To learn more about Koç University Social Impact Forum (KUSIF) we spoke with Dr. Gonca Ongan, current Executive Director at KUSIF. Gonca graduated from Saint-Benoit French High School and received her BA in Economics from Istanbul University. She completed the Global MBA program at Fordham University in New York, and thereafter got her Ph.D degree in European Economics from the Marmara University European Union Institute. Gonca is also the founding member of Açık Açık, an organisation that brings together transparency, open communication, and accountability in Turkey within areas where public resources are being used. She has years of experience and specialises in social entrepreneurship, sustainability and social impact management.
Gonca has been working with Koç University since 2010, initially responsible for business development where she worked within the field of construction and international relationships. Koç University, a private, non-profit research-intensive institution aims to create a practise-based forum focusing on applied science, the need was so great that KUSIF was established in November 2012. KUSIF is specifically framed to create social impact by enriching academia and future leaders with experimental learning, valuable networks and advanced knowledge. The forum develops curriculars and educational programs specifically designed for students – local, as well as national. Gonca shared more details with us and claimed that the courses concentrate on social enterprises and social impact management.
‘Working with all kinds of actors, whether private, businesses, founders, social enterprises and NGOs – we have a much wider perspective,’ says Gonca.
As a major organisation in Turkey, KUSIF felt responsible to take their initiative one step further. In 2013, the forum actively engaged with social entrepreneurship and the ecosystem development in Turkey, working with programs focusing on capacity development and mostly time awareness and knowledge raising. After making a great impact on a local and national level, Gonca explained that over the years different actors evolved and so the forum found itself at the centre.
‘We never left the developing ecosystem and network, we worked with major players in Turkey and put forward the Turkish Social Entrepreneurship Network (TSEN) within EU project “Builidng Social Entrepreneurship network in Turkey.” The project has now ended but we continue as the main partners to sustain and grow the network,’ she says.
The network includes around 7 organisations within the social entrepreneurship ecosystem, who work together to raise funding and obtain new members. Gonca placed emphasis on the importance of research for evidence based ecosystem development and shared that since 2015 the University has led much research on social entrepreneurship.
‘We like collaborating, and our philosophy is working together, which sometimes is not easy – however we are a big University and work with many other researchers and practitioners – we do more work together,’ she says.
Gonca claimed that in the last couple of years the network has been increasing, especially from bigger cities since people have more knowledge on social entrepreneurship and can establish a social enterprise in different forms. The network also helps to distinguish social enterprises.
‘There is no legal form on social enterprise in Turkey, so we see a lot of hybrid models and sometimes initiatives or organisations that aren’t aware that they are working in the social enterprise sector, or even reverse – some companies think they are social enterprises, but they are not, so when we see them, we tell them,’ she says.
KUSIF is also collaborating within the university with various departments, and schools who are interested in social impact, social innovation, and sustainability. For instance, Koç University has a newly established research and education hospital which is well known in Turkey. ‘We have a School of Medicine, and we have recently established research and education hospital,’ she says. KUSIF and School of Medicine place importance on the health sector and run various programs together from different angles where medical students are matched with an NGO or social enterprise and conduct social impact research. ‘The students are very interested, it is good for us, for them, as well as other communities involved since we engage sectors from different fields,’ Gonca says.
Currently, the forum is planning to make the network institutionalised through developing it as an NGO in collaboration with other founding partners. Moreover, the forum on behalf of TSEN has been conducting nationwide research on social entrepreneurship which will be published in the coming months with 4 other TSEN founding partners. This is the second national research conducted by TSEN partners and we see that the social entrepreneurship ecosystem has been transforming from early stage to grow stage in Türkiye. Gonca shared an exciting upcoming project with us, ‘We have an Erasmus project called Social Impact Podcast where we are working with Baltic countries and with Social Entrepreneurship Association of Latvia which is also a Euclid member. Within the project, the common material will be in English however all members will produce the podcasts in their own language.’ This is certainly a step forward since producing social entrepreneurial podcasts in local languages is not very common and due to language barriers, many times individuals are unable to gain access to certain knowledge.
We asked Gonca what the outcomes were whilst working with Euclid to which she responded, ‘At EU level it is very competitive and can be hard to be involved in certain areas, with Euclid connections this is made easier.
’ We’re happy to see our members working together and look forward to KUSIF’s upcoming projects!