and distribution of wealth. Women’s legal rights were institutionalized in the 1920s, but a gender-based division of labor contributes to economic inequality and marginalization of women. While women make up half of the country’s population of 80 million, their labor force participation rate is now down to about 30%, and their paid work is concentrated in informal and insecure employment sectors.
Discrimination based on gender is banned by the Turkish constitution, and Turkey was the first country to sign and ratify the 2011 Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence and Domestic Violence against Women (https://learningpartnership.org/who-we-are/partnership/foundation-for-support-womens-work). But in March 2021, Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention through a presidential decree.
Foundation for the Support of Women's Work (KEDV)
Founded in 1986, the Foundation for the Support of Women’s Work (KEDV) is a nonprofit organization based in Istanbul, Turkey. It aims to support grassroots women’s groups’ leadership in local development around the country. It works to increase their leadership skills to organize and act collectively for their priorities; support them to develop and implement solutions; build partnerships and advocate for themselves; and facilitate peer learning and networking. Additionally, the organization facilitates expanding the access of grassroots women groups to local and national decision-making in order to change the development agenda and to integrate the vision, concerns and strategies of grassroots women. KEDV provides support to grassroots women to develop their strategic plans and access resources and production assets. KEDV also supports grassroots women’s advocacy initiatives; enhances their access to finance, markets, and supply chains; and organizes peer exchanges and regional meetings to build partnerships with other institutions. (https://huairou.org/europe-2/).
The Mission and guiding principles of KEDV
KEDV’s vision is an inclusive and democratic society free from inequalities and poverty. We believe that transformation towards this can only take place with bottom-up processes under the leadership of grassroots women who are affected the most by poverty and inequalities. Our work thus focuses on strengthening grassroots women’ leadership, organizing and movement building efforts, promoting women-led resilient development, and facilitating processes for organized grassroots women to voice their concerns and solutions by and for themselves using their own knowledge and narratives.
Membership and Participation
KEDV is not a membership organization. It is a nonprofit organization that focuses on facilitating and resourcing grassroots women’s groups, including women’s cooperatives established and led by grassroots women. It works closely with women’s community-based organizations and cooperatives situated across all of Turkey. There are currently over 600 registered women’s cooperatives in Turkey, all with very different areas of focus, business models, and approaches. KEDV works closely with approximately 150 women’s cooperatives annually, and the membership of the women’s cooperatives KEDV works with a range between 7-200 members. (Note: The minimum number of members required for forming a women’s cooperative is 7 according to regulations governing cooperatives in Turkey.)
KEDV’s current governance structure consists of a Board of Trustees, Board of Directors (Executive board), an Advisory Board that includes grassroots women representatives, and an Audit Committee. Ad hoc working groups are created depending on programmatic needs. It has about 70 staff members; almost all are women.
Budget and Main sources of funding
Most of KEDV’s funding comes from program funding from institutional sources, including donors such as the European Union, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, UN Women, amongst others, as well as income incurred through trading activities and public fundraising.
KEDV owns the building its headquarters is now located in, as well as the first space it operated from.
Networks, Coalitions, Partners
At the international level, KEDV works with and is a member of a number of international women’s networks, including the Women’s Learning Partnership (that develops training programs and materials for women’s leadership on various issues), Huairou Commission (as a women-led social movement of grassroots women’s groups that organizes exchanges and peer learning, documents best practices and does advocacy). KEDV is also a member of the Oxfam Confederation.
At the national and local levels, KEDV works closely with the women’s cooperatives movement, and houses the Secretariat of the Simurg Union of Women’s Cooperatives. KEDV is also a member of the Refugee Council of Turkey (TMK) and the Disaster Platform (Afet Platformu). KEDV also works closely with other women-led community-based organizations situated across different localities in Turkey.
When, how and why did you join the organization?
It's been more than 34 or 36 years since the Foundation was established. Right after graduating as a construction engineer, I worked in an innovative municipal housing project in Izmit, one of the largest industrial cities near Istanbul. After a while, the project was aborted, and we were all unemployed. In 1980, there was a military coup in Turkey. So I went back to school. KEDV was established in 1986, but until 1983, we were living through a post-military coup period, and, slowly, small feminist groups were emerging in Turkey under Western feminist influence. I joined some of these groups. At the same time, I was doing my M.A. degree in public administration at the Bosphorus University in Istanbul. When assigned a paper, I decided to focus on the provision of public services, especially childcare services. I think I took that paper very seriously.
The provision of childcare services was vey limited in Turkey at that time, and it still is very limited. I wanted to understand the situation in low-income neighborhoods in Istanbul. At the time, there was an expanding textile sector in such neighborhoods. I visited one of them where I made contact with the community women and visited their work places. I found out that the employers were providing a room for the kids of their female workers, and the mothers were putting cotton wool in the ears of their children so that they would not hear the noise of the machines. They were keeping the kids there all day. So this is the inspiration for how our work started at the neighborhood level. I kept in touch with the women after the paper was finished, and together we tried to think about how to solve this problem. We decided collectively to set up a childcare center in that neighborhood. We approached the Mayor, and he said he can provide the space, and in fact, he gave us a building, an old meat market. But what we needed was an organization, a formal identity. So, it took us some time to decide what type of an organization we should be. An association was one of the options, but at that time, after the military coup, the democratic situation was not good for civil society organizations. So, in the end, we decided to set ourselves up as a foundation (waqf). But still we didn't have many people involved because we were going through background checks, and almost all the people I knew had something in their past which could make them ineligible for being a founder or being involved in the foundation. So only three people became the founders. That's how we started the Foundation for the Support of Women (KEDV).
KEDV is not a grassroots organization. We define ourselves as a resource and facilitating organization for grassroots groups. We refer to grassroots women as those living in poor urban and rural areas and are the most impacted by the wider inequalities stemming from their economic, social and political marginalization.
From Women and Children Centers to Women’s Cooperative Movement
KEDV was established in 1986, as discussed above, by Sengul Akcar and two other women, working in collaboration with grassroots women in a low-income district municipality of Istanbul. We started to work with women on issues relating to early childcare - an immediate concern of women textile workers. We had a building provided by the municipality and the office of our Foundation, but no financial resources to start our activities with. I talked to one of my tutors at my university, who was the Turkey representative of the US-based Pathfinder Fund. She supported us in securing a special grant of about forty thousand dollars. So, we started with these funds. We didn't call it a childcare center, but rather a Women and Children’s Center.
Our cause in engaging in this area was not only to seek new alternatives to increase provision of early childcare services they needed, but also to organize them around such a practice so that they could get into the public arena and deal collectively with other issues which matter to them. We recognized that we needed to have more holistic strategies that address both social and economic forms of exclusion women experience in Turkey, recognizing that investing in economic initiatives are not enough for women to empower themselves. The older women in the neighborhood, when they got together, decided that there were other things they wanted. So gradually we started developing a variety of programs based on the direction from these women in the neighborhood.
We opened the first center, but it took us years to seek answers on how we want to raise our children and to develop an educational program. We sought the answers together with the mothers. The only Montessori expert of the country of that time accompanied us. The main discussions on designing the educational program were around how to put the developmental needs of children in the center and how to create a learning and interactive environment between the children, the families, the community and the teachers. We had to also work on the service provision model, which is led by the mothers collectively and supported by the community. Gradually the first center became known in other neighborhoods. Women became interested when they heard about this center through their relatives or friends. This is how we eventually and gradually grew in size and increased the number of Women and Children Centers across low-income neighborhoods in Istanbul.
After the establishment of 3-4 examples of Women and Children Centers in Istanbul, we experienced a turning point in our work. When the 1999 Marmara Earthquake Disaster hit, we suddenly had to move the focus our work to earthquake impacted areas and expand our programs in these areas working in close collaboration with grassroots women in impacted neighborhoods. Almost at the same time we had to start working also in the southeastern part of Turkey, due to the immense needs and demands, and started to work in two cities there. Meanwhile we had to adjust the scope of our programs in these centers according to priorities of grassroots women in areas that we worked.
At this point, we had to consider the size of the Foundation, and the fact that there were centers and women’s groups in different regions across Turkey that were all dependent on the Foundation. It was at this point that we had to discuss the “empowerment” issue more deeply, to include their leadership and organizing to act on their own for their own agenda. We went through almost a two-year process to discuss with women the possible approaches to set up their own organizations. The key question was about what kind of an organizational model these women’s groups should adopt to organize on their own and that would allow them to act for their diverse concerns.
In the end, we decided that the cooperative model the best fit for these women’s groups, mainly due to its democratic, solidarity and participatory principles. Altogether, more than 1,000 women were involved in these discussions. In 2002, we facilitated the establishment of the first cooperatives and started the women’s cooperative movement in Turkey. We reached a critical point, a critical mass, after the number of women’s cooperatives reached about 40 in 2008. It was at this point that we started advocacy with the government about the priorities and needs of these women’s cooperatives.
That's how we expanded and grew both in size and in program related activities focusing on elevating the leadership and economic initiatives of these women’s cooperatives. Through this process our programs gradually expanded to cover various areas of development like provision of care services, enhancing livelihood opportunities, provision of financial services, micro credit, participation in local decision making, etc.
Our growth as a foundation took place in an organic way, because women’s groups who had heard about what we were doing started to approach us. This is also how we began to move our operations towards south and southeastern Turkey - and now we work with women’s cooperatives across the entire country. Grassroots women themselves who we first worked with began to adopt a more active role in expanding our work across Turkey. They got involved as trainers and facilitators for grassroots women and their groups and were jumping into new areas of work and opportunities for enhancing grassroots women’s collective leadership. The grassroots women themselves played a key role in our expansion as a foundation. They were more convincing than us when it came to explaining our aims and approaches because of their direct experiences.
Our advocacy work relating to women’s cooperatives with the government is largely around advocating for legislative reform that governs cooperatives in Turkey. The Cooperatives Law in Turkey considers a cooperative as a commercial entity. But in our view, women's cooperatives are more like a social entity. They have a very big social impact – and they cannot be considered as a commercial enterprise alone. So, we needed at that time some legislative changes and also more access to finances and support mechanisms that recognize the integral role that women’s cooperatives have in creating positive social change for their communities. Right now, we are playing a role of strengthening the women’s cooperative movement by providing business and product development marketing support. We set up a Fund for women’s cooperatives, through our public fundraising campaigns. We also facilitated networking among them and established a Union. We support them to advocate for their own priorities by themselves and support them to build dialogue with the public authorities for advocacy and with the private sector to get into their supply chain.
Public and private partnerships
Our partnerships with the private sector started more recently, in the last five years or so. One of our aims was to integrate women’s cooperatives and their economic initiatives in the value chains of the private sector. Our thinking behind this is that for us to strengthen the leadership of women’s cooperatives, it is critical to strengthen the economic and business operations of these women’s cooperatives to ensure their financial and continued sustainability as an organization. We also cooperate with them in providing volunteers from their staff and also joining in our public fundraising activities.
In addition to our partnerships with the private sector, we always have partnerships with the government because whatever we do as an NGO, the grassroots movement has to influence policy. Therefore, we have to have a dialogue with them.
The municipalities we work in have always been our partners, and our partnerships with municipalities vary according to the different priorities and needs of the women’s cooperatives we work with and their participation in local decision-making.
One recent example of a strong partnership we have created during the COVID pandemic was in our work in Gaziantep, a large city located near the Syrian border. Through this work, we have created a multi-stakeholder partnership that involves grassroots women’s groups, academia, and the Gaziantep municipality, amongst other key stakeholders.
We were working with local women's groups and the refugees and trying to bring them together. During COVID-19, we started a program called From Home-to-Home Neighborhood Solidarity network. Using mobile phones, iPads or tablets, we organized neighborhood leaders, about sixty women leaders who contacted all their neighbors, and in doing so assessed their immediate needs. Based on the needs shared with the neighborhood leaders, these leaders played an integral role in bridging the women in their communities with bridging those local public agencies to meet their needs. We collaborated with academia to enhance the neighborhood leaders’ role in disseminating accurate information on protective measures and treatment services on COVID 19 and with women in their neighborhoods. The neighborhood leaders we worked with see what they do as their occupation and are keenly aware of the important role they play in supporting women in their communities. Following this, we organized the neighborhood leaders to do a community mapping, through which they created a detailed map of the existing infrastructure, health services, economic and other resources they have accessible to them in their neighborhood. This mapping exercise also included identifying different risks in their neighborhood, including infrastructural safety issues and issues on urban planning (such as lack of safe street crossings). Once this mapping was completed, we invited the Mayor of Gaziantep to a meeting during which the neighborhood leaders presented the outcomes of their community mapping. The mayor was very excited, and in return visited the neighborhood, and immediately set up a follow up mechanism to formalize and monitor the public leadership role of women. The mayor of Gaziantep is coincidentally also the current President of the Union (association) of Local Governments in Turkey. As a result, she is also intending to expand this model across Turkey in close collaboration with other local government administrations. She realized that local government has to recognize and formalize the leadership role of grassroots women in building and ensuring the establishment of resilient communities.
Space and Staff
Most funders do not give money to organizations to purchase their own space, but a Dutch organization, Wilde Ganzen supported us specifically for that purpose. We bought our first space with their grant. The current space we work in was again purchased using savings we accrued from working with volunteers, receiving donations. Grant money is very important for us, and it is a big responsibility. It is important because people with good intentions are giving you that money. Therefore, we believe we have been very careful in the way we use that money.
Once, a CEO of a big, famous NGO affiliated with the business world, asked me how we managed to purchase our own space while they were still operating in a rental building. I said to him, “We did it the women’s way.” By this, I mean that in Turkey, women put some of their kitchen money aside for their survival. That is how we accumulated the money to buy our space - because it was important for the Foundation’s survival and sustainability. When you have your own organizational assets, it provides you with confidence for continuing your operations without project funds, and gives you freedom, and selective in accepting donations. On the other hand, we can’t work purely on a voluntary basis just because we believe in the cause of the Foundation. We have to create decent working conditions. Therefore, having our own assets has really been important for us.
Funders always want to see the outputs and tangible outputs, and certain expertise to be involved. However, for us, how you do the work is more important than what you do. This is what differentiates the Foundation from other organizations. Whatever we do, we examine closely whether we ensured the processes that women could build collective leadership in their struggles around issues they are concerned with. And they continue to do that after the funded project duration.
As for staff, I am against growing in size. We have always been between 25-30 people. Most of our staff are program-related but this year the number increased for several reasons. One reason is that we started to work with new community groups on COVID-19 recovery issues in two cities, and the number of our staff increased to about 80 women. They are not all regular staff, but we wanted to value community leaders’ work and make sure that not everything is done on a voluntary basis, and also because they are doing really important work for the public. So, they are also on the payroll, although not as full timers and on a minimum wage. This year we increased our staff numbers in this way.
Also, after we became an affiliate of Oxfam, we inevitably grew in size. We created new positions for fundraising, public engagement, communication etc. Before that, we had a core staff and were all multi-functional. This is one of our concerns now, to convey the legacy of the organization to the new ones and work in harmony as we had before. Some of our staff members have been working for 10-25 years. Some have retired but still continue to work. There are two sides to this. They all have master’s degrees, etc., and could easily find another job somewhere else. But they like the way we work at the Foundation. They have the freedom of making decisions and planning and making the work a joyful experience. But of course, we are having painful days too…
Major achievements and challenges
If we look at the women’s cooperative movement, one of its key highlights of this movement is that it started at the grassroots in Turkey, and we have played a leading role in this movement. Now, in Turkey, everybody is talking about cooperatives. Today, the private sector, government and also academia NGOs are aware of the importance of these cooperatives and potential for women’s social and economic empowerment and wider participation in the economy through investing in and strengthening women’s cooperatives. İt is also seen as a tool for grassroots women to enter into the public arena collectively. After our advocacy efforts, three Ministers came together to sign an agreement to jointly support the women’s cooperative movement in Turkey. It's a big achievement.
Also, for the past five years or so, we have experienced some key breakthroughs for supporting women’s cooperatives through our advocacy efforts. We have been advocating for better financial support and for improved access to public resources. Recent developments in Turkey relating to financial support mechanisms include the expansion of the mandate of regional development agencies in including women to support cooperatives. This is very new. It is very new for these mandates to be focused not just on any cooperative, but on women's cooperatives. Also, recently, we convened all the women's cooperatives following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and facilitated a joint influencing initiative through which they issued a statement that was shared with the Ministry of Trade, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Services, and the Ministry of Finance and Treasury which called for the government support and subsidies introduced in response to the pandemic to be expanded to include women’s cooperatives, just like any other private sector organization.. As a result, the Ministry of Trade reintroduced its grant-funding scheme for women's cooperatives. I think this is a big achievement.
Another achievement is how we look at childcare services. We created and introduced a women led, community based childcare service provision model. Early childcare and education services are really vital in Turkey. They are vital for women’s social and economic empowerment and economic participation, but all of these services are planned in a top-down manner, and mostly operated by the Ministry of Education. This ultimately leads to a narrow focus where early childhood education is not recognized as a women’s issue and an over-professionalization of early childhood education and care provision. The services provided by the Ministry of Education or at the municipality levels are generally very limited and inaccessible, especially for low-income families. Small, private early childhood education and care services are very expensive and are only available in rich neighborhoods. Broadly speaking, childcare is not an attractive area for private investors due to high costs for low profit. Against this context, the Women and Children's Centers we set up with women’s cooperatives are managed with the full participation and control of the families that are receiving these care services. Pedagogically, it's very relevant and the education standards are of very high quality. Our approach is centered on supporting child development by ensuring the full participation in decision-making and interactions between teachers (we call them group leaders), families, the neighborhood, and children themselves. We promote this very innovative model to expand early childcare and education services. It's also a very well received model locally and abroad, and we are always invited whenever there is discussion and exploration of alternative models for childcare. After the elections last year, our model for childcare provision has now been accepted and asked by many of the municipalities to implement it.
What made this one of our main key achievements? I think it lies in our approach. First, we drew attention to the issue of women’s need for childcare services and made this an issue of women’s social and economic empowerment. And second, we demonstrated that women themselves can come together by organizing through cooperatives to provide these services. By centering our approach on elevating women’s role in organizing the provision of these services and formalizing the unpaid care work that they were already doing in the confines of their homes, we changed conventional perceptions of low-income women, where the focus is usually on their vulnerabilities and weaknesses, with an assumption of their position as beneficiaries of a service.
Sometimes I think that teaching people how to fish story is a big hypocrisy. It is really about ignoring the fact that all the fish are caught by the rich, and then trying to teach the poor people how to fish. The issue must be to recognize their rights to have access to resources. Besides, you cannot teach these people, they already know how to fish better than anyone else. We really believe in the strength of the women themselves. They are all running their homes on the families’ monthly income of one hundred dollars. Even the well-educated people cannot do that. So, you cannot teach them financial literacy or those types of things. On the contrary, they can teach you. So that is our strength because we rely on their expertise. The conventional perspective has also started to change. Now all the NGOs are rushing to work with cooperatives, something that they just found out. There is a big potential in grassroots women, and their ability to advocate for these things just by doing what they’ve always been doing. They have learned that when they grow in numbers, they don't need to have a communications strategy to make themselves visible.
On challenges relating to the provision of early childhood education and care services
I think one of the challenges is this culture we live in where we are overly reliant on and adhere to formal academic expertise. The common sense and wisdom of parents is ignored. In Turkey if an academician says something, people believe it. But when you look at the academics, they are the most conservative. So, the source of information is very important; it is like power, a different sort of power. The other challenge we face in this area of work is the overly stringent regulations that limit the possibilities for low-income women to organize early childhood education and care provision. For example, our major struggle in relation to childcare centers is the unrealistic requirements in the childcare service providers. A nice garden, a two-story villa, etc., and the very high educational qualifications for staff --teachers or directors -- are impossible to get in poor neighborhoods using the payment schemes that are designed to ensure that low-income families are even able to access these care services. Such staff are very expensive and/or don't want to work in poor neighborhoods. So, we are struggling to change the regulations and make them more realistic to meet the realities of low-income neighborhoods.
The other challenge is the uncertainty and fluctuations in society. Just like anywhere else in the world, you cannot make long-term predictions. But in Turkey, as is the case in many other countries, those changes in the bureaucracy and local government administration and turnovers are an issue because you set up a partnership with the municipality or a ministry, and the next day the administration changes, so you have to start from scratch. Another challenge is that local governments and even the ministries seem to be following populist policies. They seem to want to work directly with the people themselves in order to create their own constituency. But they don’t know what to do at the local level and how to meaningfully engage their constituencies in the design and implementation of programs that are created for their direct benefit from the process too. They tell us as civil society actors, “Just tell us what you do, and we will do it ourselves” but it is not that easy. It is not just doing some activities without understanding all the integral parts. But they don't understand this. It's like a competition between the civil society and government agencies, instead of a true partnership. It is a new challenge that emerged over the past five or six years in Turkey.
Coalitions and citywide planning activities
We work in citywide coalitions. At the local level, women are very strong because one of our principles is for the foundation never to do advocacy by itself. We always support the women to do the advocacy for and by themselves, in their own voice. It is very important for the survival of their organizations. So, we only facilitate at both the local and national level. At the international level, we are part of some networks. One is the Huairou Commission, and the other is the Women's Learning Partnership. And last year, we became an affiliate of Oxfam.
Whatever you do, for advocacy either you have to do the research, or you have your own knowledge and experience on the ground. We always highlight and share the experiences and knowledge of the grassroots women. Personally, I hate and have been trying to avoid doing advocacy work at the international level. Though we are very keen to provide our vision and experiences for our international partners to do that level of advocacy, I personally find it very tiring to convince well-paid bureaucrats of international agencies.
As an organization, we believe that any change in whatever you do, should come from the bottom, at the grassroots. The other thing is that the language that is used in international advocacy spaces, don’t meaningfully speak to the people experiencing these issues first-hand at the grassroots. They are unable to relate to the language used in these international spaces, and this is a big problem, that international actors are not able to adapt their own language and approaches to elevate actors at the grassroots in international advocacy spaces.
The other thing that is frustrating is that governments commit to doing so many things. I mean, they always commit and they like making commitments, but when it comes to actually implementing these commitments, they only realize about 1% of these commitments, or something like this. So, this is very tiring. So instead, we focus more on affecting meaningful changes in the local contexts, letting the people create change in whatever way they choose to approach. I don't say that international advocacy is useless, but I say that this is not our big priority as an organization. That's why we are working with groups at the grassroots to create bottom-up change.
At the same time though, we do network with global organizations, and we want to be in these groups because we believe that we have things that we need to share and learn from others. Peer exchange is also very important when working with the local groups. We have developed some training materials and training programs to enable this kind of peer exchange between local groups. For example, one is a leadership-training program, which has had an important impact as all of the women’s cooperatives we work closely with have taken this training. We also have other types of capacity building tools, like study tours, which bring different local groups and women’s cooperatives together. If they are working in the same area, we want them to get together and learn from each other. Sometimes, when a new group joins, they come to us and say they want to do this or that, but we refuse to preach to them. Instead, we just ask them to visit the matured groups. This is a tool that we use a lot. The groups have a role to play in expanding these tools. This also directly contributes to facilitating future opportunities where women’s cooperatives work closely with one another to identify their priorities and advocate on them together.
Internationally, as a member of the Huairou Commission we do peer exchanges, and document best practices to learn from each other. That's very important. The Women's Learning Partnership is very good in developing manuals and training materials based on the practices of its member groups, and we have good manuals to work with from them.
Planning and advocacy related to disasters, climate change and COVID 19
Based on our direct experiences in responding to disasters, like the Marmara earthquake, we developed a disaster preparedness plan, a pilot study, and we have created manuals, videos, etc. to share with others. Now, in Turkey, there are two different platforms that we are a part of that relate to responding to disasters and crises. One is for the Disaster Platform initiative set up by national NGOs in Turkey. The other one is focused on elevating the rights of refugees in Turkey. We are trying to increase our influence and advocate for our working approaches in that area. Both for the disasters and supporting refugees, it is not only humanitarian aid that is needed, but there is a need of creating processes and resources to enable the people collectively stand up for themselves for a long term resilience. There is a need to support refugee and local groups to have a leadership role in these responses. You have to see humanitarian aid together with the development perspective. These two areas are really important for us and we are trying to influence government policies on these issues as well as the practices and approaches of international and national civil society organizations, donors, and other key actors in the humanitarian and development sectors. That's why we are on those platforms.
When it comes to COVID-19 response, like elsewhere, the poor people and women are the most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic here. So, we developed a working model, as I just mentioned earlier, and quickly adapted it to allow for the use of digital tools and trained and organized the women in neighborhoods in cities, like Istanbul and Gaziantep on the Syrian border, to use these tools to assess and meet their community’s needs and priorities. We developed the women's initiative, where they identified all the needs and also developed some solutions. These solutions included not only humanitarian aid, which alleviates the immediate needs of families on a temporary basis. This also included adapting our early childhood education program to be accessible from online channels and organizing support groups and neighborhood solidarity networks. This also evolved into a woman-led resilient neighborhood initiative.
Plans or visions for the future and the key factors for long-term sustainability of the organization
Financially, we don't have any problem with organizational sustainability, because we have our own space, and we are trying to increase our own resources. We continue to have access to project-based funding opportunities. We also have our own income through our economic initiatives and trading as social businesses. We are planning to increase that portion of our own income.
Legally, in Turkey, foundations (waqf) can have for-profit social and economic enterprises. But the profit or revenue has to be used for the causes of the foundation. We have now one economic initiative to improve and market women's products (produced both by individual entrepreneurs and women’s cooperatives). It's been operating for about 10 years now and is gradually growing. We are also planning to open up to new areas and set up new enterprises, like in the agro-tourism sector. We have started activities in the service and tourism sectors) in various towns of south eastern parts of the country.
Another area of work is an economic enterprise selling secondhand goods. We already have a small shop in İstanbul. We are in the process of opening up a big one with upcycling workshops. I call it the “shopping mall of the poor”. İn a couple of months is going to be operational.
We generally work in urban areas, but we just started focusing on food production by women in rural areas, too, because some of the women's cooperatives are in rural areas and there is a need to recognize women’s leadership in rural development and food production. Our aim is to increase their production capacity and also to get them directly related with urban consumption platforms. So, we are trying to connect them to improve their traditional production processes and upscale their business. For example, in one of the rural areas, we organized the women, who had goats and cattle, and were just selling the milk for diaries. We designed and set up small-scale cheese production units for collective use in certain villages. Women who used to produce cheese for their own family consumption, now are producing separately, but packaging and selling it under the same label or brand name as a cooperative. We are supporting these types of processes in rural areas.
We are in good shape financially, and we always have some reserves to keep up with the costs of our core operations for up to three to four years when the worst comes. The main issue is to maintain the legacy and our approach when we open up to outside and expand our operations on some conditions like recent Oxfam affiliation. We are not trying to grow and be a big organization, but it is somehow inevitable; somehow you have to grow in size, too. So, we are thinking how to be true to this legacy, our uniqueness in terms of working with grassroots women. For the next year, the most difficult and challenging part of our work is to document our work -- to put in writing who we are, what we do, how we work, why we are choosing this type of work, what our values are, etc. This, to me, is the most challenging part. Another thing is that when you have a core group of people, using the same language, sometimes they don't need to talk much to understand each other, to move forward and do things. But when you add new people, you have to be very careful. So, these are the types of things we are thinking about in the long run for the sustainability of the Foundation -- to keep and sustain our identity is maybe more important than anything else.
Lessons from KEDV’s work and what makes KEDV unique
What makes the KEDV unique lies in our vision and our approach. We believe that changes for more equal and democratic societies should start at the local level. Grassroots women’s role is vital for building such societies. So, their collective leadership should be invested to be center stage. That is why we support them, to develop solutions to the challenges they face and to generate evidence on what works best for them, and influence policies. In practical terms, we provide learning, interacting and networking opportunities and common spaces, and facilitate their access to resources, expertise and dialogue building mechanisms with partners so that they take active part in various areas of community development. The core lesson is that providing services to women does not lead to empowerment. Creating processes in which women collectively shape the policies that matter to them, to their families and their communities is the key for their real empowerment and sustain the momentum.
Through our approach and appropriate strategies and partnerships, grassroots women in Turkey, for the first time came up to the front stage and opened up a space for themselves in the women’s movement, with their own vision and agenda, their own voices and their own organizations. Thousands of women engage in various development issues like care services and livelihood activities from food production to textile etc. and take leadership for livable and resilient neighborhoods.
 The minimum number of members required for forming a women’s cooperative according to regulations governing cooperatives in Turkey is 7 members.
- Women’s Learning Partnerships: https://learningpartnership.org/who-we-are/partnership/foundation-for-support-womens-work and https://learningpartnership.org/resource/sengul-akcar-oral-history-content-summary-document
- Daily Sabah: Turkish NGOs fight for women’s development: https://www.dailysabah.com/feature/2016/03/08/turkish-ngos-fight-for-womens-development
- Women’s Participation in Disaster Relief and Recovery https://huairou.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Seeds22_Womens_Participation_in_Disaster_Relief_and_Recovery.pdf