How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.

I am the Head of Exploration at UNDP Turkey Accelerator Lab and regularly work on issues that directly affect citizens’ experiences in (mostly) urban environments. These include design of public spaces for healthier interactions between people and the environment, various climate-related issues including plastic pollution and soil degradation, food security, and women’s access to justice after experiencing gender-based violence.

In my work, I define technology in the widest possible sense rather than rely on the common understanding of it which revolves around digital artifacts and sophisticated equipment. To me, technology is much more than some fancy hardware; it is the technical knowledge, the methods, the designs, and the processes that provide the means to accomplish various key tasks some of which are seemingly impossible—yet we keep trying thanks to our ability and willingness to use technology in ways that maximise our chances of being successful despite the odds.

A concrete example of a technology I often use is systems thinking, a method and a collection of tools that help me explore the interconnectedness, causality and emergence among various factors that influence a phenomenon of interest. Recently, I did this for a project in which we are trying to improve the employment prospects of vulnerable populations including refugees, people with disabilities, ex-convicts, and LGBT+ individuals. By using this method systematically, I have been able to help design interventions that will target leverage points rather than some peripheral issues.

What was the most impactful project you worked on this year?

I have been a fan of crowdsourcing for a long time; there is so much talent and wisdom out there that most of the time all we need to do is reach out and invite a diverse group of people into our problem-solving processes. The most impactful project I designed and implemented this year is Turkey’s first women-only social innovation challenge. Women have traditionally been excluded from such initiatives due to social and economic constraints imposed on them by society. We must recognise that structural barriers which prevent women from establishing themselves as strong players in the innovation space can only be overcome by taking action to reverse such barriers. I am proud of the fact that we are now in the process of piloting several solutions – most of which have come out as winners in the said challenge. We have provided women innovators with a platform which has already begun to act as a springboard for greater participation of women in social innovation; I cannot think of a more impactful outcome than that.

What is one unexpected learning from 2021?

While I was working on a project on violence against women and girls (VAWG), I came across activists who were often caught between a rock and a hard place when it came to facilitating women’s access to justice. Even in the absence of specialised legal knowledge, common sense tells us that access to justice is a human right and whoever has been affected by violence can seek protection and the law will ensure prosecution also takes place. There was a shocking moment for me when I learned that some activists are of the opinion that women should not always seek their legal rights because if they do, some might be killed.

I do understand where they are coming from; there is a real risk of experiencing further violence—and indeed femicide—if women report the crimes to authorities and found out by the perpetrators. However, I still cannot comprehend how we can ensure VAWG ends if our default position is not to seek prosecution. The other two Ps in the fight to end VAWG, namely prevention and protection, are of course necessary and prevention can be a very effective mechanism. But we know that eliminating gender-based violence through prevention alone is only an aspiration at this stage since no country has achieved it, even the most progressive ones. My exploration of the issue continues…

What’s your favourite memory from the past year?

Announcing the 10 winners of our women-only social innovation challenge on International Women’s Day was without a doubt my favourite moment. Seeing their excitement and pride was worth all the hard work we went through and I am so pleased that we have been able to support them this past year through mentoring, testing their solutions in the field, and providing funding—albeit very small—and partnership opportunities to further develop their solutions for bigger impact.

What’s a tool or technique you’re excited to explore in 2022?

A large part of my role involves utilising foresight and other tools to better prepare for alternative futures. I think it is more needed than ever in the development space as the reality is getting more and more complex each day. Although I have done quite a bit of futures thinking already in my previous work, I am keen to delve deeper into these approaches and tools in 2022. I have always been a future-oriented person, so it just comes naturally to me.

What are your priorities for 2022?

The work I have been doing in the area of climate innovation has been quite fruitful. For several years now, I have worked on waste reduction, nature-based solutions, air pollution, environmental standards, climate literacy and other critical aspects which have all made a positive difference. But I feel we must address the elephant in the room if we want to see real change in terms of the climate and that is this idea that continuous economic growth is necessary for prosperity. The current paradigm, informed by neoliberalism, is undoubtedly not sustainable as it fails to recognise the finite nature of the planet’s resources.

The alternative paradigm, degrowth, is something I am determined to focus on in the next year because I see it as a leverage point in the system. Although the idea is not new, it is still considered fringe by many in the field. There are positive signs that degrowth is gaining popularity but there is so much more work to do. The advances being made in this area by academics like Jason Hickel and Kate Raworth are really encouraging. We now need to mainstream this narrative and make sure it is well understood that environmental sustainability and social wellbeing must be prioritised over anything else despite the push for profit maximisation by the proponents of capitalism.

Who are the mentors and heroes that inspire you?

I have never had a mentor but I am inspired by the achievements of several women including Hellen Keller, Emmeline Pankhurst, Maya Angelou, Angela Davis, Jane Goodall, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and more recently Malala Yousafzai, Kate Raworth, Mariana Mazzucato, and of course all the young climate activists who are fearlessly fighting for their future.

What gets you up in the morning?

My two-year-old daughter is the biggest motivator in my life right now. I am constantly thinking about what kind of a future she is likely to have in the face of the climate crisis, and how I can make a positive difference so that her and other kids’ lives are not defined by how they will ‘survive’ on a burning planet—they all deserve to thrive.