Hello, it’s Şafak Müderrisgil, yours truly. I was born in a small Turkish city called Kırklareli in 1967. My life is split between three cities: Ankara, Istanbul, and Oxford. Even though I spend more than half of the year in Oxford for academic purposes, I always have one foot firmly planted in Turkey. My social and business life continues in Istanbul and Ankara. If you asked what motivates me in life, I would say “learning”. I love learning new things and I believe I am an incorrigible learner. That is why I am an indomitable advocate of lifelong learning and education. I dare say I will never cease to learn, and learning will be an act that makes me who I am, that brings me to existence.
My Student Years
I am the daughter of a family of civil servants. I was about five years old when my parents decided to continue the life they had established in Ankara in Germany for a while. We moved to northern Germany and settled in Hamburg/Kiel. My school life started there. By the time we came back to Turkey and settled in Ankara, I was 10 years old. I learned Turkish all over again when we returned.
Almost all of my educational life was spent in Ankara; first at Hamdullah Suphi Primary School in our neighbourhood, and then at TED Ankara College. My secondary school and high school years were the years of political turmoil in Turkey. By the time I had graduated from high school, the 1980 Turkish coup d’état had taken place, the 1982 Constitution had been declared, and three years had passed since. I had set one goal for myself in the nationwide university entrance exams: getting into law school. In 1985, when I began my studies at Ankara University’s Faculty of Law, I set another goal for myself: to advise and become a consultant for foreigners seeking to come to Turkey for investment. That is why I worked as a part-time translator for a financial news agency during my student years. This job not only provided me with work experience, but also helped enrich my English with financial and legal terms. Over the years, I also completed my Master’s Degree in Private Law at the same faculty.
The Public Sector
My first full-time job was to be a student at Ziraat Bank. I had applied to their Banking School established under the leadership of the then-general manager and was accepted as the only lawyer of the program. We were getting a years’ training and receiving a salary to top it all off. They trained us well and appointed us to various positions within the institution at the end of that year. I gained my first professional experience in the legal department and after two years there, I mapped myself a new route at a different institution. When I started working at the Turkish Petroleum Pipeline Corporation BOTAŞ in 1993, I took a leap into the energy sector after my stint in banking. After having spent two years at BOTAŞ’s legal consultancy department and officially completing five years in the public sector, I decided to transfer to the private sector after accepting a proposal from multinational law firm White & Case LLP.
The Private Sector
White & Case LLP has been an important milestone in my professional life. These were the years when the energy sector was first introduced to the build-operate-transfer (BOT) model and concession contracts were discussed for the very first time. We realized the first project financing based on the build-operate-transfer scheme in Turkey and built a power plant, and similar initiatives soon followed. I also got to familiarize myself with energy law, environmental law, corporate law, and the negotiation of energy contracts with the state, as well as fields such as company mergers and the initial public offering of companies. It was a time I worked insanely hard but learned just as much.
In 1998, when I left White & Case and moved to Akfen Group (nowadays Akfen Holding), a completely different corporate culture awaited me. This family business, established in Ankara and having come from a background in construction, had set sail for new breakthroughs. In those years when the company was also in the midst of redefining its corporate identity and planning to open up to international markets, as well as in the following 12 years, this time my experience in growing a domestic company, helping it earn international elements and opening it up to new sectors would widen my horizon.
Meanwhile, those very years were also the time I had turned towards civil society activities. The Turkish Human Resources and Health Foundation (TIKAV), which I was the founder of in 1999, was a family foundation. Two months after its founding, I had started implementing the Individual Development Program (scholarship and training program) I designed to start at Elazığ Fırat University. This program, which encompassed college students studying in Turkey’s eastern and southeastern regions, made me a frequenter of these provinces and their universities.
TİKAV opened a completely different window in my life. While capacity building in the civil society sector, I was also starting to get to know my country better. I can confidently say that it was one of the most fulfilling times in my career, mentoring young people and observing their experiences on the road to leadership. During those same years, I got to know to the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE), which was headquartered in the UK and implementing youth programmes bolstered by extracurricular activities, and I decided to bring the program to Turkey. We had already begun implementing the program nationwide under the umbrella of the Association of Youth Awards, which we had swiftly established, by signing protocols with the relevant ministries. I left both institutions after their 10th anniversary of establishment. My ties with The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Foundation, the headquarters of which is in London, remain and I continue my service here as a world fellow.
Once you get involved with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), other doors are always waiting to be opened. Having taken part in the establishment of institutions such as the National Committee for UNICEF, the Women and Youth Platform, the All Women Lobby Association, and the London School of Economics/Chair for Contemporary Turkish Studies and taking roles in their management were very valuable experiences for me.
The Public Sector, All Over Again
2010 was the year of change for me. It was the beginning of the years I left my comfort zone completely and made drastic switches in my career. The Ministry of Fam ily and Social Policy, established for the first time in the history of the Republic of Turkey, was the starting point of this change in my career. In this newly established ministry where I served for two and a half years, I took part in studies and developed projects on issues such as gender equality, the economic empowerment of women, children’s rights, disability rights and poverty reduction. I benefitted greatly from my cross-sectoral experience while formulating and implementing public policies. At the same time, I had the opportunity to represent Turkey before international organizations. Good times it was, working enthusiastically with the minister of the time.
Becoming A Mature Student
They say all good things come to an end – and it comes fast. Towards the end of this chapter, I took a one-year break from my career and decided to get a diploma in the area of policy making and devising strategies that I had been working for 15 years for different sectors. I applied to the Master of Public Policy (MPP) at Oxford University in England and was accepted.
Bidding Farewell to the Public Sector
After returning to Turkey with a master’s degree in public policy in 2014, this time I was appointed advisor to the minister at the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources. I was now on the other side of the negotiation table after having been a legal counsel for foreign energy companies years ago. During this period, I had the opportunity to focus on energy efficiency and nuclear energy policy.
The Energy Efficiency Association was another NGO that came into my life about this time. During the three years in which we worked actively to raise awareness about energy efficiency in Turkey, the “Ms. Power” (Enerji Hanım) project, which I had designed, was implemented in 27 provinces across the country, reaching thousands of women, and hence just as many households. We were invited to the COP-21 United Nations Climate Conference held in Paris in 2015 and I had the chance to present the project. After the presentation, we initiated contacts to implement the project in India. Within the scope of my continued efforts under the title of sustainability with the public sector, I have been a member of the advisory board of the Turkish Union of Municipalities for their Zero Waste Project.
The UK Chapter and Impact Investing
When I returned to the UK in the first months of 2016, I turned my sights toward a new field: impact investments. I continue my research and work in the field of designing, funding, and measuring the impact of social and sustainable investments that target the challenges or deficiencies awaiting change in society. I have been capacity building in the impact investment sphere since 2017. While following the global development of this newly structured sector, I have also been following similar initiatives in Turkey. I set on this journey believing it was the right time to properly introduce Turkey to the concept of impact investing, a phenomenon that has increasingly gained importance in the world, to bring public and cross-sectoral awareness on this topic and contribute to the formation of an impact investment ecosystem in Turkey. For me, the act of creating an impact starts with individual awareness and then spreads to society as a whole. Making impact-oriented investments and considering social or environmental impact alongside a financial return will be the key to development. With this motivation, I founded the Impact Investing Platform “Etkiyap”, right after I established the Impact Investing Association in April 2020. I am a firm believer that my valuable colleagues on the platform, each of whom is an expert in their fields, and I, will create added value in this industry.
Etkiyap’s activities continue with a busy agenda in collaboration with different sectors and stakeholders. There is a pretty long way to go in establishing the notions of the impact investing concept which has started to become a conversation topic in 2019 in Turkey.
Besides, I pursue my activities as an investor and entrepreneur in fundraising and directing innovation and technology based sustainable investments. I am the founding partner and Chair of Etkiyap Girişim A.Ş. that has been established in September 2020 with the vision to make impact investing a choice of investment.