Senem Gul

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2006
First Step Women's Cooperative


This profile was prepared when Senem Gul was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
The New Idea
In a poor and violent district of Istanbul, characterized by large migrant populations, Senem has encouraged women to come together, form a cooperative and collectively pursue improvements in their communities—including schools, playgrounds, parks, public transportation, walkways, and more. Nurtepe is an area of Istanbul that is full of prejudice, ethnic and political diversity and also suffers from the absence of effective public services. Her approach empowers women through education and skills training, and focuses on creating a communal identity for the solution of community problems. Senem believes that success in neighborhoods like Nurtepe will be a building block for effective citizen participation and improved governance at the national and regional level.

Senem is dedicated to cultivating leadership among women. Of Sunni Turkish ethnicity, she immigrated in 1998 from Kahramanmaras, a southeastern city of Turkey, and has lived in Nurtepe ever since. Beginning with a culturally and ethnically diverse group of women, Senem opened a center initially focused on childhood development and learning. Then she began hosting women and offering workshops covering a wide range of topics so that in the process of working together, women would build a basis for reducing community strife through mutual understanding. Women work especially hard on negotiation and communication, which has already resulted in marked improvements in the community and reduction of violence. They also learn about finance and governance in 10-member democratic savings groups.

From an initial group of 19, today more than 800 women are involved in two centers—one of which is in a neighboring district. After only three years, the success of her cooperative has already inspired replicas in other parts of the city and the country. Her idea has been widely publicized and generated interest from women’s groups in 16 different cities in Turkey.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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