Interview with Basak Ersen

Turkiye Ucuncu Sektor Vakfi Genel Sekreteri Tevfik Basak Ersen 24 Aralik 2015 Zaman / Turgut Engin

TUSEV recently published “Individual giving and philanthropy in Turkey”, its first report just on individual giving in Turkey. The results presented in this report are comparable to previous results from a broader report on giving conducted in 2004 and published in 2006.

After 10 years from the first results, TUSEV thought it was essential to draw a new and broader picture of the individual giving in Turkey in order to understand how all socioeconomic and political changes that have been taking place in the country in the past years affect individual giving and perception of philanthropy.

The research methodology and the survey questions were prepared by academics, through a partnership with a university in Turkey and a research institute, who conducted the survey with almost 2500 people in 68 of 81 provinces of Turkey. Tevfik Basak Ersen, Secretary General of TUSEV, tells us a bit more about the results and his thoughts about the report in this interview:

WINGS – How is individual giving defined in Turkey?

BASAK – Probably individual giving in Turkey is different from international practice. By individual giving we mean money and different kind of donations given by people for social causes to any institution or person. When individuals were asked where they donate their money, a wide range of answers came forward. They may give it to street beggars, to their relatives, to their neighbors, to a civil society organization; they may even give it some governmental institution. Therefore, in a broad sense individual giving in Turkey is defined as the money that is being given away for social causes.

WINGS – Why is individual giving important in Turkey?

BASAK – Individual giving is important in Turkey because it has a key role in financing civil society – I mean associations and foundations. From the data we have, we know that 40% of associations’ and about 30% of foundations’ income come from individual giving. So it is a very important source for the economic sustainability of civil society organizations in Turkey.

WINGS – What results from the individual giving in Turkey should be highlighted?

BASAK – In general, the results are not really positive, which I think is the main highlight. You’ve asked me the main reason why we decided to do this research now and the main one is that with economic growth in Turkey in the last years, we expected to see a growth in individual giving, but we actually found out the opposite trend – when compared to the results of the report published 11 years ago, it is so obvious that the amount of giving has decreased in Turkey. I think this is the most significant finding, it is not only the amount the money people are giving that is decreasing. Less people are taking part in civil society activities. There is a small increase in volunteering however when you take into account that the number of civil society organizations almost doubled in the last 10 years, I think this is not a significant increase. There is a huge mistrust in civil society organizations, misunderstanding about their roles, lack of information and awareness about them among the public.

WINGS – Do you see any other reason for the decrease in the amount of individual giving?

BASAK – I think economic decrease and lack of trust are the two most significant reasons social capital in Turkey is very low. Only one person out of 10 says you can trust people whereas 9 of them think one can never be too careful while dealing with others. This is a very basic question and evaluates, in my opinion, social capital. People don’t trust each other, they don’t trust civil society organizations, and therefore the amount of money they are giving to civil society is very low. The money they are giving out, their individual giving, is mostly limited to people that are really in their close circle, either to their relatives and neighbors or the people they know or they see on a daily basis or in flagrant contradiction to street beggars. Civil society organizations get a very small portion of this amount. And I think this is very related to trust more than to economy, actually mistrust.

WINGS – Why has mistrust increased?

BASAK – That is a very hard question to answer but, as you said we have been witnessing hard times in Turkey, the political environment is very fragile and the polarization within the society is increasing. Trust between people is very low and there is no environment that encourages dialogue, everybody likes to hear what their leaders are saying and I think society is not going into a good direction. In my opinion, all these affect individual giving and everything else related to trust building and the social capital. Yet it is very difficult to calculate these and we did not really look into reasons why social capital decreases in detail in Individual Giving and Philanthropy in Turkey.

WINGS – Turkey is going through some difficult times. What is the role of individual giving in supporting the various issues that the country is facing?

BASAK –I cannot say that there is a direct correlation between individual giving and low level of democracy but I can say that even though donations are very important to civil society, it gets just a small portion of this individual giving. It is just an assumption but I think that if the portion of donations civil society organizations got increased, if they could become more active, they could have bigger influence on democratization and modernization of the state. But it is not really easy to answer this question by making assumptions based on the results of this research.

WINGS – Who is getting the biggest portion of individual giving?

BASAK – This is very surprising; the biggest portion goes to street beggars. They get almost 20%.

WINGS – Do you see any reason for the fact that street beggars get the biggest portion?

BASAK – Yes, actually this is very interesting. From other questions in the survey, we found out that the amount of the money given by individuals is very small. We asked people why they don’t give to civil society organizations and they said because they don’t trust them. But in reality, they give very small amounts of money, like pocket money. Therefore it is very easy to give to street beggars and, in some cases, it is a social obligation, especially after Friday Prayers and other religious practices. I think that people do not really think that giving small amounts of money to civil society organizations can make a change. It is really very small amount of money we are talking about, but of course when you add all together it can be a very big amount of money. People are just ignore that. However, it is also not easy to give to organizations – you have to give through a bank, to transfer, to use your computer or to go to an association; they have to give you a receipt, things like that, so I think this complex process may be another reason. I cannot say it for certain since we didn’t ask this in the survey, however, in my opinion civil society organizations not demanding small amounts of money, not going for cents but for dollars may be another reason why people do not give to CSOs. So I think that it is a two-sided story.

WINGS – What differences between individual giving in Turkey and other countries could be highlighted?

BASAK – First of all, I need to say that it is very difficult to make a comparison because questions in our survey are not the same as the questions in surveys from other countries. But we compared the data with a recent report from Fondation de France (An Overview of Philanthropy in Europe prepared in partnership with Observatoire de la Fondation de France and Centre d’Etude et de Recherche sur la Philanthropie), which has been carried out in many European countries. If you compare to those results, Turkey perform moderately, it is better than some European countries like Spain and Belgium, which is very surprising. When I say better I mean that individual giving is higher. Again, it is not the same set of questions and methodologies may be different and, in addition to this, what is meant by individual giving may be different in other countries. When we say individual giving we include money given to street beggars, , to fulfill religious obligations, neighbors and to relatives, and also the money given to civil society. On the other hand, we know that most of the money in European countries is given through civil society organizations. So, probably individual giving through civil society organizations in Europe is much higher than in Turkey, but we are not really sure about that because of the differences in the methodologies.

WINGS – What do you think individual giving will look in Turkey 10 years from now?

BASAK – I hope to see something better, but honestly I don’t know if this is going to happen because, as I said, we were very surprised with these results, too. We have seen changes in the demography of the country, in the number of the population, even though it wasn’t huge, and in the increase in the economy, and it didn’t reflect directly in individual giving. Thus, it is really difficult for us to talk about the future for the time being. I think it all depends on the political polarization, which is very significant for Turkey right now. I mean, if it is going to continue like this, I think the mistrust within the society will increase, which will affect the individual giving in a bad direction – probably it is going to decrease.

WINGS – What are TUSEV plans for this area in the upcoming years?

BASAK – We have been working for building philanthropy infrastructure for many years and we will continue with that. Of course, we will use the results of Individual Giving and Philanthropy in Turkey report more effectively. We are planning to conduct a similar research again in five years from now to see if there will be changes or not. And secondly, we have ongoing projects to contribute Turkish philanthropy ate national as well as the regional level. TUSEV will continue to strengthen its strategy in order to increase the awareness on philanthropy and strategic giving by creating and following a comprehensive communications strategy based on the dynamics of the report, with the contribution of our shareholders. However, we must note that the daily agenda of Turkey is a key determinant when it comes to applicability of such a strategy. And hopefully we are going to create more awareness within the society so people give more. And for the ones that give already, we hope they will give more strategically.


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