written by Kevin Moore from the United States
It was a whirlwind second week of Asli Gemci’s and my outbound project in Istanbul. Asli arranged meetings for me with seasoned members of Turkey’s civil society to discuss effective strategies for engaging policymakers. I was fascinated to learn about unique approaches taken by NGOs here, and also to offer some best-practices from Oregon. My biggest takeaway was that following June 24 elections, the landscape for civic engagement in Turkey is in transformation as the government takes on a new structure with a strong, American-style presidency. These meetings with civil society prepared me for our culminating event: a two-day conference on public participation in decision-making organized by Asli as part of our outbound project.
Thursday and Friday saw our more than 75 participating professionals from regional civil society and government — Turkey, the Western Balkans, the Caucuses and the U.K. — gather to hear from experts and share ideas about citizen inclusion: its current status and ideas for advancing civil society’s role in the process. I was invited to present about Orgon’s model and to lead a group session to discuss mechanisms for effective engagement. I was impressed by the number and quality of questions asked and the passion of everyone in attendance. When the conference concluded on Friday, I had developed numerous relationships for continuing collaboration.
In addition to our meeting schedule, Asli furthered my cultural experience: We took a ferry to the Prince’s Islands off Istanbul’s coast, visiting ancient monasteries and enjoying mezza. I’ve loved exploring Istanbul’s Old City, becoming a regular at a small breakfast cafe and local barber. Even at the conference, Asli arranged a traditional meal and classical Turkish live music for our joint working dinner.
As if all that wasn’t enough, it’s also been great for me to connect with PFP alums Özge Sonmez and Ece Karakus in Istanbul. Özge, who works for an NGO assisting Syrian refugees in Turkey, treated me to a wonderful meal and updated me on her organization’s work. Ece, who works in the national parliament, invited me to a traditional Turkish wedding overlooking the Bosphorus. Along with so many experiences here — both professional and personal — it’s something I won’t soon forget!