Turkey: A tale of two countries

After a week of classes, happy hours, and catching up with friends, I finally have a chance to reflect on our week-long adventure in Turkey. And after much thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that despite being one of the fastest growing economies in the world, Turkey remains a country of extreme contrasts.

Nearly every company presentation highlighted Turkey’s striking GDP growth and shrinking inflation rates (see chart below), and the undeniable fact that Turkey is positioned (both economically and geographically) to be a growing center for trade and prosperity.

However, outside of the company presentations and powerpoint slides, I was continously struck by the overwhelming sense of conflict – the mix of decaying apartment buildings and new high rises, ominous daily prayers booming throughout the city and packed nightclubs blasting dance music, or burger king restaurants next to street stalls serving roasted chestnuts.

Our last official day of the trip (Friday) was clear evidence of this contrast. In the morning, my project group visited Endeavor, an innovative, global non-profit that identifies and supports local entrepreneurs through access to their wide network of experienced mentors. During this meeting we heard of Turkey’s growing start-up scene, high levels of social media uptake, and exciting new ventures, including SocialWire (a social shopping tool), 41? 29? (a successful digital marketing agency), and PeakGames (a rapidly growing social gaming group).

Later that day, we visited a completely different organization – MUSIAD, also know as the Muslim Businessman’s Association. This group of leaders from SMEs throughout Turkey serves as an industry body to offer support and networking opportunities. However, the undertones of the video presentation, prepared remarks of the presenters, and unwavering support of the current government, clearly demonstrated the ultra conservative viewpoints of this group. Moreover, when asked about the role of females within their organization, minimal evidence was provided other than a statement that female members are admitted without dues.

So, there you have it. Turkey is a beautiful, intriguing, powerful, country of contrasts. I had an amazing time on my first visit – a perfect mix of education, site-seeing and good times with new and old friends, and I will definitely come back again (but this time during summer so I can take advantage of the beautiful outdoor dining and clubbing opportunities.)

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