I am one of the first businesswomen in Kars! A MDG-Fund in Turkey story
When Nuran Öyılmaz started her first business more than 20 years ago, she had to sell part of her dowry to get off the ground. A mother of four girls from a conservative community in the eastern Turkish city of Kars, Öyılmaz had to fight hard to educate her daughters and to become economically independent – often without the support of her husband. For 18 years, Öyılmaz knit and sold wool products before opening a small bistro serving traditional food. Then, spurred by its success and the encouragement of her daughters, she decided to expand, and applied for a bank loan. Today, Öyılmaz runs a successful restaurant specializing in goose, a Kars tradition, and – armed with technical training from the MDG-Fund – is helping create a tourist commercial sector in Kars. “They have helped me to become a business woman,” says Öyılmaz of the training she received through the joint United Nations programme.
“I was very happy, feeling as a student again. I attended all the meetings and trainings. I was never late for one, never left earlier... I have learnt how to run the restaurant professionally.”
In December 2009, Öyılmaz was invited to join an MDG-F-supported study tour to Spain. There, she says, she realized the potential of Kars in terms of its history, religious traditions and intangible cultural heritage such as traditional foods -- and how these could be translated into income. Öyılmaz is a beneficiary of the MDG-F-funded joint UN programme Alliances for Culture Tourism in Eastern Anatolia, whose aim is to reduce poverty in one of Turkey’s poorest region by helping communities safeguard their cultural assets and create jobs in the field of tourism.
The programme -- a collaboration between the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Foreign Ministry, and four UN agencies (UNDP, UNESCO, UNICEF and UNWTO) -- has focused particularly on increasing incomes for women, and reducing the economic disparities between the people of Kars and the rest of the country. It is part of the MDG-Fund’s work to help countries like Turkey achieve the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals, by ensuring that efforts to improve living standards include the poorest and most marginalized populations.
For Nuran Öyılmaz, the programme not only gave her the skills to take her business to new levels, it also supported a professional organization she set up with a few women goose breeders, the Goose Foundation. After participating in the joint programme’s Grant Scheme initiative, Öyılmaz secured an MDG-F grant for the Foundation, which helped the members hone their knowledge and assurance about working in a field dominated by men. “My life is a project, I thought, so I can do this!” she says. Öyılmaz says the joint programme has given her and her colleagues the self-confidence to sell and promote their products, but it has also changed her perception of Kars, and showed her how, working collectively, she and others like her can draw on the cultural riches of her home town to improve their lives. “It is about how to promote our products,” she concludes, “but it is about Kars, not about us as individuals”.