Internat’l Conference Sparks Discussions on Philanthropy and Peacebuilding

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JWF and Kimse Yok Mu, a Turkish humanitarian aid organization, recently organized an international conference titled “Philanthropy and Peacebuilding: Classical Approaches and Emerging Trends.” The conference was held on April 11-12, 2014, at Istanbul Bilgi University’s Santral Campus in Istanbul, Turkey.

Philanthropy is not an issue reserved solely for NGOs; rather, it is a philosophy that applies to non-profit organizations as well as people’s everyday lives.

One of the main ideas from the keynote speech of Dr. Paul Schervish, director of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College

Speakers from 19 countries attended the two-day conference, which analyzed philanthropy’s actual and potential contributions to conflict resolution processes. Conference participants considered philanthropy’s effectiveness by questioning who “gives,” as well as what, how, when, and where this civic engagement is realized. The first day of the conference focused on the economic and business-related aspects of philanthropy, while the second day focused on peacebuilding efforts.

Making Philanthropy Effective

Throughout the conference’s sessions, speakers discussed various ideas for maximizing philanthropy’s effectiveness. For example, Dr. Laurent Goetschel, professor at the University of Basel in Switzerland and director of the Swiss Peace Foundation, said that practical steps were being taken locally to supplement regional initiatives. Maria Elisa Pinto Garcia, executive director of the Colombian humanitarian aid organization Fundacion Prolongar, added that professional management for non-profit organizations and companies could make philanthropy more effective.

Dr. Onder Cetin, chair of Fatih University’s sociology department, spoke during the “Cultural Values and Moral Grounds for Philanthropy” session. He said that in addition to addressing peacebuilding, philanthropic initiatives also need to consider what can be done to resolve the economic hardships and inequalities of a country or social group.

Research assistant Ademola Adelekan provided information about philanthropy in Nigeria, saying that seventy percent of people in the country did not believe in philanthropy. Although these statistics seem to present a negative outlook, Adelekan said that there were still many people who considered philanthropy to be beneficial. By working with this core group of supportive people, he said that he was able to join philanthropic organizations, the most active institutions, in addressing social and economic problems in Nigeria.

Kimse Yok Mu Exemplifies Philosophy of Philanthropy

In his keynote speech, Dr. Paul Schervish, director of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, declared Kimse Yok Mu an important model of philanthropy and humanitarianism. He noted that the organization’s name means “Is anybody there?” in Turkish. By asking this fundamental question, Kimse Yok Mu works toward reaching people in need. Schervish also pointed out that philanthropy is not an issue reserved solely for NGOs; rather, it is a philosophy that applies to non-profit organizations as well as people’s everyday lives.

Kimse Yok Mu was also discussed during the session on “Philanthropy, Social Entrepeneurship, and Socioeconomic Development.” Dr. Aykut Toros, chair of Yeditepe University’s sociology department, called Kimse Yok Mu a service foundation for all societies, saying that one third of Kimse Yok Mu’s projects are now being done outside of Turkey. He added that the foundation seeks out places that have the potential for local production, especially in social domains that can boost women’s employment.

Reaching Places the Government Can’t

During the “Corporate Social Responsibility” session, Dr. Maria Kryiakidou, professor at the American College of Thessaloniki in Greece, stated that Greece has been in a political and humanitarian crisis for the last five years. The crisis has led to serious negative consequences for the country, including rising unemployment and suicide rates. In addition, thousands of Greeks are struggling to access prescription medicines. Given these and other issues, Kryiakidou emphasized the importance of philanthropy’s development in Greece, particularly because of its ability to reach places that the government cannot. She also noted that local governments and NGOs recognize this gap and are trying to expand their services to reach more people.

Philanthropy and Peacebuilding

Multiple speakers discussed how philanthropy could be an effective way to build peace. In his keynote address, Dr. Luc Reychler, professor of international relations at the University of Leuven in Belgium, stressed the importance of strong leadership for peacebuilding and philanthropic efforts.

Dr. Karen Feste, professor at the University of Denver and director of the Conflict Resolution Institute Graduate Program, said philanthropy is a social responsibility that improves societal standards. In terms of ending world conflicts, Feste underscored the necessity of increasing the activities of philanthropic and humanitarian aid organizations.

Ahmet Erdi Ozturk of Barecelona University said that education was key for creating awareness of the world’s injustices. Drawing on the ideas of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen, Ozturk explained that a strong education can increase people’s sense of social responsibility as well as their willingness to address the world’s problems and contribute to peacebuilding efforts. He said the volunteers in Gulen’s Hizmet movement were an example of this phenomenon.

Breaking down Misconceptions through Philanthropy

Dr. Henelito Sevilla, professor at the Asian Center at the University of the Philippines, spoke about aid in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Recalling the disaster, he said that if only the national government had been responsible for providing aid, not all areas would have been reached. For this reason, the contributions of other countries were vital.

Sevilla cited the example of Turkey’s Kimse Yok Mu, noting that it was the first humanitarian aid organization to reach the Philippines after the typhoon. He said that because of their philanthropic efforts, the Turks won the hearts of the Filipino people. Furthermore, by providing assistance without regard for Filipinos’ religious or political views, the Turks also broke down the common misconception that Muslims are only willing to help other Muslims.

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