Written by Amol Borcar, Annie Porter, Chelsea Harris, Jeanne Godleski, and Mariana Martinez
The room was buzzing with three languages, and communication was a game of telephone. One of the Syrian primary students would excitedly share something in Arabic, at which point it was translated into Turkish by a Syrian university student, and then a staff member from Young Guru Academy (YGA) would share it in English with our Berkeley-Haas IBD team of five. Nuance was definitely lost through these piecemeal verbal communications, and we came from radically different backgrounds – lives interrupted by the Syrian Civil War, educations defined by a single test score, and former careers in consulting, software engineering, and clean energy. Yet there was one language in the room that we all understood perfectly – science.
Our team, fondly nicknamed “The Turkish Delights,” was at one of YGA’s science workshops with Syrian refugees in Gaziantep – a city in southeast Turkey, just 20 miles from the Syrian border. At first glance, this activity seemed somewhat removed from the formal scope of our project with YGA – developing the strategic business plan for the new Aziz Sancar Science Center, set to open in Istanbul in 2018. We were struggling to understand how participating in YGA’s science workshops in Gaziantep and Trabzon would inform our marketing and financial plans for the Science Center. Coming from high-pressure, deliverable-oriented careers prior to Haas, we all wondered if our time would be better spent at our computers, modeling projected visitor numbers and coming up with creative marketing tactics. The business plan was the whole reason we were here after all, right?
Now in our second week, we have realized the immense gift YGA gave us by immersing us in their culture, projects, and relationships for the first week. Coming into our in-country time with YGA, we knew it would be anything but your typical client-consultant relationship given our interactions from Berkeley, but this experience has exceeded all expectations.
On paper, YGA is a non-profit organization that cultivates “selfless leaders” who will create a brighter future for younger generations through innovative, community-based programs and technologies. These projects include Science and Innovation Workshops, My Dream Companion for the visually-impaired, and the Young Leaders Program for high school students.
However, the projects themselves are merely tools that YGA uses to instill confidence, humility, and optimism in Turkey’s young generations, with the hope that they will one day lead more socially-conscious organizations and companies. The process of implementing these projects – the planning, the evaluation, the personal growth – is the true goal and measure of success. For example, we ran three separate workshops – one for Syrian refugees, one for orphans, and one for underprivileged students – and although we couldn’t communicate perfectly in any of them, science gave us common ground to which to connect. After each workshop, we paused to reflect on how the students interacted with us and the material, and we all left having learned something about ourselves.
This has been a very new way of thinking and working for us, as we come from jobs where the destination – what you produce – is far more important than the journey. Only by experiencing YGA’s model firsthand could we internalize the notion that success can also be defined as a thoughtful, self-reflective process that leads to personal and collective growth.
YGA has made us feel like family, from inviting us to a homemade Turkish dinner at our client’s apartment to including us in their weekly executive leadership meetings.
We have now lived and breathed the YGA way and will deliver a business plan for the Science Center that integrates both the tangible programs and intangible values that define this incredible organization. Earlier this week, when we visited the building in Istanbul where the Aziz Sancar Science Center will open next year, the impact of our project felt more real than ever.
These two weeks have been a blur, and we don’t anticipate it slowing down for the remainder of our time. While we’ve had to squeeze time at our computers into odd hours given the packed, immersive days with YGA, we have still managed to find moments to explore Turkey’s rich cultural – and culinary – offerings! We spent a few hours touring Trabzon with a very jolly tour guide who shared all of the local jokes and stuffed ourselves with Gaziantep’s world famous katmer!
We have also been befriending Istanbul’s well-cared-for stray cats and popping into the city’s gorgeous mosques at every chance.
The full depth of the IBD experience likely won’t hit home until we are on our return flights or starting our summer internships because it is so much to digest both personally and professionally. We all know, however, that YGA has forever changed how we define success.