University for a Night in Europe 2013

University for a Night in Europe 2013

Turkish business leader and philanthropist Güler Sabancı received the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award at Synergos' University for a Night in Europe on October 8, 2013 in Geneva.

Ms. Sabancı is Chair of both Sabanci Holdings and Sabanci Foundation (Sabancı Vakfı).

University for a Night in Europe 2013 brought together leaders from philanthropy, business, government and intergovernmental organizations, and civil society to share ideas and experience about collaborative approaches to poverty and other complex problems. Synergos has organized the event annually in New York since 1997; the gathering in Geneva marked the second time University for a Night was held in Europe.


Crédit Agricole Suisse • Rockefeller Foundation • Kim Samuel-Johnson • Sabancı Vakfı • Shell

Peggy Dulany and Güler Sabancı

Plenary Discussion

With Robert H. Dunn, CEO and President of Synergos, Güler Sabancı, Chair of the Sabancı Foundation and of Sabancı Holding, and Peggy Dulany, Founder and Chair of Synergos


ROBERT H. DUNN: The room has quieted itself in record time, which is a reflection of how kind all of you are. And so I want to begin by saying thank you, and also hello and welcome.

My name is Bob Dunn. I have the privilege of serving as the President and CEO of the Synergos Institute. This is our second University for a Night in Europe, an event that we’ve held for about ten years in New York, and recently in South Africa, as well.

And there are several purposes for this evening. One is just to create a space where all of you can relax and enjoy one another’s company and delicious food and hopefully some good humor. But also, we view this as a space where people can come and share ideas and experiences and make new connections, and sometimes even identify opportunities for new collaboration, all of this in service to helping those in the world who are poor or marginalized, or so that we can play a greater role in making this a better global society.

I’m very pleased that we have with us some of this evening’s sponsors, including representatives from Crédit Agricole Suisse, and also the Sabancı Foundation and Shell. These great friends of Synergos, together with the Rockefeller Foundation, Kim Samuel Johnson and all of this evening’s patrons are supporting the work that Synergos does all around the world.

And I want to take just a few minutes before we begin our program and tell you a bit about that work. Synergos tackles the complex problems of poverty and inequality by promoting and supporting collaborations across all sectors of society. We help create the conditions for these partnerships to be successful by building trust, designing and implementing change processes and enhancing the effectiveness of leaders and institutions. We also establish and support networks of leaders, helping them connect to their core values, to be open-minded and open-hearted, and also to bring people together across divides. At Synergos, we call that bridging leadership.

One of our networks is our Senior Fellows, more than 140 civil society leaders from 50 countries. They work on issues ranging from community development, water and sanitation, health, transparency and good governance, community, media and human rights. I’m very pleased that we have one of our Senior Fellows here from Bulgaria this evening. Welcome. We’re glad you’re with us.

We also work with social entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa and Central Asia. An example of one of these innovators is Rana Dajani from Jordan, who trains storytellers to organize reading groups at mosques and has created 130 libraries for children all across Jordan. The model that she established has now been brought to Iraq, Lebanon, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Turkey. In Jordan alone, she’s trained more than 150 women to be storytellers.

Synergos also hosts the global alliance for social entrepreneurs, a partnership that includes Ashoka, and organization that many of you may know well, and also Geneva’s own distinguished Schwab Foundation.

We work additionally with philanthropists, like many of you who are here with us this evening. Our Global Philanthropists Circle includes more than 300 participants from about 90 families representing nearly 30 countries all across the globe. We help members improve the impact of their social investing and giving, relying very extensively on peer learning and carefully curated offerings of support to these extraordinary and caring individuals.

In Colombia, for example, Synergos made the connection between a philanthropic family there and one from South Africa, which resulted in leaders like Desmond Tutu traveling to Colombia and helping share the experiences of their country to heal divides in Colombia in the aftermath of internal violence and civil war.

Synergos also helps businesses, governments and foundations to develop strong leadership teams and implement systems-changing strategies. In Namibia, for example, we are increasing the effectiveness of government ministries to provide health services and nutrition services for mothers and their children. Other Synergos partnerships are improving food security for small holder farmers in Ethiopia, strengthening the children’s sector in southern Africa and helping reform education in the Brazilian Amazon.

Bringing into change efforts the voices of local communities is central to our approach to change, and one of our successful partnerships, improve nutrition and thus the health of children zero to five in the state of Maharashtra in India. The initiative brought together UNICEF, international and Indian businesses, government, NGOs, slum dwellers and tribal villagers. And I’m very pleased that the instigator of that initiative, Hindustan Unilever, was headed at the time by one of our guests and board members who’s with us this evening.

UNICEF has recently reported that stunting of children has been reduced by 50% in the last six years in the areas of our intervention. Bringing people together to change the lives of those directly affected by poverty is what we’re all about, and making changes that are systemic and sustainable with local resources is how we measure our success.

That’s really Synergos in a nutshell.

And all of this work grows out of the vision of our wonderful founder and chair, Peggy Dulany, and I’m now going to invite her to the podium to conduct this evening’s program. Thank you very much.


Presentation of David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award to Güler Sabancı

PEGGY DULANY: Good evening, everyone. Bienvenue.

We’re delighted to be having this first University for a Night in Geneva, and to include so many of our friends from Switzerland. I’m very happy to see faces that I’ve known over the years and to have a chance to meet some new faces.

And I’m also extremely delighted and honored to have Güler Sabancı with us to accept the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award.

Some of you who may not have been to one of our occasions before may not know that the award is named after my father, who inspired Synergos and its work. But the spirit is also very much reflected in the work of Güler. The award is given to leaders who have brought people together across different sectors, geographies or other divides that are either unlikely or unable to work together otherwise, all this with the goal of creating a better society and reducing poverty and social injustice. At Synergos, as Bob mentioned, we call this bridging leadership.

Güler is doing that in philanthropy, in education and in business in Turkey and internationally. She has said that she believes that leadership is the management of diversity, and we know that Turkey represents a country of great diversity, and her life embodies this idea.

As chair of the Sabancı Holding, she heads one of Turkey’s leading industrial and financial conglomerates, with operations in 18 countries, and she heads three other remarkable institutions, including the Sabancı Foundation, the Sakıp Sabancı Museum and the Sabancı University, which are each making important contributions in development in Turkey and abroad. And I have to say that when I was there last week and went to the exhibit in their museum of Anish Kapoor, it was one of the finest exhibitions that I’ve seen.

We have a video about the Sabancı Foundation describing some of these contributions, which we’re now going to play.


DULANY: I think you’ll see what I mean when I say that it’s quite a legacy and quite a record of achievement. As I mentioned, I was with Güler last week in Turkey and had a chance to visit one of the programs that the Foundation supports and was highly impressed, and we’ll talk more about that in the dialogue that she and I are going to have momentarily. But at this time, I’d like to ask Güler to join me to come up and accept the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award.


GÜLER SABANCI: Peggy, thank you very much. And of course, Bob, also, for your presentation and for all those of you who are tonight here sharing. It is great, my pleasure and my pride, really.

It’s a great pleasure and honor for me to receive this prestigious award from the Rockefeller Family.

Our foundation, as it has been said, 40 years since it’s been founded, but the philanthropic work that the family has done, goes back to another ten, 20 years. Maybe we can say all in all, 60 years of - in this road. But of course, being recognized by a family whose philanthropy goes back to more than 150 years is a very special and meaningful award. I would like to accept this award, of course, on behalf of my family and on behalf of the Sabancı Foundation, which has been a privilege to be working together with my team in the Foundation in the last ten years.

Of course, Rockefeller family, and especially your father, Peggy, David Rockefeller, has made a great contribution to reduce poverty and social injustice, served as a remarkable role model for all of us all around the world. For many decades, we have admired the philanthropic work of your family, of the Rockefeller family. I remember my uncle, Sakıp Sabancı, who actually knew your father, David Rockefeller, who talked so admirably about him. And of course, I had the honor also meeting him, and it is in all the family that we have been I can’t say the benchmark, but it was a great honor to follow up what’s going on in the Rockefeller Foundation after the foundation has been founded by my grandmother’s donation.

I have been chairing the foundation since ten years. But of course, before me, as you have put it out, there is a legacy. And it is times like this when you receive the awards that you recognize the people who contributed for the Sabancı Foundation for today’s achievements. It was of course started, number one person to be remembered, as it was in the film, was to be my grandmother. My grandmother was a big-hearted, typical Anatolian woman, a lot of instincts about the social development. And she donated all her wealth, and that’s how the foundation had started.

So I have the opportunity and the privilege of chairing the foundation these last ten years, but of course, it is her initiation, and I guess in most of the stories of all the families that are existing here that it is always with somebody’s initiation that the things start rolling. And so I would like to acknowledge my grandmother on that.

Of course, giving us and - the opportunity, her starting off has given us, for myself, for my family, for my uncles, for my cousins - give us the opportunity to contribute to the social development of our country. And today, tonight, with this award, we are motivated even further. Thank you very much.


It looks like we are going to talk more?

DULANY: I just want to make sure the sound is all right. Can you hear me in the back?


Plenary Dialogue

DULANY: Great.

As you probably know, those of you who have been to these events before, we take terrible advantage of our honorees, and we subject them to questioning about issues which they hope - we hope they’ll be interested in talking about.

So one of the things that occurs to me to ask you first, Güler, you wear so many hats. How on earth do you manage all the different roles?

SABANCI: Well, I never think about it, first of all, that I’m wearing too many hats. Of course, there are defined roles and defined visions for each of the institutions that I chair. The other thing, of course, is it comes more - that from a very young age I started getting involved in the philanthropic work or the foundation work. So it has always been part of my - You know, I have two lives, I think. I have one life that I have always been, which I enjoy, of course, and - the corporate life. This year it will be my 38th year in business. So I started right after the university. So that’s one part.

But on the other hand, it is - I was always involved. Actually, the discussions or the issues about the foundation, about the work that the family was doing on one side - as you may know very well, better than I do - it becomes the family topic, or the family - In every family union, you discuss about these things. It’s part of the being. It’s part of the family. It’s part of the core values of the family. It is just that it is institutionalized. You know, the foundation has very successful management. My friends are here. So I always thought that this should be the life.

One should have business, yes, to survive, to earn money. It’s part of the responsibility. But the other one is - has to be together. So I never think about wearing too many hats, sort of thing, you know?

DULANY: I wasn’t accusing you.

SABANCI: In any case.

DULANY: Merely asking how you manage it.

SABANCI: So it makes it easier, I should say. But there are different rules. There are different dynamics. Of course, there are different key success factors, definitely.

DULANY: So because we have a lot of philanthropists here tonight, I thought it would be interesting to explore some of our views about the directions of the foundation’s philanthropy, and in particular, some of the things you care about. And I know that one of the topics you care about a lot is girls and women, and providing them with the opportunity for more education, more opportunity in Turkey. And I wonder if you could say, was that your inspiration, or was this something that already was part of the foundation?

SABANCI: The foundation has been involved in work with girls because we were heavily involved in the education and the scholarship in the country.

But there are stages, as everything. There are phases. If you allow me to say my grandfather’s stage is more of a less organized charity work, and then it started with the foundation, with the Sabancı Foundation, that the whole thing has started becoming more organized, more institutionalized.

But the focus was according to the needs of the country when they started. So it is very crucial, I think, to be able to really find the needs of that society - wherever you are working, wherever you want to make a difference, wherever you want to bring the change. It’s really important to understand and analyze what is actually needed.

And so I think my uncles did a great job on that. And by the time I started, I have felt the need that we needed to make a really thorough study of the situation. Because Turkey was a different Turkey than from 1970s versus the 2005. So we need - It is just like, you know, in other things that you need to understand the environment, you need to understand other actors - I don’t call it the competition, but you need to understand the drivers around you. And what is needed.

So when we made that analysis, girls were something, that came very dear to my heart. So the result of the analysis and the study showed that the girls and women issues has to be the issue that we must tackle in the coming decades in Turkey, because Turkey was an emerging country. We had very low poverty issues, you know? There is electricity in every village. There are roads. There is water in every village. So it wasn’t that. But it was actually something more dear to my heart, which is the development of the girls’ and women’s human rights and their involvement, their inclusion to the society. So that’s after a study. And since 2005, we’ve been focusing on that.

DULANY: And can you give some examples of how you’re addressing these issues?

SABANCI: We were one of the first ones in Turkey, I’m pleased to say, that through the study we also analyzed other foundations, like the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation in the United States. After they developed certain expertise and after some amount of time, they were not doing everything themselves. They were giving grants, they were supporting other NGOs, they were supporting other people doing, in the field - really finding the solutions and supporting them.

So we didn’t try to do everything ourselves either. We have a saying, you know, “America was there. We didn’t discover it.” But we implemented. We implemented in response to Turkish needs and the requirements. And I must thank my friends - my team that is here.

So being a foundation who has the means, not only financially but more importantly, the intellectual means, the accumulation of knowledge how to make a successful project, how to really touch the lives of the people and make a difference is essential. We must use this expertise, the accumulated knowledge. But we also realize the fact that you can’t do it, we can’t do it on our own. We must do partnerships. We must collaborate.

And that is where we started doing a project with United Nations and the Ministry of the Interior.

Most of my business friends have said, “You know, there’s too many parties, too many partnerships. How are you going to have results out of it?” It wasn’t easy. But the longer it took, the better results we took, because then it was a much more participatory approach. The local authorities supported it. We have created new NGOs, supported new NGOs, new women’s organizations who were encouraged, who were willing to solve the problems.  And we were there to help them, to guide them.

And since 2005-6, we’ve been granting these organizations we’re working with. They’re doing great work like, you know, like the Özyeğin Foundation has this AÇEV [Mother Child Education program] in Turkey. We have other foundations. We have worked with a woman NGO who are doing the child brides issue. Different issues, but we supported them.

Do you want me to give you numbers?

DULANY: Well, not necessarily numbers, but just the partnership you mentioned with the UN and the municipalities. You and I have talked about this in the past.


DULANY: So the idea was to get the municipalities themselves to begin supporting, keeping girls in school, girls’ rights, raising the age of girls’ marriage. Are those the kinds of things?


First of all, Peggy, when working with local authorities, I should say, and politicians that we all know, we have to encourage them that this is something good. And if they take part of this, and if they become part of the solution, it is good for the country, it’s good for the society, and it is good for them. So there they’re convinced that, yes, there is - we need to do more for the girls’ and women’s rights in this country. So they were convinced, I must admit.

And then, of course, it is working together. Everybody has a different role. In some of the issues, which are difficult to even discuss in some of societies: girls’ schooling. When you talk about girls’ schooling, everybody says, “Yes, they must study. They must go to school.” But then, you put the numbers in front of them. “Why are they having early marriages, then?” Well, it’s the culture, it’s the other things, so many reasons.

So the credibility of Sabancı Foundation as a local foundation, I am proud to say, has helped to open some of doors and convinced local authorities that this is very important to go forward.

And the UN, they can be difficult to work with, but they sure have a lot of accumulated knowledge. They know the methodologies. They know how to bring different units together. So it is a multi-partnership. But that is the best way to find solutions - to achieve solutions that change the society.

DULANY: Yes. And I’d love to hear you highlight another of the programs which I had a chance to visit last week called the Changemakers program, which highlights, as I understand it, the achievements of good civil society organizations…


DULANY: …doing wonderful things to help empower people and communities. And you help them, if I understand it, through providing more access to social media…


DULANY: …better communication skills. Is that right?

SABANCI: Yes. In Turkey there are a lot of people, individuals making lots of differences in our lives and differences in our societies.

And if we could bring them into the light, if everybody can hear about what they are doing, the others will be encouraged. And that was the idea.

And I may call him as a partner, a TV journalist, Cüneyt Özdemir, has become our partner. So in the CNN Turkey, we started a program which is called “People who are making a difference in their society.” So people can actually nominate that - anybody around themselves who they think are making a difference. And there is a credible volunteer jury that selects them.

Cüneyt and CNN have started showing this. And then, of course, it grew so much that it went beyond the TV program. It went into all the social media.

What we, the Sabancı Foundation, did is to support them to be known. To put them in front of the public. And that helped them.

For some of the projects, they have been able to raise more money. They received additional support for their projects, which grew.

We were continuing doing this, because also these are beautiful, stories about beautiful people. And I think, you know, also in our society, we need that. We’re watching too much…

DULANY: Yes we need positive stories.

SABANCI: Positive stories. Too much war and other things are happening, especially, you know, around my country. We are in a troubled region. So we need these positive stories, and we need encouragement, yes, we can make a difference. Yes, people can make a difference. And together, even, we can make it better.

DULANY: Yes. And shifting a little bit, can you talk about your company’s social responsibility programs, how not just from the foundation, but from the company itself.

SABANCI: Yes. Well, of course, we’ve active all through this period. Now, of course, as you know, when you look at the corporate hat, it is essential. Sustainability is the issue, is the most important element for going forward for corporations to really internalize the sustainability within the companies. It is not only about environment, it is not about carbon footprint, it is about other things in society, and you can make a difference.

In our companies, for example, we have an electronics retail company, Teknosa. It’s number one in its field in Turkey. And Teknosa has retail shops all around the country, and they give one week free Internet courses for women in every small town that you can imagine. In a very short period of time, they are now reaching many women - more than 20,000 women have been trained in one week. Some of the women, I give certificates to them when they finish their one week. Some of them, they don’t have a personal identity, but now they have an e-mail address. They’re very proud of it. Yes! And it’s very important. This is one example that they do.

The other is that wherever in our energy company, for example, wherever we have power generation, we usually have something to do with the education in that province, in that region, in that small town. We support the schools, we support the education. There are a lot of example like that.

As I said, the foundation has a strategy for its philanthropy. And you know better than I do that,  it is not a one day or two days’ thing. You know, it’s not like charity - it is a long-term issue.

You have to have a strategy. You have to have a plan. And so the foundation goes through that road, as it was shown in the video. We call it seeding. We are seeding. And my family originates from agriculture, so we know agriculture and seeding and harvesting is a lot of work, takes a lot of patience, takes a lot of years. And the social change is something like that.

DULANY: And you do it both through the company and through the foundation?

SABANCI: Both. But the foundation part is more long-term.


And tell us a little bit about the Sabancı University, because this is something quite unique to Turkey, that a number of the philanthropic families have started their own universities, which - I don’t know what percentage of the population are being educated in these private universities, but where did this trend originate, and how do you view the importance of supporting the university?

SABANCI: First of all, I must admit, I’m very proud of my country, and I’m very proud of my friends, of all the families that I know of, such as the Özyeğin family represented here by Dilek [Belger]. And you are right. Turkey is an interesting example.

We had only public universities until the end of ‘80s. And the end of ‘80s, the private universities were allowed in my country. The first one to start with was the Doğramacı family. İhsan Doğramacı was a professor himself. He started the Bilkent University. The second one was the Koç University. We were number three. And then there are others now following. And every day the number is increasing.

So first of all, the rules and regulations are allowing us to have a private university in my country. And of course, it takes a lot of courage, and there is not as much support, for example, in the private universities in Turkey for research as in your country, for example. So in my country, it’s a developing issue. But we still have been courageous to start it off.

Our university is now around 4,000 students. We have a strong faculty. Most of them have been educated outside Turkey, and out of 4,000, about 1,000 are graduate students. We have three faculties. Engineering and natural sciences; arts and social sciences; and the business school.

The results are doing very well, and of course, it is early to say - again, the years come to my mind when I hear how many years of Rockefeller University. Ours is only 14 years in education, so it’s a baby, still a baby.

But we are very hopeful, because first of all, the new private universities in my country bring certain diversity into the education system, which we were able to do. We were able to bring certain diversity and certain things different, which helped to reorganize the higher education in my country. So we set a good example.

The second thing is, of course, the freedom - freedom of education, freedom of academia, freedom of thought is part of the success and the development of the country.

DULANY: Great. Thank you.

I guess just one more question before we turn back to the audience. How do you see philanthropy evolving as a piece of development in Turkey? Civil society, philanthropic support for that, as the example you have about connecting with municipalities to bring things to scale. What do you see as some of the trends and even drawbacks in the way things are going in philanthropy in Turkey?

SABANCI: First of all, as I said, it is not only in Turkey, as you know from Synergos’s work. First of all, the world is very complex, and the issues that we have are very complex. And so not one foundation, not one civil society or one NGO can solve the problems.

First of all, we must understand this, and we must accept this. And this, of course, in itself, if you start doing partnerships, it brings you to an old saying that “There is no limit that one can do as long as if one does not expect the credit to himself or to herself.” So, okay - this brings us to a new era of thinking, you know?

And in developing countries like my country, emerging countries, this is a new era of thought. And is everybody there, of - all the society is there? No. But some of us are there. So there are different phases for these things.

So the partnerships, joining forces - is crucial to go forward to solve some of the problems.

But, on the other hand, we should never, ever forget the powers, the incredible power of human being. One person can make a difference. You know?

We should never let that go also. It is not only big corporations. It is not only big foundations. People make a difference.

So philanthropy overall as a culture - Ottoman history, is full of good examples of that. We have a strong tradition of philanthropy in my country. So that helps.

But now we have to bring that together with these new studies and new social change programs. We have to bring that culture with the contemporary understanding of making a difference. And that’s, I think, where it’s going to go.

I see serious effort. I am very, very hopeful about the women, from the women - women’s NGOs, women’s organizations. So I think they will make a great difference.

DULANY: Yeah. And I’d like to confirm my impression from last week in Istanbul, where we had a wonderful dinner with some of the leading philanthropic families, and very much the consensus and the expression was, we need to work together more, and we need to be strategic in what it is that we’re addressing.

SABANCI: Exactly.

DULANY: I was really glad to hear that.

So before drawing this portion to a close, I just want to say how proud it makes me to be sitting here on this dais with you, Güler, an amazing woman leader across the sectors and across various nations. It really is an inspiration to, certainly, other women, and I hope other men in the audience, as well. Thank you.


SABANCI: I must really say a few words and thank Peggy. Through Peggy I met Synergos. And through Synergos, for all the people who are involved here, there are things in life that you feel, you have a hunch to it, that is the right way to go. But through Synergos, it confirmed what I felt, what is the right way to go.

And thank you for your friendship, and thank you for this opportunity, because, as I said, I accept this award on behalf of the foundation and on behalf of my team and my family.

Thank you.