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A Word with Ozan Tarman

Posted 13 March 2023 in EMpower News   |   Share


Recently, EMpower’s President & CEO Cynthia Steele spoke with Ozan Tarman, Vice Chair of Global Macro at Deutsche Bank, and member of EMpower’s UK Board. They talked about the recent devastating earthquakes in Turkey, the most urgent needs there, his longstanding involvement with EMpower, and more.  

The news from Turkey has been horrifying. What role do you think local organisations could have in the recovery and in helping young people build a different future?  

Thanks, Cynthia. Basically, any help, or support at this stage, is very much appreciated. When something this tragic happens, every bit counts, and one feels and gets more power from all the solidarity, love, and support from the international community. In that sense, EMpower being my home for much more than a decade is even dearer to my heart now. Everything we do through the institutions we support is important—even more so in this situation. Civil society organisations are more important than ever when something like this hits. The scope and size of the destruction are vast; we face issues like lost children, missed education, disabled children and youth, and girls’ safety and well-being at risk.

Just to give you some sense—as it's tough to envision—the tectonic plate that broke is almost as long as from London to Paris. It's very tough for any state on its own to overcome this, so civil society organisations, and NGOs, become even more important. Smaller, more nimble, community-based NGOs—as well as citizen initiatives—are critical because of their agility. And we need that to unleash all the power we can get as fast as we can. It means quick, innovative, to-the-point, effective help. EMpower’s focus on smaller organisations, as well as partnering with larger networks, can help us get closer to the nerve, the heart—right to the psychological and social support that’s needed.  

I would say this is the most critical need beyond a safe space, a roof to live under—especially for girls and young women who are at greater risk in general. Because of this tragedy, some of the young girls and young women may even be forced into early marriage. And educational help and initiatives will be more important than ever. This is something that we at EMpower know very well from our other regions and grantees. I think we will have to ramp up our grant funds and support NGOs to above all first hire employee experts to serve children and youth, and almost all of our current grantees are looking to ramp up in this area. Turkey Mozaik Foundation, a UK and Wales registered charity, has been at the forefront of fundraising efforts—swiftly and efficiently distributing the funds to local grassroot NGOs to address urgent needs.

A lot of NGOs can organise initiatives around psychological needs and support to help us recover as a society—beyond just one building, one town—and bring together young ones and their families. A lot of people will have migrated overnight to more populated cities, from Ankara to Antalya. A lot of civil society support will be needed to help them settle in their new environments. They are survivors who have just been through some of the worst traumas that you and I cannot even envision. They need all the help we can give them.  

That’s a powerful synopsis of the issues and the various ways that local organisations can offer support. On visits to Istanbul, you've had the chance to talk with some of the leaders of programmes that EMpower supports and to speak with young people. I'm interested to know what that meant to you and what you might have learnt.

The programmes that we support as EMpower are for the young ones that will most likely never have access to free schooling otherwise. The inspiration we can give them will be immense; they are budding scientists, learning about coding, robots, etc. It was very nice to see the excitement in their eyes.  

Another very direct experience I had was through AcEV, one of our sister organisations, years ago. One girl, very maturely but also very sadly—and very assuredly—said she wanted to be a lawyer. For whatever reason, her father was going through a tough time, and he was just about to get out of jail. She wanted to make sure that she could help. After that meeting, I was so inspired by and moved by this girl, I believe her name was Zeynep, like my daughter’s. I wrote to my network, and one of them was very happy to give her an internship in his legal practice. I know that from there on, Zeynep became a budding lawyer. That’s almost like a movie, right? It's a happy ending. Right now, when I talk to people and children who work with KODA [an EMpower grantee partner], whose day-to-day lives are affected thanks to us, it makes it all very real. It’s invaluable to me. 

I could not agree more. I feel this way, too. You're one of our longest-standing supporters. What drew you to EMpower initially and what's kept you close all these many years? 

At the very beginning, I would have said it's almost like the Robinhood cliché. And it's in the name EMpower—The Emerging Markets Foundation. Emerging markets are my roots. I want to always make something very valuable in communities that we benefited so much from over the years. That's how I got to meet EMpower, very famously at the Annual Dinner, which was two-three days after Lehman. Again, I loved the solidarity. Even though it was a very tough financial time, people came together to help all these countries that we talk about regularly: Brazil, South Africa, Turkey, and India.  
Then it seemed to go beyond the Robin Hood analogy. We almost grew up as a family, thanks to wonderful people like you who are long-standing leaders of the institution. You feel that the stewardship doesn't change from year to year, so the trust is there. We have long meetings and give long hours to this cause and it brings all of us together beyond our community in London, New York, Singapore, and Hong Kong. We grew up with these organisations that we support in our countries. So now, it's not just what I/we give to them, but it's also what they give to us: they make our lives more complete. 

You see the progress they make through whatever it is: sports, livelihood programmes, music, or education. Whatever support we give, they grow up to be wonderful young women and men. That, to me, is one of the biggest accomplishments of my life.  

Bringing it back to the tragic earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, I feel very frustrated and even though it was a natural disaster, it could be avoided in many senses. What we can do from here is to trigger all the international networks we have, and all the international institutions we know, and make sure that the support goes right to the grassroots, to the heart of the situation. Then when you put your head to the pillow at night, you feel like at least you did help and accomplished something. That to me is EMpower in a medium-term sense and in a very immediate sense.  

That was beautifully put. Thank you, Ozan.  

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