KAGIDER: Model for Gender Equality

In Turkey's male-assertive culture, KAGIDER, co-founded by Ms Sanem Oktar, is reversing the trend of gender inequality by raising the number of women entrepreneurs

The Womenz team had an opportunity to Sanem Oktar from Turkey and here’s what she shared with us

Hello Ms. Oktar, please tell us something about you, your education, background etc.

I was born in Izmir in 1970, raised in a family where discipline and order was provided mostly by my mother. I graduated from Izmir Bornova Anadolu High School and got my BA from Marmara University International Relations Department. My professional career started at Colgate Palmolive in the field of marketing. However I have preferred to continue as an entrepreneur. My first company was Tribeca Communication Consultancy, founded in 1997. I founded Tribal Field Marketing Company in 1999, directComm Data Based Marketing Company in 2000 and Limonsocial – a social media company – in 2012. I was among the founding partners of Peppers & Rogers in 2002. At the moment I’m the Chairwoman of Board at directComm Marketing Group.  

So, I guess, I can describe myself as a “serial entrepreneur”. I must say that my family culture helped me a lot to follow the path to my dreams. My family has always supported me in my efforts to realize my dreams.

Please tell us something about The Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Turkey (KAGIDER). How you got introduced to it? How long you are associated with KAGIDER.

The Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey (KAGIDER) was founded in September 2002 by 37 woman entrepreneurs. It is a non-governmental organization working to support women entrepreneurs and strengthen women’s economic, social and political position within society. KAGIDER believes that women entrepreneurs have a strong impact on reversing the trends of gender inequality and women’s economic exclusion.

My relationship with the association has started about 7 years ago. I was chosen among the first 10 women entrepreneurs in Turkey’s Woman Entrepreneur competition in 2010. It was organized by KAGIDER, Garanti Bank and Ekonomist magazine. It was quite a motivating event for me. I was a Board Member of this association between 2013 and 2015. I have been serving as Chairwoman of Board since 2015.

Ms. Sanem Oktar

What is the status of women in Turkey and their contribution to the economy?

Legally women have equal status with men. However laws on paper do not translate themselves into practice 100 %. Women in Turkey are very much underrepresented in the economic, social and political life of Turkey. Only 27.6 % of women are employed and according to TUIK (Turkish Statistical Institute) data for 2016 about 20 million women are not employed. Only 10 – 12 % of top managers are women. Women make up only 8 % of entrepreneurs. These figures are well behind averages of EU or OECD. Although many steps have been taken in recent years to improve this situation and some positive developments took place, it is not enough. There is still a lot to do in order to reach standards of developed countries.    

What are the pressing issues for Women in Turkey?

There is a wide range of issues causing problems for women and causing their exclusion from economic, social and political areas. It starts with a male dominant culture, which sees homework and raising children as the main function of women. It is the main reason that discourages women from seeking a job. TUIK data shows that over 11 million women refers to childcare and work at home as reason for not searching employment. 86 % of children between 0 – 5 years of age are taken care of by their mothers. Even when a woman finds a job, problems continue. We can add low wages, gender based discrimination in promotions, informal and off the book employees to the list of issues for women.

A coordinated effort by the Government and relevant NGO’s, as well as the business world is necessary to solve basic issues that work against women in the society. Steps must be taken in education and economic support policies that would encourage women to seek employment.  

What are the objectives of KAGIDER?


We can list our objectives as below;


Achieving equal opportunities in the society and at the work place,

Supporting women through education, mentorship programs and role models,

Ensuring an efficient place in decision making processes for women,

Empowerment of women by increasing woman entrepreneurship,

Supporting networking between women,

Producing information and content, efficiently monitoring projects and their targets,

Supporting creation of policies in favor of equality,

Improvement of children and geriatric care services.

What are the initiatives undertaken by KAGIDER for empowerment of Women in Turkey?

We have determined strategies to reach our objectives and engaged in many activities. These initiatives aim to support and facilitate women entrepreneurship, through education, information and motivation.

Our basic strategies are;

Increasing number of women in business world and promote women entrepreneurship,

Providing trainings and mentoring to women in order to facilitate their entrance to business and entrepreneurship, 

Extending impact of KAGIDER activities to all over Turkey and raising awareness about our association,

Supporting the legal base for the development for women entrepreneurship while providing a road map for financial access, 

Supporting KAGIDER members to grow their business,

Encouraging and supporting young women for entry into business and entrepreneurship while continuing their education, 

Becoming a reference point for supporting women entrepreneurship and developing content and technological activities in women’s careers at national and international level.

In line with these strategies, we collaborate with other NGO’s, Government agencies and companies to implement a wide range of programs and projects.  I would like to give some examples.

In 2010 KAGIDER launched “Women Leaders of the Future Project” to train young women who are university graduates or senior university students in order to prepare them for norms, requirements, and general environment of the business life. It is a four day training program consisting of preparing CV, basic transferable skills, interview simulation and basic information on different lines of business. We try to provide an entrepreneurial spirit and to encourage activism in this program. Hundreds of young women aged between 21 and 25 have completed this program.  

KAGIDER’s “Compass Project” is an online platform with entrepreneurial trainings and modules aimed at reaching a wide variety of Turkish women. Its overall aim is to increase the number of women entrepreneurs and women employment. The platform “I am Establishing My Business” includes modules on information and data for new entrepreneurs, inspirational success stories and support for access to finance. KAGIDER’s partnership with Isik University in establishing this online portal provides the academic and practical support in carrying out and developing these trainings. 

Since 2007 “Turkey's Woman Entrepreneur Competition” has been organized by KAGIDER, Garanti Bank, and the Ekonomist Magazine. The objective is to boost the business and social entrepreneurship spirit of women in our country, and help their numbers grow to global levels.

Within the scope of the competition, projects and success stories of women who do business throughout Turkey are considered. It aims to encourage women entrepreneurs and publicize their success stories to set an example for women all over Turkey. 

“Women Leaders of Technology Awards” competition is organized by KAGIDER and Microsoft in order to celebrate the success and leadership of women who lead in technology. 

The project aims to encourage women leaders in technology and promote role models. Women are awarded in 9 categories. 

Under the Technical Assistance of the World Bank, KAGIDER has developed the “Gender Equality Model for Turkey” (FEM) concentrating on equal opportunities in the workplace. The objective of the project is to help the private sector focus on key elements integral in promoting gender equality in the workplace, marketplace and community. It promotes gender equality in employment, wages while enhancing the productivity of women in the Turkish labor force.  

We also conduct different programs to support active women entrepreneurs, by providing information, know – how and developing business network for them. These activities include “B2B KAGIDER Business Days” and “Women Entrepreneurs Meetings” that we organize with Garanti Bank allover Turkey. 

We have also hosted an important event this year. “The Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum” (WVEF), organized by the International Trade Centre (ITC) and KAGIDER, took place on 23-24 February 2017 in Istanbul, Turkey.

WVEF 2017 attracted more than 360 participants from Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America, who had business meetings with representatives from more than 50 buying companies, including Mercedes-Benz Turkey, Deloitte, Garanti Bank, Boyner Holding, General Electric, Allianz Turkey, Danone / Nutricia Early Life Nutrition, Procter & Gamble and Microsoft Turkey. Over 1000 bilateral meetings that lead to up to USD 10 million worth of business opportunities..

KAGIDER also provides its members access to global supply chains through its partnership with Weconnect International. 

Please tell us more about ‘Equal opportunity model’

The Gender Equality Certification Program is voluntary and it is offered to companies, and organizations that wish to demonstrate their commitment to gender equity. A certificate is awarded to organizations whose policies and practices meet certain criteria.  The model is designed to be audited by independent agencies that will issue a recommendation related to the status of the organization that has been evaluated. The criteria include; 


CEO Declaration and Commitment to Equal Opportunities,
2. Equal Opportunities in Job Recruitment and Selection,
3. Equality in Access to Trainings and Self-Improvement Activities, 
4. Equality in Promotions and Career Development Opportunities, 
5. Career Support Procedures for Employees with Children,
6. Procedures against Harassment and Complain Management in the Workplace,
7. Communications Language and Corporate Advertisements.

About 20 leading companies have received this certificate so far and the number increases consistently. 

Please tell us about Young KAGIDER

Appealing to youth and creating awareness for them in basic issues is a priority for us. Young KAGIDER, one of the successful projects of KAGIDER, aims to develop and increase the awareness of gender equality among young people between the ages of 18-30 and to increase entrepreneurial activities by supporting their productivity and to create and increase the passion of young women in business life. Young KAGIDER has interactive panels, various trainings and projects, talks with leaders and it offers internship opportunities for young people. 

What are the plans of KAGIDER for next 5 years

We aim to encourage women’s employment and women entrepreneurship and to give support and vision to young women for their future plans. Therefore we will continue our activities at an increasing pace. Our basic target is to increase the level of women employment to 41 % by 2025. 

One of our targets is to have more women included in public and private sectors’ purchasing processes. We want to increase women entrepreneurs’ national and international trade. Within this scope, we work on persuading the Government for a new law for public tenders. We have also started the campaign for public and private sector titled, “Buy from Women, Let the Country Win”. It aims to promote purchases from women entrepreneurs. 

Another project that we are working on is to develop a model in Turkey for care of children, old and sick people.

How are you addressing the financial needs to run KAGIDER initiative?

Our basic source of revenue is the membership fee and a great majority of our projects are sponsored.

As a woman did you face any hurdles in your journey? If yes, how you faced and conquered them?

All women have to live through additional problems in business life. It comes from the fact that you are a woman. You have to survive and march in a male dominant cultural environment. When there is no strong corporate culture based on gender equality, there are problems. I’m no exception. I had to cope with male dominated cultural environment. I was determined to overcome them and I did. However, I was very particular and careful to create an equality culture in the companies that I founded.   


Does the cultural norms in Turkey support Gender equality. How are you addressing it?

Turkey suffers from a male dominant culture, which places women to a secondary place in all layers of life, including business. According to this culture, woman’s main responsibilities lie in her home and children. This approach helps to exclude women from education, employment and business world. Many important policies and laws have been launched to remedy the problem of under employment of women. After all by excluding them, you are wasting half of your society’s potential and energy, which would help so much for development and welfare of the country. However solution starts with challenging this culture, creating awareness against it, providing a good education for all children and youth.

As KAGIDER we have been working actively in the fields of education and awareness creation. However this is everyone’s responsibility. Government, business world and NGO’s should work harder to break the male dominant culture at home, in the work place, in every layer of daily life. 


Any message to aspiring women out there who are struggling to prove themselves?

Do not forget that not every good idea is a good business plan. So think well before starting it and consult to experienced business people if you can. If you are sure of your idea, then my advice is to work hard, fight difficulties without losing heart and see every problem as an opportunity to move forward.

Sanem Oktar, we at TheWomenz team express our earnest appreciation for sharing your unique story with us. We believe it will surely stimulate fellow women in every country and continent in the world. 

Sanem Oktar can be reached on Linkedin, TwitterInstagram & Facebook

Here is small video on the projects initiated by KAGIDER

First Published: 03-Sep-2017- 17:56