Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Turkish Trains and the Lessons for Philanthropy

By Stephen Kinzer

I am writing this while speeding across the verdant Anatolian plain on Turkey's first high-speed train, which began operating two years ago. The Spanish-made cars are sleek outside and immaculate inside. Seats are comfortable, the ride is smooth, and attendants have just served tea and snacks.

This project reflects what works well in powerful emerging-market countries like Turkey—and also what works less well. It holds lessons for philanthropists as well as for entrepreneurs.

The train line was built by one of Turkey's most successful infrastructure companies, the Alarko Contracting Group, which has a global reputation for excellence in building large infrastructure projects. Among its current ones are an airport in Kiev, light rail systems in the Turkish cities of Samsun and Adana, and a water purification and distribution system in Astana, the new Kazakh capital.

Alarko was built largely by a visionary entrepreneur, Ishak Alaton. In the 1940s his family, like many Jewish families in Turkey, was effectively bankrupted by a one-time “wealth tax” that fell disproportionately on non-Muslims. The young Ishak Alaton was undaunted. He chose an equally ambitious partner and, starting from scratch, built his company. For decades he has also worked to promote civil society and human rights in his homeland.

Turkey spent much of its national life isolated from the global economy. That began to change in the 1980s, but the economy remained volatile and subject to sudden crises. Then, in 2002, Turks elected a single-party government that has made Turkey's economy one of the world's most vibrant. Last year it grew by an astonishing 11 percent, second only to China.

One of the government's priority projects was building a high-speed rail line from the capital, Ankara, to the largest city, Istanbul. Working with a Spanish partner, Alarko completed the first leg, from Ankara to the city of Eskisehir, in two and a half years.

This is not an ultra-high-speed “bullet train,” but a conventional fast one like the Acela, which serves the Boston-New York-Washington corridor. The 125-mile trip from Ankara to Eskisehir takes 87 minutes. A trip of about the same distance, from New York to New London, Connecticut, aboard the Acela, which is the fastest train in the US, takes 135 minutes.

All of this is good reason for Turks to celebrate, but also to worry. The new train line reaches only to Eskisehir, and progress toward finishing the route to Istanbul is slow. Neither Alarko or another comparably qualified company has been given the contract to complete it. No official reason has been given, but in Turkish business circles, many say that whoever wins the contract is being expected to make “special arrangements” with government agencies or officials. They may range from bribes to shady side deals benefiting favored subcontractors. Alarko is known for its resistance to such “arrangements.”

When the contract for the first leg of this train line was awarded, Turkey's one-party government was reveling in its reputation for vigor and honesty. In recent years, that reputation has begun to fade. Entrepreneurship works only in a clean political environment. So does philanthropy. Both require cooperation with government, but when that cooperation becomes tinged with corruption, nations and individuals lose.

Stephen Kinzer is an award-winning foreign correspondent who has covered more than 50 countries on five continents. Kinzer spent more than 20 years working for the New York Times, most of it as a foreign correspondent in several countries including Nicaragua Germany and Turkey. He is the author of several bestselling books including Crescent & Star:Turkey between Two Worlds and Reset: Iran, Turkey and America's Future.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

The Marmara-Manhattan supports TPF's Japan Earthquake Relief Fund

The Marmara-Manhattan supports TPF's "Japan Earthquake Relief Fund" with a corporate gift and donating $2 for every booking till the end of March 2011.

We thank them for their generosity and leadership.

To learn about the "Japan Earthquake Relief Fund," visit here.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

TPF's 2nd Annual Report

It is our pleasure to share our second Annual Report, covering the period July 1, 2009 - June 30, 2010.

Your passion and purpose has propelled TPF from $1.4million in 2008 to $3.8 million in 2009 to a $12 million charitable organization this year.

We look forward to helping you make 2011 your most rewarding giving year to date!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Japan Earthquake Relief Fund

Turkish Philanthropy Funds extends its heartfelt sympathy and deepest condolences to the people of Japan.

To assist our friends at Japan Society, TPF has created a Japan Earthquake Relief Fund. 100 % of your contributions will go to organizations that directly help victims recover from the devastating effects of the earthquake and tsunamis that struck Japan on March 11, 2011 through Japan Society.

To contribute to the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund online through TPF, click here.

You can also contribute to the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund by sending your check to:

Turkish Philanthropy Funds
Re: Japan Earthquake Relief Fund
216 East 45th Street, 7th Fl.
New York, New York 10017

Please make your checks payable to Turkish Philanthropy Funds and indicate “Japan Earthquake” on the check. For additional information, please email info@tpfund.org.

If you have a Donor-Advised Fund with TPF, please call 646.530.8988.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Turkish Life, Turkish Women

By Elmira Bayrasli

Turkish women, Raquel Fernandez, professor of economics at NYU, says, are among the most satisfied with their roles as housewives compared to other women around the world. She explains this through culture and why it matters to economic development, which has been exploding in Turkey over the past several years. So where are the women?

So much has been written about Turkish women and the need to support their empowerment. Turkish Philanthropy Funds is at the forefront leading this effort through its programs dedicated to gender equality and education. I wrote about my favorite program, spearheaded by the Mother Child Education Foundation (ACEV) a few months back.

But more needs to be done beyond education to fully integrate women into all aspects of Turkish life. Turkish women are, as the country’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk recognized, vital to country’s dynamism and success. No surprise he ensured that Turkey’s women were granted the right to vote and equal access to education. On the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, it’s important to recognize hail the numerous bold efforts to help Turkish women realize their enormous potential.

• Newsweek and Daily Beast chief Tina Brown has hailed Pinar Ilkkaracan one of 150 women who “shake the world.” Ilkkaracan will participate in the conference named just that this week for her work on women’s human rights. She heads two NGO’s, Women for Women’s Human Rights – New Ways and The Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies. Both have been key in advocating for increased women’s rights.

• When a 16-year old girl was found last year to have been buried alive by her relatives for “talking to boys,” I immediately thought of Mor Cati. Known as “purple roof” in English, Mor Cati was born out of a “resistance movement” against violence against women in 1987. It has become one of the most important organizations providing refuge for abused women through shelters and a hotline.

• A hotline into the brutal world of war is what journalist Nadire Mater has provided us with her book, Voices from the Front. It’s an account of Turkish soldiers in the trenches, fighting Kurdish separatists. It brings us first-hand accounts of the fears these young men hold and faulty policies their superiors advance. It is the hallmark of Mater’s tireless work in human rights and her insistence of bring it to light through human stories.

• Stories are what Anastasia Ashman, Rose Deniz and Tara Agacayak have been bringing to Turkey and the worldwide community of “hybrid ambassadors.” Inspired by Ashman’s wonderful book Expat Harem, these writers, artists and entrepreneurs are translating life in Turkey, for themselves as well as for women all over the world who grapple with fitting in.

• And finally a woman bringing Turkey to the world: Melek Pulatkonak founded Turkish Women's International Network with the goal of connecting professional women and friends of Turkey to leverage their collective power for those Turkish women who aspire to join them. It's a badly needed platform that I'm proud to be a part of.

Here are a few. We’d love your suggestions for more. Please participate in the conversation.

Go to TPF website.