BLUE CHIP INNOVATORS: the future lies in these hands

 –  –  –   For Turkey, and for us all.

It’s a bit frustrating; I’ve yet to see just stories defining hope and potential to this current situation in the Middle East.  That may sound like an interesting perspective on the situation, but while in Turkey I witnessed a very different reality than being broadly portrayed to a global audience. I keep a keen eye looking for any storyline in the press defining leadership in this crisis, something I feel to be so essential in inspiring a generation next to learn from these repeatable mistakes, and cure a stronger foundation for future decisions.  Thus far, in this real-time commingling coverage of the Middle East and Europe – media seems only to be proponents of despair.  What’s even more asinine, at least from my point of view, the copycat reporting of keeping-up with the Turners is not vogue – it’s instead played out with every storyline on every news channel where volumes of noise and little sustenance are repeatedly dumped with little strategy and often less due diligence for purpose of throughput.  

Enough already!  

We need (some) narratives portraying alternative realities in the Middle East. An accurate reporting of stories where people are solving known problems and controlling their own destiny simply to act as a ray of hope for others. Throughout Turkey I witnessed these storylines of human spirit transcending the problem a hand, yet have not seen this presentation of that truth. I met folks of impeccable resolve and resilience that have revigorated my hope in the future, and counter much of this gluttonous noise spewed for nothing more than gross consumption of addictive fodder.  Waiting to tell of these leaders in a retrospective after the crisis mitigates is just too late.  Folks need accurate information in formulating an equitable opinion now.

I must reiterate from past essay – I know this exodus of refugees is an enormous humanitarian issue.  But, those stories are being told by others; by all, potentially the same storyline ad nauseam.  What remains untold in the short-term attention of the ratings-fueled press seems these essential stories of successful perseverance, chivalry and inspiration defining these areas of turmoil. One such story I’d like to share focuses on a very unexpected leader coming from a family who’ve already escaped the terrorism of the south, and despite what seems impossible odds to you and me, have begun to assimilate and integrate themselves into their new Turkish surroundings.  Fundamentally, and potentially more relatable to us all – I believe this story presents a distinct example of where forced innovation can cast a long shadow when cultivated with a mindset of required diplomacy in a shared future on a shrinking planet.

Meet Ahmet and his cousin Ozanpictured above

Two (very) young men who with near immediacy reinvigorated my enthusiasm for what tomorrow can bring when driven by the unbreakable spirit of motivated entrepreneurs. With a 2M populous, Bursa, Turkey sits due south of Istanbul on the Sea of Marmara.  It has a bit of a feel of a poorer version of a Northern California city, but at an order of magnitude higher population density.  What makes this city so unique is not just that it’s tucked throughout the foothills of the 8300 ft elevation Uludag mountain, but that those mountains are in fact – Mount Olympus.  Little did I know when I arrived that the most interesting folklore I’d stumble upon in this original capital of the Ottoman empire would not be of Gods or civilizations thousands of years old, but instead that of two boys collectively barely two decades old.


(600 yr old Sycamore in INKAYA village – a first Ottoman village of Bursa)

During an open afternoon after my organized meetings were completed, I was huffing it up one of the hills behind my hotel on my way to a coffee shop with better than adequate WiFi. The tight and undulating streets of Bursa’s valley basin are a challenge to navigate never-mind when you begin to tackle the mountain itself.  About a kilometer up, I stumbled across two young businessmen operating a pretty impressive logistics company.  Wheeling a modified chariot (as pictured atop) down the incredibly hilly terrain of Mount Olympus, older and bigger cousin Ozan helmed a plastics collections vehicle while younger and charismatic front-of-the-house cousin Ahmet would visit the plastic refuse sites of each house and business along the street.  I had witnessed grown-men doing something similar in Istanbul, but surely not with the same panache nor motivation.  Taking time to make small-talk with local shop-owners, Ahmet worked that street like a master salesman.  It was obvious he was well liked, as many along the way would smile, putting a hand on his little head and frail shoulders with touches of adoration, and respect.  Intrigued, I had to stop and watch these craftsmen operate.

Retracing my steps just to keep an eye on and learn from these two little buggers, in the 15-20 minutes I watched, they’d only stopped working once to satisfy their curiosity as a small pack of street dogs and feral cats interacted. You should’ve seen the proficiency and efficiency for which these two did their job; no supervisor, no teacher, no boss – just work. Not too much older my own kids at home in Boston, as I watched them operate these tight residential streets filled with cars, scooters, buses and more – my first thought was disdain for how their parents could let this happen!  Then, taking my tainted perspective out of their reality, I came to an overwhelming feeling of adulation for these two young entrepreneurs who’ve formulated a business of scrapping plastics as a unique form of forced innovation.  Supremely focused on the task at hand, these two entrepreneurs put a smirk, and then a smile on my face unlike any other engagement during the entire fellowship experience in Turkey or the Netherlands. I was struck with an epiphany – what I’d first thought as unbelievable risk to have two unaccompanied kids who should be in school at that point of the day moving heavy loads down the middle of fast moving traffic was instead one of the finest examples of forced innovation I’ve ever seen. Any feeling of disbelief quickly morphed to- intrigue -to- fascination -to- inspiration. I don’t know the story of their parents, nor of Ahmet and Ozan current living situation, but I know they’re doing what they must to do more than survive, but to learn and establishing a future to thrive in this world. It was truly amazing!

As they pressed on I finally stopped retracing my steps at a point to insure they’d pass on my side of the street.   Ahmet approached not asking for a flat-cash hand-out, he instead asked only for a few Turkish lira (exchange rate is about $1 = 3 lira) for bottled water for himself and his hardworking cousin.  In broken English far better than any second language I speak, 9 year old Ahmet asked “two lira for Su (water); Ozan and me”.  This experience was very different than what I’d recently encountered in the city of Izmir, a large coastal city of 5M south of Bursa. On the Aegean sea, Izmir has become the epicenter of Syrian refugees now receiving an estimated 6000 new inhabitants and/or transient population as day.  I did see plenty of refugee turned entrepreneurs selling everything from street food, wet-naps, balloons and shoe cleaning services while in Turkey, but in Izmir I mostly witnessed folks in need, stuck not knowing what to do, or how to do it. While in Izmir I was afforded a unique learner experience. In effort to help a few of these families in need, I handed 20 lira to each, and became flocked upon until my wallet was empty of all 20 and 50 lira bills. Never feeling threatened, I was followed and harassed by men and woman for not giving equal amounts.  A lesson learned for moving forward.


(Atatürk Monument to Turkish Independence welcomes refugees to Izmir)

But now, looking at this adorable face – this was different.  With Ahmet, I was dealing with businessman. Truth be told, I was awestruck by these two guys. I’ve always been inspired by entrepreneurs who’ve turned a bad circumstance into a positive situation through successful business, but these two cats were taking it to a whole new level.  It was an easy decision, how could I not become an investor in their triple-bottom line business dedicated to cleaning the streets, saving the environment and putting money in their family’s pockets through recycling plastics!  As I emptied my wallet to pick up the cost of a few months of their collections duties – I thought to myself, a few decades from now I might be workings for these businessmen, so I better get in now!

First, and I’ll be clear – this is not what I want for my little ones. Nor probably what Ahmet and Ozan’s folks want for their kids.  But, from a grander perspective – this is a much better reality than they knew in their hometown of Duma Syria, and a much different reality as being told with near singularity by western press. This may be an anomaly, or it could be more of a reality for many of the refugees who equally seek a future of freedom & opportunity. No matter, is presents an impeccable story of hope for a better tomorrow. To me, this also tells of different and more revealing Turkey which has been dealing with Syrian transplants for years.  During that quick chat with Ahmet and Ozan (I’d later learn Ozan spoke no English when he came to check-on his younger and smaller cousin wrapped in a conversation with this American), I realized chivalry and bravery in this world now comes from a very different kind of hero than I would’ve ever expected, and that is uniquely exciting for us all.


(young entrepreneurs are teeming throughout Turkey’s evolving population)

From my experience in the region, the repetitive coverage by Western media of the same stories of despair, cruelty and coercion seem somewhat disingenuous; if nothing else too singular in the depiction of the truth. I heard one prominent Turkish business leader explain it to me as a ‘chumming of the waters’ for news ratings.   This was further validated while staying in Istanbul and Ankara where the only English TV channels I had were CNN & BBC – which reported constantly on the crisis in Syria and throughout Europe.  In each and every report I saw, both media hubs promoted their expertise as immersive or investigative journalists, but the longer I stayed in the region, and the more I saw, I realized that hiding behind that cloak was just not delivering an accurate depiction of the reality I was witnessing.  Surely, that was a reality for many, and truly what I experienced may not be as sexy to report. That said, I began wondering where’s the objectivity, fairness and accuracy to future leaders like Ahmet and Ozan if the reporting of all despair was the only part of the story they heard, what influence would it have on the different storyline they lived?  

My claim of the corruption in mainstream media’s presentation of the truth may drive analogies of potential RNC candidacy for president. In my defense, the clear differential is having no proclamation of media’s equitable treatment of me, but for others. And for that matter, nor can I claim any righteous stance of protecting the victims – as that type of baiting is the premise of my contention with how the story is being told. I would define my claim of unjust representation to fall somewhere in between. In this case – those fighting for themselves are not getting a fair rap, nor a stage to positively influence others. 

As with anything – manipulating a storyline, or data, or for that matter biased scientific reporting (for all my food value compatriots) comes from tweaking the very question you seek to answer.  At a top level, that question asked to be answered can be supported through many means of confirmation bias which, as in this case of the Syrian refugee crisis, reflects only a single perspective to support a desired point of view that may be more captivating news?  Well, I think not, and the well earned bipartisan criticism of media becoming too business centric – looking for only advertising dollars through sex appeal or greater shock & awe seems further validated during these periods where there’s blood in the water.  

Yes, never has an exodus of this proportion been streamed to all corners of the globe with such immediacy and transparency as seen today from the Middle East into Europe. With word that the gates have swung wide open, more than just Syrians have entered this Northern patronage.  Once based on finding freedom and stability, the migration has turned quickly into others from many counties in search of greater opportunity & prosperity. Amongst some of the alternative stories selected to be covered by the press were again underpinned only by despair and turmoil.  Families who’ve finally broken oppression in Syria to just begin an arduous multi-month journey of unknown destination and result, other reported stories have now surfaced of able-bodied men leveraging these families for their own gain.  Claiming fictitious familial relationships with these children and elderly to expedite their positions in the queue to cross a next border, these candy-asses steal the press from true leaders like Ahmet and Ozan.  When afforded expedited access through checkpoints, the process is repeated where these men use a next family or person in need to ‘jump’ closer to the front of each and every line.  In the face of mass tyranny, as explained through media’s many human interest stories focused on those in dire need and peril, the alternative storylines chosen to be reported are now of cowardice & selfishness. 

I believe differently, and as Ahmet and Ozan present to me and hopefully you – our desire to believe in inspirational leaders no matter their age, to believe in those who’ve overcome what seem insurmountable odds, is as a basic a human need as food, water, and love.


(a teenage entrepreneur works hard in keeping us tourists looking good)

The truth is, many do need our help. But, what I find comforting and you should feel reassuring is that there are future leaders like Ahmet and Ozan living through situations likes these. So, no matter how far away you feel from this situation, or if you’ve politically alienated yourself from this or another situation similar on our southern borders – when you’re there and see it first-hand you realize these folks are not that much different than you and me.  And surely no different than my ancestors who a century back fought similar battles in seeking greater stability and opportunity for the future of our bloodline.  We all have the same desires, hopes and dreams and with that understanding and appreciation perspectives will change.  We realize that no matter what media wants to sell to us, we live in a shared tomorrow, and we better start evaluating it as such.

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