First Step Women's Cooperative

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First Step Women's Cooperative

Istanbul, Turkey
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Senem is building a self-governed community of diverse women by training and organizing them to act on the issues they care about. In doing so, she creates participatory processes so that women can develop the self-confidence and leadership skills to bring lasting change to their neighborhoods.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

every woman had a center to provide the skills, experience, and support group needed to generate income and solve local community problems?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Istanbul’s immigrant communities offer families limited resources and services. Women and children suffer disproportionately from this climate as they are discriminated against and have limited opportunities. Early education is not available for children from poorer neighborhoods. This creates a cycle of educational failure that feeds the hopelessness, economic stagnation, and violence in these communities.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Bring a diverse group of women together, providing them with basic education, training, and jobs, and push them to take responsibility and leadership for improving the world they live in and the world their children will grow up in. Senem assists the community in creating centers that include a child development component where children can become better prepared for entry into the school system. Educational professionals are brought in and paid for collectively by the participating women. Plus, the child center gives women the opportunity to learn and receive training, and develop action plans for specific community betterment issues.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

One community has already changed noticeably since Senem’s empowerment training began. More regular garbage collection, extended bus routes, more regular neighborhood cleaning and beautification, refurbishment of an abandoned park, and safer pedestrian crossways and walking paths are just some of the improvements driven through by the efforts of Senem and the women involved with her cooperative. In addition, this group of women has been invited by the Municipality to help run a local tea garden.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

From an initial group of 19, today more than 800 women are involved in two centers. After only three years, the success of her cooperative has already inspired replicas in other parts of the city and the country. Her idea has been widely publicized and generated interest from women’s groups in 16 different cities in Turkey. As a result of press coverage of her work in Istanbul, women from 16 different cities around Turkey have made visits to observe her operations. Senem intends to expand these centers to all 19 districts of the region of Kagithane in the coming years. She is also looking to spread her model to Middle East and impoverished Muslim World. Senem believes that when citizens—and women in particular—are empowered at the neighborhood level, then change at a much larger scale is possible across the globe.

Founding Story

Senem was born into a poor family from southeast Turkey. She has always been interested in helping people, particularly those that are marginalized. Her move to a dangerous and poor neighborhood of Istanbul got her thinking about what she could do to help the women around her. After discovering that her cousin was preparing her thesis, she offered her help in copying. Through this thesis, she became aware of Ashoka Fellow Sengul Akcar and enrolled in several courses and seminars on women’s leadership at her foundation. Through this exposure, she took initiative and convinced the women of the community that they were the only ones who could solve their problems. She then went door-to-door and invited women for a communal meeting.