Philanthropy’s Moment for a Better World
We have all been witness to the disasters triggered by the pandemic and the climate crisis, that have made 2021 such a difficult year. Yet in the face of these crises and in the struggle not to squander advances in social development we have also discovered increased reserves of endurance and flexibility.
I firmly believe that sharing experiences is the key to achieving greater things. Philanthropy and social awareness have played an outsized role in the 90-year history of Sabancı Group, coupled to an understanding that the state should not be relied upon for everything. So, I am writing this letter to evaluate the period we have been living through these past two years and to put our heads together about the future.
At the core of philanthropy is a sense of humanity, which renders its definition very straight forward: Philanthropy means taking steps to overcome inequalities that exist in the world, supporting people who have limited resources and opportunities and extending a hand to those left behind. At a time when the future of both the planet and humankind are under threat, we are witnessing disparities in income distribution, in gender, in access to vaccination and even the ability to obtain basic sustenance in the face of the climate emergency. If the pandemic has been a cruel taskmaster, we should grasp that it has also provided an important opportunity to secure a fairer future for us all.
The struggle against inequalities has been set back a generation
During the pandemic we have seen inequalities increase in virtually every sphere. Still, those who suffer most have been women and girls. In 2019, the calculation was that it would take 99.5 years to close the gender gap; as a consequence of the pandemic that period has increased to 135.6 years. It is a source of great concern to find ourselves set back by an entire generation in our battle against inequality. The worst impact of the pandemic has been in those sectors in which women have been economically most active. Some 47 million women and girls worldwide have now been reduced to extreme poverty. Globally, violence against women has increased by 20 percent.
This year, 11 million girls worldwide are at risk of not returning to school because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we know disrupting education increases a girl’s risk of early marriage. Today, one out of every five girls in the world gets married before the age of 18; one out of every three married girls give birth while still a child herself. Apart from the risk to health, half of those who marry at an early age are exposed to violence. Yet, for all this, sadly, only 8 percent of philanthropic funds are devoted to gender equality.
Today, one of Turkey's biggest problems consists of girls who drop out of education and succumb to low expectations from life, falling into the NEET category (“not in education, employment or training”). We know that access to education is both a fundamental right and a prerequisite for development. Finding a solution to this problem is a priority for our foundation and I am happy to share news that soon, in collaboration with valued partners, we will be starting a new project for young women who are neither in education nor in employment or training.
It is my belief that, no matter what their area of focus, philanthropic foundations, need to view the programs they support through the lens of gender equality and to implement supplementary interventions that support women and girls.
We must not forget that, in the face of the climate emergency, we are only as strong as the weakest link
Climate change is taking our world to a point of no return. So instead of “climate change”, we should be speaking of a “climate emergency”. To safeguard our world, all governments, the private sector, civil society, and academia need to be pulling in the same direction.
Yet the commitment and endeavors of developed countries to combat the climate emergency will not on their own suffice to solve what are ultimately global problems. We know that over the next 20 years, over 80 percent of the world's total carbon emissions will come from developing countries. Many of these countries have limited means and resources to make the transition to clean energy. This explains why, just as we cannot win the fight against the pandemic until the whole world is vaccinated, we cannot head off the climate emergency without providing the necessary means and resources to developing countries. This, in turn, is only possible through a philanthropic approach to global problems in cooperation with governments and the private sector. We know our world is only as strong as the weakest link. To create social change in the face of climate emergency, philanthropic organizations, what we call the third sector, have a duty to strengthen civil society organizations working in this field.
It is extremely worrying that less than 2 percent of global philanthropic giving is dedicated to mitigation of the climate emergency . Tackling that emergency should form part of the strategy of all foundations, even if they do not operate directly in this area. As climate activists have repeated more than once, "There is no planet B."
We must generate permanent solutions to social problems
We do not believe that long-term and permanent solutions to social problems can exist without strong rights-based civil society organizations to fight against inequalities. Therefore, since 2007, within the Sabancı Foundation Grant Programs we have been supporting the projects of civil society organizations working for women, youth and people with disabilities to ensure equal rights and active participation in society. At the same time, in addition to giving grants to their projects, we support civil society organizations to strengthen their capacities and improve effectiveness.
Many civil society organizations receive an initial grant support from us and then make use of the experience gained to access diverse national and international sources of funding. In this way, we have overseen a strengthening of local civil society organizations.
If we are to bring about social change in this world which we inhabit then we must believe and support the power and determination of individuals. This is the rationale behind the Turkey’s Changemakers Program that we initiated in 2009 to light the way for those who grapple with the problems of their immediate environment and who give society courage. “Map of Needs”, one of the Changemakers, is one such organization whose nationwide reputation is based on the ground-breaking work it conducts especially during times of disaster. The “Accessible Everything” team is another Changemaker which works with any number of institutions to make them accessible to people with disabilities, and as a result of our communication support it is expanding its sphere of influence day by day.
The road to recovery goes through volunteering
Government policies, along with the activities of the private sector and of philanthropic organizations, will not in themselves suffice to cope with global problems. We also need volunteers on the ground. Moreover, we know that stepping up to volunteer and to be part of the solution make us feel better. I am happy to follow closely how responsive our country has been, particularly its young people, in addressing the climate emergency and social inequalities. If, indeed, this volunteer movement represents a collective consciousness, the positive reverberations it creates will be all that much stronger. Sabancı Volunteers is a good example of corporate volunteerism and has for years been responsible for extremely valuable projects. When Turkey suffered a series of natural disasters, thousands of Sabancı Volunteers worked voluntarily in all corners of the country to salve the wounds.
Any individual willing to volunteer and to take on responsibilities with the means at their disposal can be part of the solution. And being part of the solution is therapeutic in its own right, reminding us that only by standing united can we get through this period of crisis.
Technology and digitalization make the whole world one
Digitalization can have a benevolent effect through technological developments that make it easier to bring help and support to those who need it, anywhere on the globe. One of the most important advances of the digital transformation is that it eliminates physical distance to make the whole world “one”.
Solution oriented global research in the field of renewable energy for a sustainable world, conducted in cooperation with universities and business world are accelerated. We closely pursue the revolutionary and promising technological developments in the global energy transformation.
Again, thanks to developments in technology, we are able to produce innovative solutions to social problems. We must use the power of technology to prevent violence against women, to facilitate access to education and to solve accessibility issues. We have good examples developed in Turkey. Association of People with Hearing Impairment of Turkey has developed software which offers children with hearing disabilities the ability to improve their language development and to access education through storybooks both in Turkish and Turkish Sign Language. WeWalk, a smart walking stick has made a name for itself in global literature on social entrepreneurship as a model for how to integrate individuals with visual disabilities into social life. Lest we forget that equal opportunity in education is still a critical issue, the E-Bursum platform digitalizes the search for the right scholarships, thus facilitating a long-established philanthropic practice of getting young people into education and employment. With the help of mobile phone applications, women subjected to violence can reach an emergency help line.
It's time to act for a better world
Never before have we had greater opportunity or more need to learn from one another and to share our experiences. Let me conclude with the hope that the urge to do good will spread and multiply. Every one of us must work in the best way we can to create solutions. Ultimately, however, it is we ourselves who benefit as we keep in mind just how fulfilling it can be to fight inequalities and support those in need.
I wish you a happy new year—one where you can take pride and pleasure in contributing to a better world.
Sabancı Foundation Chair of Board of Trustees
Please click to download the letter.