Colorful Stories

  1. GRIT: What it takes to succeed

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    GRIT: What it takes to receive the Sena Eken Schieber Economics Award


    We see time and time again that grit and perseverance lead us path to success – and we this proved true again with Ipek, a scholarship recipient of the Sena Eken Schieber Economics Award currently studying at Duke University.

    Growing up in Antalya, Ipek explained her high school was not one of the top in the country but she never let this interfere with her determination for success in the university entrance exam. Focusing on the exam and studying hard in addition to what she had already achieved in school, she ranked extremely high. (Placing 408 out of 2 million test takers). Her high test scores claimed her a spot in, what she calls, Turkey’s best: Boğaziçi University. Four years later, overcoming numerous challenges, she graduated fourth in her department.

    Now with all doors open to her, Ipek faced the decision of getting a job or continuing her education. She had always wanted to study in the United States but because of the cost of tuition, she first had to find ways to make it financially possible. Neither she nor any of her family members had ever been to the U.S. before! Ipek was introduced to the Sena Eken Schieber Economics award through one of her professors at Boğaziçi University.  She had already been accepted to Duke University in the field of economics – it was as if the scholarship was made for her. Ipek’s hard work had paid off and her interviewers could see that she would live up Sena Eken Schieber’s expectations in its scholarship recipients.

    After 15 months of living far from her family, her country, her culture – she feels she’s grown remarkably. She credits the distance from home, the wonderful environment at Duke as well as her new diverse group of friends, from Mexico to Italy to China and more that helped build her independence and courage.

    When TPF spoke with Ipek recently, it was clear that she had already blended into the culture. She spoke confidently of her future career goals – to work in the U.S. for now –potentially at a tech company on behavioral analysis.

    Ipek’s recommendation for potential scholarship recipients and those moving to the US for education: Get out of your comfort zone! Always trust in yourself.

    When Ipek was still in Turkey, she was encouraged by professors in Istanbul to stay in Turkey to study her masters, but she felt the opportunities at Duke and in the US surpassed what was available in Turkey – so she trusted in herself to make the big move.

    Interested in applying for the Sena Eken Schieber Award? Learn more here.


  2. 7 Hours and 47 minutes at -58F°

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    A Colorful Story by Ahmet H Uysal

    It took four flights and seventeen hours to get to the North Pole from Istanbul. But to me, that is a small price to pay for impact I was hoping to make in the lives of children in the picture above. I ran against the wind for 7 hours and 47 minutes in -58F° weather, and every mile was worth it.

    The unfolding of the events was mere coincidence. I always wanted to travel to the North Pole and thought about doing a ski expedition. Once I started to research the region, I found about the North Pole Marathon, a 42 km running track on snow in extreme weather conditions. It was one of the most challenging competitions I had ever heard of. I wanted to be the first person from Turkey to run at the North Pole Marathon. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I am not an athlete and, to be honest, running has never been a strength of mine. I needed serious training to get into shape and to learn how to survive in freezing temperatures. There were many barriers that I had to overcome.

    That’s when I thought about dedicating this adventure to a cause I believed in. I asked myself, what moved me so much that I wouldn’t give up on my mission? Ever since I was a child my parents supported the education of children in need around us. Schooling has been always in the heart of my family and I knew nothing could motivate me more than being able to make a change in the lives of children.

    My next step was to choose an organization to help facilitate the cause. I wanted to ensure my funds raised would reach the right people and be used effectively. After meeting the team at TEGV, I was very impressed. TEGV’s mission is to reach and empower as many children as possible throughout Turkey. We discussed focusing my fundraiser on one of their oldest education centers which lacked resources to operate the following year. The center was in Pervari, Siirt. Coincidentially, their annual operational budget of 86,000 to provide workshops to 750 children, matched my fundraising goal. I had never been to Siirt but I traveled to Southeastern Anatolia and loved it. I had made up my mind. I was going to run for TEGV.

    Along with my biggest supporters, my daughters Anka and Ada got to work. Together, we made a list of my friends and determined strategies on how to engage each one of them. We wrote letters and messages and even produced a short video about my fundraiser. Myself and TEGV tirelessly promoted the campaign. As the word got out, donations started to pour in. In six weeks, my fundraiser had mobilized 144 people. Even my friends from college and colleagues in the States contributed through Turkish Philanthropy Funds. In the end, we ended up raising 188,000, way more than our initial goal. That translates to reaching 1,500 children, double the original amount.

    All the while, I began my training sessions. I started at four days a week but later increased to six, never missing a single session. As it was impossible for me to exercise in the conditions that I would race in the North Pole, I tried to find regions with similar climate in Turkey. I wanted to test my clothing and equipment. The best option I could find was Çıldır Lake in Ardahan. The temperature was 23F, nowhere close to the North Pole, but at least the lake was frozen enough to run on. Along with physical training, I prepared myself mentally for this challenging journey.

    After five months of training and fundraising, race day had arrived. I flew from Istanbul to Oslo, and then to Tromso, and finally arrived at one of the northernmost villages, Svalbard. From there, I flew with a Russian plane to the North Pole camp. I was finally there along with 54 other contestants from different nations. It was more exhausting yet more beautiful than I imagined. I was on the top of the world, literally standing on thick ice of the Arctic Ocean and watching the endless horizon. The run was a 3.3 km route. As the race started, I did my best not to think about the cold, and the fact that I was running on an ice sheet above the ocean. With frozen clothes on my back and all the while remembering the purpose of my race, I finally finished in 22nd place.

    It’s a traditional celebration for North Pole runners to jump into the icy water through cracked ice after the race, and that’s what I did. Despite the cold and fatigue, I jumped into the freezing water with other contestants.

    Later, as I returned to Turkey and visited the children in Pervari, I was greeted like family accompanied by “Welcome Ahmet Abi” signs. My hard work had paid off. My friends and family’s hard work had paid off. We had collectively come together to make an impact and it felt fantastic. 

  3. Our Forever Growing Family.

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    colorful aylin tashman kimA Colorful Story by Aylin Tashman Kim

    As a first-generation American born and raised in Arizona, I always longed for my extended family and waited for summer when I would travel to Istanbul to see my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I envied my school friends who grew up close to their relatives and shared weekends and vacations with them. In my late teens, our small family of four slowly started to transform into a more dynamic and bigger one than I could have ever wished for. Through my parent’s involvement with philanthropy we found ourselves in a loving community that has continued to grow over the past 15 years.

    My grandmother, Zehra Tashman, whose name I proudly carry as my middle name, was the pioneer in our family. She wasn’t allowed to go to school after 5th grade. Her older brother who was the head of their house believed that it was inappropriate for girls to go to school. Even though she was forced to spend her days at home and help with cooking and cleaning, she never let go of her passion to learn. She would read anything she could get her hands on, and she was the main reason why all novels and magazines in their house wore off. She would try to learn a new skill in every opportunity she got. Today, she is celebrating her 99th birthday and still our source of inspiration with her determination and endless energy.

    When my father, Haldun Tashman and his brother were born, my grandparents were struggling financially. They owned a small shop on the main street of Bolu yet they couldn’t even afford to have any employees. My Babaanne had the foresight to believe that education was going to be her children’s path to financial freedom and success—a vision she was willing to sacrifice her own lifestyle for. My father was only five years old when he started to help my grandfather at his shop. After school, he would take his place at the back of the counter and work as a cashier. That’s where he learned the key elements of business, the value of money and fundamentals of entrepreneurship at a very young age. It was out of question for my father and his brother to quit school and help their father full-time because of my grandmother. She insisted that education should always be their priority. Through her tremendous influence, the importance of education was imprinted on my father, and he worked very hard to excel at school.

    His efforts were recognized and rewarded with scholarships. He graduated from Tarsus American College and then Robert College with top marks in almost every subject. Upon his graduation from Boğaziçi University, Dad got the most amazing news – he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study at Columbia Business School in New York City. Wide-eyed, he packed his luggage and came to the United States. It wasn’t easy for his family to see him leave but they knew it was the gateway that could change his life forever.

    That’s when the new chapter of his life began. Beyond grateful for this opportunity, my father really focused on making the most of it. Upon graduation from Columbia, he dived straight into the corporate world and joined Deloitte in New York City. Ten years later, combining his experiences from the small town- small shop as a child with those from the big city-big corporation, he developed a clearer vision for his career and saw great potential for growth at a small plastics manufacturing company in Phoenix, Arizona. Within a few years, he was made partner and the CFO. Life in Phoenix also brought him the most important person in his life, my mother, Nihal, who came to Phoenix to visit her sister.

    As a young child, I remember my father often working late and even spending his time at home behind books finishing a work project. However, he always managed to find time to spend with us. No matter how we shared our time, his conversations with us always focused on strong family values, hard work ethic and the importance of education–the very same drivers behind his journey from Turkey to the US!

    My father has always been immensely grateful for the opportunity to study business administration at Columbia University as it changed his life. If he stayed in Turkey, he would probably take over my grandfather’s shop and make sure that it was sustainable. But today, he is in a completely different place because of the chances he was offered in the U.S. Thankful for every moment of this journey, he was determined to create that very same opportunity for others. Looking for a vehicle to realize this dream, my mother and father decided to use their local community foundation and established a donor advised fund at Arizona Community Foundation (ACF) to provide scholarships at his alma matter for MBA students from Turkey. With each promising student they supported, our family started to grow. It has become a tradition to host a dinner at our home with these scholarship recipients not only to welcome them into our family, but also so that my parents could engage, support, and inspire these talented young men and women. My parents took the time to get to know each Tashman Family Scholar, discovering their passions and strengths and guiding them just as they did their own children.

    However, providing equal opportunities in education didn’t fully satisfy my mother and father. Once they saw the impact of their philanthropy and the fulfillment it brought to them, my parents wanted to do more. As their involvement grew deeper at ACF, they began to understand how the unique structure of a community foundation could benefit Turkey. As a result, they decided to establish the first community foundation in the U.S. with a focus on Turkey. Encouraged and motivated by my mother, my father rolled up his sleeves, conducted a feasibility study and began to reach out to other Turkish Americans who might be interested giving back to their home country. Eagerly, four others joined them and in 2007, Turkish Philanthropy Funds was launched, appropriately headquartered in NYC.

    Within months, my parents found themselves surrounded by hundreds of like-minded inspirational philanthropists. And, my sister and I found ourselves in a family greater than any we dreamed of as kids. Nothing makes us happier as a family than to meet with others who share our passion for giving back to Turkey. It has been a journey full of wonder to start out as a handful of people and now be surrounded by a teeming network of exceptionally kind and generous young professionals, students, business leaders, entrepreneurs, and community leaders. Determined to do our best to contribute to our growing family, my husband Louis and I joined the Founders Society as one of the first members, established a donor advised fund at TPF through which we have supported various educational initiatives, and continue to support TPF’s endowment so the foundation can be self-sustainable. Our journey in philanthropy is just the beginning, but we are indebted to Haldun and Nihal Tashman for leading the way. Here is to our forever growing family!

    Learn More About Founders Society

  4. Çaykışla Diary

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    nick with kids A Colorful Story by Nick Porcaro

    Nearing retirement, I had for a number of years felt the need to give back for the opportunities I have had. In 2007 a Special-Needs High School in Massachusetts had been trying to expand their campus without success due to design and budget constraints. I offered to donate my services and after several months of rework the groundbreaking got underway. This experience pointed my thoughts of giving back toward education, then my questions became what to give, where and how?

    In 1965, I was awarded one year Fulbright Scholarship for senior study at METU (Middle Eastern Technical University)’s School of Architecture. That year I had many wonderful experiences and made many wonderful friends, least of which was Ayşe, my loving wife of 50 years. A few years later by invitation I returned to METU as an architectural design instructor. This allowed me to spend a lot more time with Ayşe’s family. During that year my father-in-law, Esat Egesoy, a professor of Mathematics at Ankara University, using no reference to English taught me not only the Turkish language but most importantly the nuances of its inseparable culture. A gift I still treasure today.

    Prof. Dr. Esat Egesoy was the first member in his family to receive a complete education. Born on the island of Cos, which was ruled by the Ottoman Empire until World War I and coming from a Turkish family, Esat’s parents didn’t see a viable future for him on the occupied island. So at the tender age of 11 they sent their son to a boarding school in Izmir. Education changed Esat’s life in every way. To be able to change the lives of others, he became an educator himself. His biggest dream of building a school for needy students was sadly curtailed as he died of heart failure at the age of 53. So the “what” became clear to me – I would give back in education in his honor – but where?

    With TPF’s guidance, especially Haldun Tashman’s, I met with the Governor of Adapazari. He pointed me to Caykisla, a small village outside of Adapazari, famous for its cuisine. At that time, in 2007, the population of Caykisla was around 1500. Most of them were Bosnian immigrants who settled there during the Turkish War of Independence and made their living by farming. Caykisla had only 72 houses, mostly dirt roads and no post office and it was one of those unfortunate villages seriously hit by the 1999 earthquake. During my visit, I learned that its only school was never rebuilt but temporarily and hurriedly replaced by using crude metal construction after it was demolished by the earthquake. The original school building was totally destroyed and its metal replacement was grossly inadequate and in poor condition both physically and environmentally. Over-crowded classrooms, one cabinet for a library, poor ventilation and a host of other health and safety hazards were the norm. Despite all these negative aspects, students were full of life, curious and eager to learn. After witnessing these heartbreaking conditions, it was easy for me to decided on the “where.”

    I received an amazing amount of enthusiasm and support from the Governor to the local Adapazari Ministry of Education to the village officials and families for our project. Since my savings were not sufficient to finance the engineering and construction of a new school, I opened the ”Porcaro Education Fund” at TPF and began soliciting more funds. I spent a year traveling and speaking about this project all over Turkey and U.S. I was fortunate to meet two twin sisters: Nesli and Asli Basgoz in 2008. Nesli is an infectious disease doctor who lives in Boston while Asli is a corporate lawyer in Istanbul. The Basgoz sisters lost their mother, Bedia Basgoz in 2007. Bedia Basgoz put a lot of emphasis to succeed through education so when they heard about the project, they joined me as equal funding partners. The Esat Egesoy Bedia Basgoz Ilkogretim Okulu was realized. Together, we met so many generous people while promoting our project. Some people donated funds while some donated their works. Our construction contractor donated many extras, the construction engineer donated their services, the Hendik Nursery donated 110 trees and in order to complete the final funding required to start the project, the local Ministry donated concrete.

    When I first decided to realize my father-in-law’s dream, I thought I was alone. But along the journey, many others who believed in the power of education joined me. Together, we created not only a school, but also a future for Caykisla children. The school we constructed ground-up stands as modern, safe and earthquake-proof structure not only for the children of Caykisla, but for the two nearby villages as well. So the “how” was realized by early 2010 with an unforgettable dedication ceremony provided by the local Ministry.

    But that’s not all. Sadly, no student from these villages ever attended college. We were determined to change this. Since the school’s completion in 2010, we have been funding a scholarship program for after-school college preparation study for 10 to 15 students each year. Last year several of these students entered college. This program is administered by TPF in the US and TEV in Turkey. In addition to Nesli, Asli, Ayse and I, we receive generous support from others for the continuation of the program.

    Today, the school is sited on one acre; is a two-story structure with an elevator; and has eight large classrooms, a library room, a science and teachers’ room and a kindergarten classroom. It serves three villages and is populated with 250 bright and eager students. What’s missing and needed is a lunchroom and a gymnasium. This is the “what’s next” in Esat’s and Bedia’s dream.

  5. A True “Abi”: Remembering Ziya G. Boyacıgiller

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    unnamedA Colorful Story by Nakiye A. Boyacıgiller, Ph.D.

    Two years ago I lost the love of my life, my husband of 39 years (sweetheart for 43), Ziya G. Boyacıgiller. When our friends at TPF asked me to write about Ziya, a founding partner and board member of the organization, I hesitated. How should I describe such an amazing man with so many wonderful attributes to those who might have never met him? Ziya did not like talking about himself; one of his main qualities, indeed was his humility. I believe this makes it even more important to tell his story.

    We met in our first year at Boğaziçi University (then still Robert College) and started dating that summer. I was immediately attracted to Ziya not just for his good looks and intelligence, but because he was a young renaissance man. An electrical engineering student, he played the violin, loved jazz, had a brown belt in judo and a great sense of humor. I fell in love almost instantly…and fortunately, so did he.

    While at Boğaziçi I fell in love not only with Ziya but with university life as well and decided to pursue an academic career. That meant moving to the US for graduate school. Ziya was not keen to move, but fortunately he was keen for us to stay together. We applied to several schools, among the schools that accepted both of us, UCLA, was our first choice—and thus began our life in the US.

    Ziya worked nonstop during our two years at UCLA. Being a top ranked engineering program, the classes were more challenging than he expected. In addition, as he didn’t want to be a financial burden on his parents, he sought work on campus. Initially, the only work he could find was as a busboy at the university cafeteria. I hated seeing him busing tables, to which he replied, ‘All work is honorable.” Throughout his life Ziya always treated everyone with respect; this made him loved by people from all walks of life. This is undoubtedly a lesson he learned from his father, Abdurrahman Boyacigiller, who was a member of Turkey’s parliament during the early 1950’s. Abdurrahman Baba was a hardworking, idealistic lawyer who worked tirelessly for the young republic. Though he was forced out of politics while still relatively young he always retained his hopes for Turkey and his desire to make a difference in people’s lives. Ziya was very much his father’s son.

    From the outside Ziya and I appeared very different, a classic rendition of opposites attract. Yet we shared many of the same values, and this is what I believe is what is most important in a good marriage. While love of family was always our number one priority, we both worked to achieve success in our professions. We also wanted to make a contribution in our community; this would be a leitmotif throughout our married life.

    For example, while at UCLA we were both active in the Turkish Students Association. Ziya’s talent for cooking first shone at a campus food fair where the Turkish booth was the most popular (thanks to his kadın budu köftesi, and irmik helvası). In later years, Ziya’s desire to introduce Turkish cuisine to a wider audience and willingness to contribute to his community found us often doing fundraisers in our home showcasing his culinary talents. Legendary amongst these are the time he baked 20 trays (!) of baklava for the Monterey Cultural Festival and the Turkish dinner parties that became a favorite of the annual fundraiser at Castilleja School which Belkıs and Esen attended.

    Upon graduation from UCLA Ziya joined Intersil as a design engineer and our Silicon Valley odyssey began. While his seniors were designing integrated circuits by hand, Ziya was of the new generation using computer aided design. A few years later, he joined Maxim as one of their first team members. After many years of working as an engineer at Maxim, he moved onto the managerial side. That was one of the best decisions he ever made. While his training and early success was in engineering, he really shone as a business manager and master strategist. As he shared his wisdom and kindness, his seminars on self-development and business strategies at Maxim soon became quite famous. In fact, Maxim’s current CEO, Tunç Doluca, wrote Ziya just before his passing that Maxim still uses many of the methodologies introduced by Ziya.

    In 2000, after working for 17 years at a pretty relentless pace at Maxim, Ziya decided to take early retirement. He began investing in start-ups as an angel investor, teaching entrepreneurship at my university, and taking cello lessons (starting cello at age 50 is a great example of Ziya’s growth mind-set). He vowed to play in public by age 60; which he did at his niece Ceylan’s wedding.

    Ziya’s “retirement” was to be short-lived. In 2003, I was recruited to join Sabancı University in Istanbul as dean of their business school. After having spent our entire careers in California, Ziya and I decided it was time to give back to our home country and also spend time with our ailing parents. I wondered what Ziya would do while I was working long hours at Sabancı; I need not have worried. Entrepreneurship was just taking off in Turkey and soon Ziya was in demand everywhere. He taught Entrepreneurship at Sabancı University, was a founding partner at Galata Business Angels, and an advisor at Endeavor. He was an angel investor and board member at Airties, Artesis and Vistek among others. He was invited to several advisory meetings for the Turkish government and this is just a partial list! My retired sweetheart was working at almost a full time pace.

    In time, Ziya began to be referred to as ‘Ziya Abi’ by Istanbul’s young entrepreneurs. In case you are not familiar with the word, “Abi” translates to older brother in Turkish. It is also used as an adjective to emphasize respect and sincerity for those people you are not related to. This was the case for Ziya. His kindness and generosity of spirit made him the Ziya Abi of Istanbul’s entrepreneurship eco-system.

    Indeed, I think Ziya’s most important role was as mentor to young entrepreneurs. What made him such a great mentor? His generosity and humility were important factors. But I think what made him such an appreciated mentor was that he was a great teacher. His way of teaching was not telling you what to do, but asking you questions, to get you to think. Even while at Maxim, younger colleagues remember the question he asked them during the interview process “If I gave you a roll of tape and told you only the diameter of the tape, how would you go about determining how much tape the roll had without actually unrolling it?” He was more interested in seeing how young engineers approached problems…not simply the answer itself.

    Ziya lives on, in so many ways. I see many examples of him in our daughters, Belkıs and Esen. Their senses of humor, love of cooking, and music come from their father. The companies he helped to grow, chiefly Maxim, but also Airties, Artesis, and several others are also part of his legacy. He did so much to help grow the entrepreneurship eco-system in Turkey. Yet for me, Ziya’s legacy is in how he touched people’s hearts:

    · “Ziya Abi was an exemplary person. Even in our everyday life, we will continue to handle difficult situations by asking ourselves, ‘How would Ziya Abi approach this?’ ” Alper Yegin, Head of Standards at Actility, Chairman of Technical Committee at LoRa Alliance

    · “Ziya Abi was a super mentor. When asked a question, instead of answering it directly, he would, in his usual calm manner, ask the right questions to lead the entrepreneur not only to find his/her own answers, but at the same time building his/her confidence.” Dr. Aytul Ercil, Partner and CEO at Vispera Information Technologies; President, International Women’s Forum

    His passion for development and moving forward wasn’t just dedicated to entrepreneurship. Ziya grew up in a family where women participated in the workforce. His mother was a true Cumhuriyet Kadını (woman of the Republic) working full time as a schoolteacher. It is thus not surprising that he ended up being extremely supportive of my career and wanting to see our daughters, Belkıs and Esen grow up as strong women. As a man surrounded by dynamic women all his life, Ziya was a big supporter of women’s empowerment as well as education. He always said that the only way for Turkey to move forward would be through fuller participation of women in the workforce.

    Ziya’s interest in philanthropy took a new turn when he heard about an idea of establishing a community foundation, which was designed to work as a bridge between Turkish American donors and Turkey – Turkish Philanthropy Funds. He wanted to get involved immediately. In addition to becoming one of TPF’s founding partners, he also served as a Board Member and nourished the organization with his insightful ideas and experience.

    Sadly, Ziya passed away almost three years ago at the age of 62, due to a rare form of cancer. As his family, we are devastated by our loss. Yet we find solace in how Ziya approached death and the outpouring of love shown by all the people whose lives he touched. Ziya met death in total peace; he felt that he had lived a good life and had no regrets. Friends and family in California surrounded us during his treatment and in Istanbul where he was laid to rest. Then, TPF’s Board of Directors established a memorial fund to support worthwhile projects in entrepreneurship, education and women empowerment in Ziya’s name- the Ziya Boyacıgiller Memorial Fund. Afterwards, they handed me the management of this significant gift for Ziya. We as a family are also contributing to this fund as have his friends.

    Since Ziya’s passing he has been honored posthumously by Galata Business Angels, by the 3G Platform and the Antalya Businesswomen’s Association. The young fellows at the Entrepreneurship Foundation put together a beautiful book of essays about Ziya. I have received heartfelt messages from Ziya’s many friends, colleagues and mentees. All of these remind me that what is important is not how long you live, but how many lives you influence during your time on earth. I find tremendous peace in knowing that Ziya lives on in the hearts and minds of his many friends, his family and countless mentees and through our work at TPF.

    For more on Ziya and his teachings on entrepreneurship and management go to