About Değişim Liderleri Derneği – DLD
The Need in Turkey
Although close to half of the Turkish university student population is female (43% per TPF), the participation of Turkish women in the workforce and in leadership positions are both extremely low. Additionally, although about 60-70% (70% per TPF, lower according to other sources) of Turkish university graduate women work, the majority cannot reach the leadership levels they deserve because they lack the necessary level of self-confidence, leadership skills, career building pathways, and social networks. They perform significantly below their potential. Many fail to enter the workforce at all or drop out – and stay out – after marriage and the birth of children. Evidence based data indicate that the majority of young college educated women view domestic life as their only option.
According to the 2014 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, Turkey ranks 125 out of 142 countries. It is the lowest performing country in the region in terms of the economic participation and opportunity sub-index of women, ranking 132nd. The country ranks 128th overall on the labor force participation indicator for women, and according to the report Turkey is one of the 20th lowest-ranked countries when it comes to participation of women legislators, senior officials and managers’ indicator.
Women’s low labor participation and absence from leadership positions is a huge handicap for Turkey’s growth and prosperity. According to a 2009 World Bank Report, Turkey’s “biggest untapped potential is its women”.
DLD’s Mission and Focus
DLD, a non-profit based in Turkey, was established to promote and manage women’s leadership development in Turkey. DLD stands for Değişim Liderleri Derneği, meaning Change Leaders Association.
DLD started its activities in Turkey in 2009 and was registered as non-profit in 2011. It has its own board and executive director.
Its mission is to strengthen the potential of girls and women to become active, responsible and productive members of their societies. And in so doing, to advance society’s growth and prosperity through the full contributions of its women.
DLD’s focus is young women of modest means attending high school and public universities. It hopes eventually to reach underserved young women who have had few opportunities to receive formal education. Its leadership training emphasizes long-term experiential learning coupled with the attainment of social responsibility, exposure to role models, and cutting edge career opportunities
DLD’s activities include: development of the Sparks leadership and social responsibility program; recruitment and training of new facilitators and mentors; expansion of the reach of its leadership programs into less accessible, smaller cities in regions of Turkey where educational opportunities are limited; reaching new groups of young professional women who have been unable to access career building skills .
DLD actively seeks out new supporters who may not previously have been sensitized to the diverse needs of young Turkish women
What Makes DLD Unique
A central goal of DLD is to equip young women with the skills required to be active participants in their communities and in the workforce. Its programs offer an important alternative means by which young women may become empowered to achieve their potential and contribute to society. Additionally its programs are particularly valuable for those who have been limited by socio-economic circumstance and familial and social constraints, and thus, have been overlooked. The programs are prioritized to target these young women.
Many educational systems, such as Turkey’s, retain an emphasis on hierarchical learning and memorization; they discourage student-teacher interaction, peer learning, and the questioning of ideas and authority.
In the past, the required skills for advancement in both industrialized and developing societies were generally based on achieving a high level of expertise in reading, writing and mathematics, with an emphasis on memorization and taking directions from superiors. In this respect, Turkey’s pedagogical methods did not undermine advancement.
But there has been a dramatic shift in focus during the past fifteen years, on how certain skills such as leadership should be taught. Leading experts on leadership, employing evidence-based research, have found that a different set of skills must be emphasized. These include: teamwork; problem solving; improving interpersonal skills; and critical thinking. Current leadership training, however, even at its best, is often short term and relies principally on speakers, reading and examining issues with limited scope.
Collaborative teamwork, effective problem solving, honed interpersonal skills, and critical thinking are emphasized in our programs. They are coupled with a focus on social responsibility, and are directed to the longer term goal of building sufficient self- confidence in young women of modest means to undertake new challenges, and improve social conditions through active participation in all spheres of society. These principles guide the development of all content material. Additionally, DLD programs are longer term, often engaging participants for two or three years.
In sum, DLD does not use an intellectual or academic format, as do the majority of leadership training programs for women. It creates behavioral change through positive experiential learning, while avoiding methodologies based on fear and competition. Its programs are sustained over an eight-month period or longer. Its aim is to foster leadership and social responsibility skills, and engage young women as leaders, by building self-confidence, fostering self-respect and optimizing self-empowerment through experiences beyond the classroom.
DLD Values and Emphasis
- Sensitivity to women’s needs
- Experiential learning
- Engagement in social change activities as a tool to acquire leadership skills
- Team spirit
- Horizontal learning
- Peer to peer learning
- Critical thinking
- Diversity and inclusiveness
- Openness to new ideas
- Having fun
- An understanding that people learn in different ways
- Offering time and support for self-reflection
- Being positive and optimistic
- Finding new means to help participants feel good about themselves
- Show tangible benefits so participants remain motivated
The Sparks Program: Learning by Doing
Launched in 2009, the Sparks Program is a unique and innovative eight-month experiential learning program to develop formalized leadership skills through active participation in a social change project that benefits the participants’ communities.
Sparks participants who volunteer for the program (and do not receive course credit), have overcome formidable economic, social and cultural barriers to attend university. They are generally from small towns and the first in their families to achieve higher education.
Currently in Turkey there are seven Sparks groups in three cities: Izmir, Izmit/Gölcük and Düzce. Each group has one facilitator. Three groups have an additional assistant facilitator.
Sparks participants are chosen by referral and are all individually interviewed by the facilitators and DLD leadership team.
The Sparks leadership model
Sparks employs a dynamic collaborative learning model to achieve leadership skills while simultaneously developing an awareness of social responsibility. It emphasizes “learning by doing.”
Sparks offers a safe, nurturing environment, one in which participants grow comfortable sharing their thoughts, feelings and ideas. The acquisition of emotional intelligence, empathy, and self-reflection evolve through group discussion and spirited team exercises. Emphasis is placed on the power of personal stories as a means to inspire leadership skill building, thus women role models from diverse walks of life are invited as speakers. In addition, experts train participants in specific areas necessary for leadership skill building, such as public speaking, project management, career development, communication, and etiquette. Diverse site visits enhance learning experiences. All activities are organized so that participants feel they are having fun while learning and working hard.
Sparks program objectives
- Developing a deeper awareness of oneself
- Enriching a personal perspective about what it means to be a woman in contemporary life
- Increasing sensitivity toward the well-being of others, and making a commitment to community engagement through social change
- Strengthening self-esteem and self-confidence
- Acquiring life, career, and leadership skills
- Identifying, planning, and implementing projects that are repeatable, sustainable, and that achieve measurable results of social value
How Sparks is implemented
A written handbook, structured in a weekly format, guides the activities and programmatic goals. Young women participants working in groups of 8-10, meet weekly over an eight-month period under the guidance of a trained adult facilitator. While the facilitators assist in accessing resources (such as mentors and role models), guide team building and offer a supportive role in implementing weekly exercises, it is the participants who run the meetings, and plan and execute their social change projects. Examples of past projects include: a campaign on breast cancer awareness; teaching women at home, marketable skills; sensitizing a community about domestic violence by building a unique photographic montage; and developing a brochure on the use and abuse of medication.
The value of Sparks
Sparks participants, through personal growth and exposure to new experiences of a broader world, develop confidence in their abilities as problem solvers, and reach higher to fulfill a potential they heretofore didn’t know they had. Bonding in sisterhood, Sparks young women become supportive role models for younger girls as well as same-age peers and those who are older.
Examples of Sparks social change projects
A prime example of DLD social impact is the Sparks social change projects. These are the projects Sparks program participants carry out based on identified needs in their communities.
Examples of the projects include: breast cancer awareness and detection aimed at women who, because of culture-based modesty, have little information about breast cancer; environmental pollution; domestic violence; leadership education for high school girls; health education for orphaned adolescent boys; creating upgraded living spaces for those with developmental disabilities; an awareness campaign against harassment of any kind; teaching women homemakers to develop business skills and products to sell. Some projects have also included Skype tutoring to improve English language skills as a tool for career advancement.
Through May 2015, close to 200 participants in the Sparks Program who did a total of 25 social change projects touching the lives of thousands. Understanding the value of the Sparks program to themselves and others, some Sparks alumnae are taking on the role of facilitators and volunteers in various other capacities. And of course alumnae are starting to excel in their chosen careers.
Sparks feedback and evaluations
Facilitators provide feedback through the regular facilitator Skype meetings (held every 2 to 3 weeks), twice-yearly facilitator trainings, and at the end-of-year feedback session at the Summit.
Students provide feedback through the Meeting Feedback Forms (intended to be used on a monthly basis) and the end-of-year Sparks Program Evaluation Form filled out at the Summit.
Sparks facilitator training
DLD organizes specialized supportive training programs to provide the facilitators with the skills they need to meet program goals. These include but are not limited to: understanding group dynamics; strengthening team building; developing communication and conflict resolution techniques; promoting peer to peer “horizontal learning”; and encouraging self-reflection.
At the start of each school year, usually in September, a three-day facilitator training is held in Izmir area for all new and continuing facilitators. The following February, a two-day training is held for mid-year reviews, feedback and additional needed trainings.
All facilitators speak on Skype every three weeks to share news, and discuss any problems.
DLD Summit and Sparks awardees
At the end of each school year, all Sparks participants, facilitators and volunteers get together for a two-day Summit of interactive workshops, role model speakers and graduation ceremony.
During the Summit, a Sparks Award is presented to recognize the contributions of a woman leader who is making a difference in her community or the larger society through her professional or volunteer work. Past recipients include Tülin Atıl (who was recognized as the first and only woman in Turkey to establish a web portal for the agriculture sector in Turkey) and Ümmiye Koçak (who began a women’s theatre in the mountains of southeastern Turkey employing theater as a tool for social change, particularly to improve conditions for women).
Development of new Sparks trainings
DLD has been using outside volunteer experts for its training but has recently started to work on a pro bono basis with an HR professional with the hope of developing proprietary trainings that meet the specific needs and goals of the Sparks participants.
DLD Marketing and Outreach
DLD keeps in touch with its students, alumni, volunteers and supporters through its quarterly newsletter, a Facebook group and three alumni representatives.
Some Thoughts About DLD’s Future
Below are some projects DLD would like to take on when funds become available:
- Improve internal systems such as information flow and financial reporting
- Enhance facilitator trainings
- Reach out to younger girls
- Target under-served young women/girls in areas such as southeastern Turkey
- Do research to understand the needs of girls and young women
- Pay DLD staff higher wages to attract high quality personnel and retain top performers
- Engage alumni in ongoing communication and service
In the meantime, Asst. Prof. Mahmut Bayazıt of Sabanci University Management School has agreed to survey all Sparks alumni to understand the long-term impact of the program. This is in the initial stages.