Itir Erhart

Ashoka Fellow
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Fellow Since 2014
This description of Itir Erhart's work was prepared when Itir Erhart was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014 .


By taking the familiar model of fundraising through endurance sports such as running, swimming and biking, and adapting it to local customs, Adım Adım is achieving much more than leveraging resources for NGOs: they are creating a movement of role model citizens and organizations who are convinced to create social change, step by step.

The New Idea

Seeing an opportunity in this disconnect between citizens and NGOs, Itır and Renay joined forces to build a platform that would close this gap and empower both groups to make strategic and effective interventions in solving Turkey’s urgent problems. They decided to use a model that they were familiar with from abroad, yet remained totally unknown in the Turkish context. Taking the familiar model of fundraising through endurance sports such as running, swimming and biking, and adapting it to local customs, they managed to create a movement of role model citizens and NGOs convinced to create social change. In less than 4 years, what started with 5-6 runners has become a 3500 member platform, attracting 34.000 individual donors to make an average of 150 TL (65 USD) donations, raising over 1 million TL (444.000 USD) that gets distributed to 7-8 NGOs per year. The scale Adım Adım has reached becomes even more meaningful when compared to other local initiatives: the amount of funds they raise and grant to NGOs annually equals those of the country’s leading industrialists’ foundations, while their number of volunteers and donors exceed 99% of all NGOs in Turkey.

The Problem

Turkey’s civil society organizations (CSO) have grown significantly over the last decade both in terms of quality and quantity. However, volunteering and philanthropic contributions to NGOs remain rather low (the first at 4% and latter at 14%), presenting an obstacle to further growth and impact of civil society in meeting Turkey’s ambitious democratization and development goals. As a result, CSOs remain weak as organizations as they try to carry out their programs with insufficient resources. On the other hand, a new group of dynamic and young urban professionals has emerged, who are also health-conscious amateur athletes wishing to “do something” to contribute to positive social change in Turkey. With the lack of means and time to devise the right strategies, they often find themselves stuck with the old fashioned charitable donations, which ameliorate symptoms rather than intervening at the root causes of social problems.

The Strategy

Adım Adım’s key to success has been creativity to see the potential, determination to achieve the highest standards possible in professionalism and transparency and ability to coach, motivate and mobilize both fundraisers and NGOs to make a difference. On one hand, Adım Adım brings athletes together and assists them in their preparation for sports events in return for their undertaking to raise a given amount of money for charity purposes. Athletes are also provided an infrastructure that helps them identify impactful, professional and transparent NGO projects which also takes care of the administrative issues related to fundraising and grantmaking. On the other hand, NGOs are able to publicize their work and projects, are coached to implement their project professionally and report on them transparently while also encouraged to learn from other Adım Adım beneficiaries.

Adım Adım’s broder vision to promote a culture of active citizenship in Turkey seems to be already coming true: individuals have started to mobilize themselves to fundraise for issues close to their hearts, be it through sports or not. Istanbul’s first community foundation and women’s fund are on their way, led and inspired by people who were previously involved with Adım Adım as fundraisers and donors. Istanbul municipality has started to channel part of the funds from late entrance fees to the Istanbul Eurasia Marathon towards charities and individuals have started to establish their own Adım Adım groups across the country. In the near future, they would like to carry the Adım Adım structure online which would make participation an automated process for athletes and NGOs, significantly expanding their reach.

The Person

Itır and Renay have both spent a large part of their lives abroad and resettled in their hometown Istanbul in the last decade. Itır, a young and bright academic who can often be found using her university’s facilities to launch her next social project, and Renay, a successful serial entrepreneur, crossed paths through their mutual passion: running. Reminiscing over their experiences settling back in Turkey, they decided to start fundraising for an NGO in the next possible opportunity. Seeing the success and support of their close ones, they set down in endless workshops to developed the idea, principles and mechanism behind the Adım Adım platform that would attract more people to join the cause. Today Itır is more involved with PR, communication and community building activities between athletes, donors and NGOs, while Renay focuses on organizational development, impact measurement and corporate relations.