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SIE Interviews Efehan Danisman and Ezgi Karaagac of the Informal Education Youth Centre

“Informal Education Youth Centre” was established by young people for promoting social inclusion, volunteerism and social responsibility among youth. The Centre does not have any political orientation and commercial aim. At the Centre, activities are proposed, developed and delivered by volunteers and participants. In addition to being co-created, activities are also delivered free of charge. The Centre’s organizers see the initiative as “the space where youth can learn and take initiative to realise their dreams.” The current training activities include; English , German, Spanish, French and Turkish Conversation Clubs; Awareness Trainings; Photography Trainings; Infomeetings for EVS; Workcamps and other volunteer activities; project writing sessions for youth and drama trainings. The centre’s co-founder Efehan Danisman has chosen to participate ChangemakerXchange (www.changemakerxchange.com) by Ashoka Turkey which aimed to gather young social entrepreneurs from Europe.

Efehan Danisman and Ezgi Karaagac are co-founders of the Centre, and are Country Partners of the Social Innovation Europe initiative.

How did the Centre begin? What social issues are you working to fix?

The idea of the centre began with my volunteerism journey. I was working voluntarily with another brilliant social enterprise Genctur, on a project about “Informal Education”. During the project we saw how Informal Education is important and how young people need a space to develop themselves outside the traditional academic curriculum. Throughout the years, we had chance to develop this idea and we felt that beginning of 2011 is the right time to start this centre with my fellow friends.

As a citizen of Istanbul, I am living in a big and dynamic city. This brings both challenges and opportunities for young people. There is a huge amount of energy in the young people of my country, especially in Istanbul. This city has 44 universities alone. We felt that, with this centre, young and socioeconomically disadvantaged people can develop themselves first then help their peers in our centre. As you could see from above, language clubs are one of the most important activities of our centre. Reason is, foreign languages are vital in today’s globalised world. Nevertheless, language education is not sufficient to practice it. Through our clubs, we reached hundreds of people and this helped us a lot to disseminate our work.  If you would ask what is the main social issue we are trying to deal with is Inclusion of young people. Through participating centre’s activities or international projects, developing their social skills and increasing their self-esteem are most important improvements of those young people which we saw.

‘Informal Education’ is a big part of what you do. How do you define informal education?

Informal education is equal with widening your vision for me and it starts during my first volunteer experience in an international voluntary workcamp. It was a life changing experience and then I became hungry to widen my vision more and more through informal education. We do not define it as an alternative to the formal education, however as important and complementary. I could frankly say that, if there were more informal education in student curricula before university, they could shape their future much better. Definition of Informal Education in my mind is my main motivation to do this work.

You have reached a large number of people. Some have become volunteers, others are enthusiastic participants. How have you managed to coordinate this enthusiasm? Could you describe your organization’s model?

First of all, we let young people to take initiative and to fail. Economist and Financial Times Columnist Tim Harford argued that success starts with failure in this book “Adapt”. I personally, and we as organisation believe in that too. Experience is very valuable which you can not buy from anywhere. Co-founders and senior volunteers of the centre are mentoring and/or coaching other volunteers and helping them to find their way. This sometimes occurs with a training activity, sometimes occurs with one to one coaching.

Furthermore, we have a reward system for our volunteers. We encourage successful volunteers to take part in our national or international projects to represent us. For sure, some problems might occur during coordinating our centre however this is a process of learning for all of us.

As a Country Partner, your organization is working to connect the rest of Europe with examples of good practice from Turkey. What are you looking for from the Social Innovation Europe network? Who would you like to meet? How should they get in touch with you?

First of all, we would like to see other people’s experiences from all Europe and see what we can implement in our work. Moreover, we would like to disseminate our work and experience to other organisation which could help them to grow.

For sustainability and future of the centre, we would need capacity building trainings to be more professional. The Centre has only 3 EVS volunteers and 1 part time staff currently. Hence, all activities are coordinated and conducted by volunteers. If we want to be more efficient, we will need full time staff in our centre.

Also, as all NGO’s problem, fundraising is also our concern. Currently, we are conducting all activities for free, however without any significant fund, in the next years this would be impossible.

Everybody who are interested in our work could reach us through my e-mail (efehandanisman@yahoo.com), my partners e-mail (ezkaraagac@gmail.com) or our contact e-mail (iletisim@yasom.org). We would be glad to tell more to everybody what and why are we doing.