More on Turkey: The Role of Women

| Entrepreneurship, Global Business

My total immersion week in Turkey in September left me with a wealth of impressions about that country’s future in our global economy, especially in the context of trends that will be important when considering foreign investment decisions. The bottom line is that Turkey is an amazing country of talented, hard-working, and ambitious people.

As Turkey has emerged from a Third World country into one of high economic growth (8.5% GDP in 2011), many of these hard-working, ambitious citizens are women. They still represent only 28% of the workforce, but they are playing a significant role by nurturing their children’s development using computers and new media; giving their children education experiences denied many women of their own generation; volunteering to coach and develop children’s education in math, science and other skills; and involving their husbands in their children’s development – including educating girls as well as boys.

Particularly striking are the differences among generations of women, in part due to advances in education and dramatic changes in the stereotype of low-skilled guest workers in the 1960s and 1970s, when Turkey’s economy was weak and many less-educated workers moved to Germany to take low-skilled jobs. These days, there is a growing young, educated class going to Germany, the UK and France as part of their higher education and to become fluent in foreign languages.

So, many women in their 30s, especially in urban areas, typically speak English, have some university education, may have worked abroad, and, if married, want only two children. A woman in her mid-40s is likely to be quite different: She probably had limited opportunities to learn English and was one of many children in a family where boys were given preference for education. But she sees that Turkey has changed, and her highest priority is to give her children an opportunity for a better life. Still different are women in Turkey’s rural areas, who marry early and eventually may have eight or nine children. These women may be illiterate or only minimally educated . . . but they have seen mobile smart phones and iPads and they too want more for their children than they had.

I was especially fascinated by microcredit programs in Turkey that have boosted woman-owned businesses. There are no collateral loans of small amounts targeted to women entrepreneurs, but microcredit is built on the very successful Grameen model developed in Bangladesh. We visited several woman-owned businesses totally founded and financed successfully via microcredit program. The program we saw is a private foundation that has raised $33 million and, over the past few years, has an outlay of $90 million in successful women’s businesses, with no collection problems. The reason these women never miss a loan payment is that they network with one another and protect one another.

It was a highlight of my trip to meet these women entrepreneurs and to learn how women are helping to build a thriving Turkish economy.

Next week I will write more about that economy: the work ethic culture, powerful family companies, and the role of government and politics.