Connect to Life

29 September 2014 Comments Off on Connect to Life

BY MELEK CANSU PETEK (ELIT/II)
petek@ug.bilkent.edu.tr

“We live in a world where world hunger causes worry but a dead battery causes panic.”
This is what’s written on the T-shirts my friend/mentor brought back from his trip to the Netherlands. That simple sentence hurt me more than you’d think, because I know that it is only too true. It was one of those slap-in-the-face moments as I stared at the T-shirt and thought about myself and our generation. Although I often try to be conscious about my electronics usage and make an effort to avoid being a smartphone zombie, I still know that there are moments when I panic over a dead battery or develop an unhealthy relationship with my phone. Seeing this unhealthy relationship in replica all over Bilkent makes me wonder: How on earth did we end up being totally dependent on our phones and start using these could-be-useful devices for all kinds of self-absorbed activities? More importantly, what can be done to connect our generation back to life?
In all honesty, I would have no answer to this question if it weren’t for the conversation I had with that friend, a brilliant and responsible businessman who has been living in Turkey for over 24 years. He told me that he bought the T-shirts from a Cambodian businessman who owns a fair trade company that produces them. Using fair trade as a starting point, we then moved on to socially responsible businesses and freedom businesses—two terms, I have to admit, I’d never encountered before. I’m not a businessperson and chances are I may never be, but these terms are important not only for future businesspeople but also for people like me, the consumers of all types of goods.
What makes fair trade companies and socially responsible businesses important is that they pay attention to the “problems” and try to be a part of the solution. As our world, in its current state, is a pretty messed-up place, the solutions vary from helping kids in poor countries to making better deals with farmers in developing countries. These businesses also pay attention to the environment, either by being “green”—that is, minimizing their carbon footprint—or by promoting sustainable agriculture. Sounds pretty neat, right?
Among all these amazing examples of entrepreneurship, the story that touched me the most was the foundation of freedom businesses. An example of such a business is Freeset, a company started by a couple from New Zealand in a poverty-stricken neighborhood in India. Its goal is a very noble one: to give hope and a better life to women who are forced into selling their bodies, either because they have fallen into the hands of sex-trafficking predators or because they see it as the only way to ease the hunger of their families. The couple who started Freeset saw that if these women were to be saved from prostitution, there had to be an alternative to help them make enough money for their families. They convinced 20 women to leave the sex trade behind and started teaching them how to sew—to make T-shirts and bags. Although it was quite difficult at first, Freeset grew bigger, and now there are 160 women (and their families) who have gained their freedom through this business initiative, who have a decent salary and health insurance—but more importantly, they have hope for the future.
Though being a human is not always a matter of pride for me, reading stories like this reassures me that we are capable of doing good when we leave the love of profit behind and strive to be a part of the change. If any of those who happen to read this column feel inspired by these ideas, and take a deliberate step toward starting a business that has ethical concerns, then my mission will have been accomplished. Bilkent houses the upper crust of this society, in terms of not only money but also education and intellect. One person cannot change the world single-handedly, but if we work together, I believe there is much we can do—that is, if we can keep our hands and minds off our smartphones and connect to life.
P.S.: Speaking of connecting to life, there is a topic that is worth mentioning here. As many of you know, there are hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding to Turkey, seeking safety and shelter, and needless to say, they need so much help. The local people are doing whatever they can to help the refugees, but it is hard for them to keep doing that without receiving outside assistance. I believe we can step in at this point and start thinking of ways to help these people. Wouldn’t that be a good start to changing the world around us? What do you say?