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Zeynep Alpan is the 2017 Ahmet Ertegun Scholar at the Juilliard School of Music where she is stuyding for her master's degree. Zeynep began studying the violin at the age of 5 as part of her music therapy treatment for her diagnosis of speech delay and Auditory Processing Disorder. Almost immediately after being introduced to the violin, Zeynep started to speak. Then, at the early age of 12, Zeynep made her orchestral debut, performing Mendelssohn's violin concerto with the Istanbul Symphony Orchestra. She is a prizewinner in many competitions, and was awarded the Ataturk Youth Acheivement by the Ataturk Society of America in 2015. She has also performed at Carnegie Hall, the Aspen Festival, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
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Chair Murat Köprülü's Opening Speech
Gala Honoree Nevzat Aydın's Speech
For an entrepreneur to be successful, the most important asset is to have a strong will and passion for what he does. Opportunity meets preparation is not enough, you have to be ready and armed with that will, ambition, and love for what you do.
Well, I love food (as you can see) and I love the internet. I was always a passionate one. Even back in my toddler days, as a student, as a young entrepreneur, today as the more grown man before you I can fairly say that passion led me here.
What greater drive can there be than to touch peoples’ lives and make it better, more fun, easier and in our case also tastier! With Yemeksepeti we’ve been shaking and shaping the way people dine in Turkey for the past 16 years. Yes 16 years... And I tell you it hasn’t been easy.
The dot com madness and doing business on the internet in 90s was already the most exciting thing in many developed countries; especially, in the United States. I was in college back then studying computer engineering at Boğaziçi University. In the first 10 minutes I wasinteracting with the internet, I knew I would be doing something about it for the rest of my life. The internet was surely the future.... I had to be part of it.
After graduating, I went to Silicon Valley, to the very heart of it in order to pursue my dreams. When I went there, I realized Silicon Valley is not a location on a map but rather a way of thinking, a lifestyle, a mindset. You can take the man out of Silicon Valley but you cant take Silicon Valley out of the man. There, I had the chance to look at many different business models.
I had my calling. I dropped out of MBA (yes, I am one of those drop outs), came back home, structured Yemeksepeti's business model considering Turkey's needs and dynamics, built my team with the best partners I know and we launched YS in 2001. Yemeksepeti’s business model was a unique one, one never been tried before. We put our users’ satisfaction at first even though restaurants were our money makers. We created a model purely focused on being a marketplace and giving the best ordering experience to our users.
We started Yemeksepeti during the economic crisis and with very little internet usage in the country. The internet was a hard-to-explain concept to people. Imagine how hard it was to explain to restaurants to join our network and our users to try out our way than picking up the phone! It was a time with crazy memories. You know, Yemeksepeti means “food-basket” in Turkish. And I remember we had a basket manufacturer contacting us, saying they want to produce actual food baskets for us, having no clue what we do! So, with a total of 80.000 USD in investments from our own savings we started our journey. Many said we were crazy to start our own business in this unknown world of internet. Even my partners were ready to call the quits at some points but this was a story of perseverance. We believed in Yemeksepeti and the potential of it. For the first 5 years we took no salary and patiently waited not just for the growth of YS but also the internet sector and usage to foster. Glad we did it.
Today we are a team of 500 employees, with 7+ Million users, 14.000 restaurants and receive 200.000 orders daily! We have users from all demographics, all social backgrounds and buying power. We are the go to app/site for college students who just left their mothers home, for young white collars who have little time or patience to cook, for the lovers without the cooking skills but still invited their dates over, and the list goes on. We aimed to be the first thing that comes to peoples’ minds when hungry and I think we reached that goal. We who work in technology have nurtured an especially rare gift: the opportunity to create a difference at an unprecedented scale and rate.
In May 2015, Yemeksepeti had its exit with the highest valuation in Turkish internet history to date. I cannot be any prouder to be a part of this inspirational story.
After the exit we did something very unexpected and never done before in Turkey .. matter of fact in many places in the world. We have shared $27 million of the money with our 147 employees. We did this because if there is a success, we have accomplished it all together. We were not bound by contract to share from the sale, but the employees deserved the acknowledgement and reward. Success is not a one man show and is definitely much bigger when shared. This move made us receive many public eye (not just in TR but internationally as well) and I believe inspired many other leaders and CEO’s out there to do the same as I’ve heard similar stories following ours. I had the privilege to talk to each employee one by one before handing out the bonuses and I tell you it was the second best day of my life after my son’s birth. It was very emotional; there were hugs, laughter, tears of joy (from both sides). Some got married, some bought a car, a home... Knowing that you affect peoples’ life like that is truly priceless.
When it comes to entrepreneurship there is a bigger calling than just personal success. Entrepreneurship is the most effective tool for economic development and job creation for the country; and digital entrepreneurship is the closest thing to being a modern alchemist.
There was a handful of us doing business over the internet back then, now the field has grown big, there are no standards, the opportunities are endless and it’s only going to get bigger and better. We don't know what the next big idea is going to be... But they say 2018 will be the year of IOT. (Sarcastically) I don’t know, we’ll see J
Today I am an active CEO, entrepreneur, mentor, and investor and I hope that YS's success story will be a great inspiration to many out there. I want to say thanks to all my team members and partners. Without you none of this would have happened! We are a big family in Yemeksepeti and everyone is/has been a crucial part of this movement. I also want to thank the General Atlantic team whom invested in us back in 2012, backed us up in every step of the way, helped us grow exponentially and multinationally! You guys always are also family! Cheers to you!
I also want to thank ATS for this meaningful award. For the past 11 years, the Society has been celebrating the outstanding achievements of many inspirational people. I am truly honored to stand before all of you today and share my story. ATS has been doing a tremendous job enhancing business, economic, and cultural ties between Turkey and the United States and fostering understanding and cooperation between the two countries through education, cultural exchange, philanthropy, and networking. Thank you for all your work and efforts.
I want to end my speech by saying: BE BRAVE AND FOLLOW YOUR PASSION! Do it to make your childhood dream come true, do it to create jobs, do it to help economy, do it to make a change in the world, do it to inspire others, It’s most definitely worth it! Let's embrace the energy and vision of Turkey's talent pool to build a brighter, better, stronger, and more inclusive future!
Gala Honoree Dr. Tamer Seçkin's Speech
Thank you for honoring me, American Turkish Society
Editor's note: On May 31, at an NYC gala attended by about 300 guests, The American Turkish Society honored Dr. Tamer Seckin with their Philanthropy Award, marking the first time in the event's nine-year history that a doctor was recognized. Below is an edited excerpt of his heartfelt thank you speech, sans a lengthy list of thank yous to family, medical peers, friends, and colleagues.
I am honored and humbled by your recognition, but I can only accept this award on behalf of my foundation, The Endometriosis Foundation of America, and in the name of the 10 million American women who suffer from this condition, as well as my patients who have trusted and supported the EFA and me.
This foundation was established to help women with endometriosis, a condition, which I'll informally call a Cinderella disease. It is the most undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, untreated, and mistreated women's condition. It is underdiagnosed because today, in 2017, it is still taboo to talk about a woman's period—and endometriosis is all about periods. Endometriosis is solely a menstrual disorder inextricably linked to the discrimination against women because of their menses, their period.
To draw a parallel with another condition that was once controversial to speak of, breast cancer and breasts used to be as taboo as menstruation. When First Lady Betty Ford underwent a mastectomy for breast cancer in 1974, many questions were surrounding her diagnosis and the procedure. Not only did women want to know more about breast cancer, but the medical community did, too, and they listened, researched, and developed treatments. Betty's openness to speak about her breast cancer gave rise to enormous work to aid breast cancer research and awareness.
At that time, the mortality rate due to breast cancer was 90 percent. Out of 10 women, statistics showed nine would die within five years. Today, the reverse is true. Out of 10 women, one will die within five years. It's undeniable: This leap in medical advancement is due to awareness, education, research, early diagnosis and intervention, specifically, surgical intervention.
Circling back to endometriosis, open dialogue, like one Betty created, whether it is between family and friends, or doctor and patient, is key, as well as preventative medicine and surgical intervention, in treating endometriosis.
We have come so far, and yet, we have so far to go.
In Nepal, in December, when a family banished a 15-year-old Nepalese girl to her tiny, cramped menstrual hut, she lit a fire to keep warm during the cold night, and later died of smoke inhalation. Other women in the region have shared her fate or worse. The practice is archaic and barbaric. I mentioned this to Lena Dunham, and in her Lenny Letter newsletter, she coined the term "All-American Menstrual Hut" to discuss the marginalization of women's health issues. Lena is right. With the threat to defund Planned Parenthood, a criminal lack of maternity leave and the taboo of endometriosis and menstruation, we all are living in one, giant, All-American Menstrual Hut, and where there's smoke, there's fire.
An endo patient will experience an average of ten years of delayed diagnosis, botched surgeries, chronic pain, a lowered quality of life, loss of work, and, even worse, possibly infertility and hysterectomy.
How do we expect to treat women's health issues when taboos and misogynistic practices limit communication, research, and progress?
I helped establish the Endometriosis Foundation of America as a commitment to improving the rhetoric and the research. So far, we've taught 20,000 NYC students about the disease. We gave close to $500,000 in endometriosis-related research grants to major universities. Yearly, we hold conferences to educate doctors in advancing the science and surgery of endometriosis treatment.
Still, we have more work to do. I'm talking about starting a revolution. This disease has been ignored for far too long, and speaking up about it alone is a revolution. Standing up for reproductive rights and justice is a revolution.
Thank you to the American Turkish Society for recognizing this important cause and me.
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Join us for a conversation with renowned experts on Turkey and the Middle East who will discuss the new US Administration's potentially changing relationship with Turkey. What can Turkey expect under the new US Administration? Our experts will weigh in on Turkey's options given these uncertain times and challenges.Read More >
Launched in 2007 in memory of Arif Mardin (1932-2006), world-renowned producer/arranger and vice chairman of The American Turkish Society for many years, The Arif Mardin Fellowship is conducted in partnership with Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, where Mardin's successful music career began as the first recipient of the Quincy Jones Scholarship. The Arif Mardin Fellowship allows one student of Turkish descent or nationality to attend the 5-week Summer Performance Program at the Berklee College of Music.
Mehmet Ali Şimaylı is one of our talented Arif Mardin fellows that attended this Program. He shared his experience and memories with ATS.
Mehmet, you were an Arif Mardin Fellow in summer 2016 at Berklee College of Music. How did you hear about this program?
First of all, studying at Berklee was a big dream for me. So I started searching for opportunities to go there. I heard about the Arif Mardin Fellowship and the program from my friends who experienced it in the past years. The 5-week Summer Performance Program was a great chance to take the first step. At that time the application deadline had past, but this way I had a year to prepare my application more thoroughly.
Can you tell us about your studies and your time in Boston?
I had an incredible time in Boston last summer. With the help of the legendary academic team of Berklee I had classes which completely broadened my musical vision and instrumental skills. Also, I was part of the Balkan/Middle Eastern ensemble with my Oud. Together with my musician friends, we gave a concert at the Berklee Performance Center by merging our cultural and musical knowledge. During the summer I became friends with musicians from all over the world who even came to Istanbul to visit me and the other Istanbul-based musicians.
How did the program and the scholarship impact your life and work?
The 5-week Summer Performance Program and the honor of being awarded the Arif Mardin Fellowship by The American Turkish Society made me a more conscious musician and person. It gave me a motivational boost and it affected my musical works a lot.
Do you think the grant brought you more recognition?
Being a musician in Istanbul is challenging. There are lots of great musicians in ?stanbul. From the ones who are recognized around the world to the ones who play at underground stages, I am learning things by playing with them. However, everyone has to have a distinctive feature for being recognized by the community. The Arif Mardin Fellowship gave me the necessary recognition that I need to follow my dream of becoming a full-fledged professional musician.
What projects are you working on right now?
Besides the group projects with which I perform at local places and festivals, I am currently a student in a jazz certificate program which is a great place for me to study jazz, play with ensembles and practice drum set and piano, adhered to the tradition. I am also composing my own music where I try to merge the elements of jazz with the elements of my cultural heritage by making microtonal music, using unique instruments like fretless guitar, local stringed and percussion instruments. I hope I will be publishing them next year.
What’s next for you?
Forecasting my future is a hard thing but I am trying to do the best I can about my musical career. As the next step, I want to study jazz composition and performance in a good music school. I am always searching for new musical ideas and topics. I believe that life will show me the right way to become a professional musician if I don't give up.
Check out Mehmet Ali’s mashup-cover video of two Turkish traditional folk songs here.
Interview by Funda Akın
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As The American Turkish Society, we are very proud to present you with high-quality events, such as our business and policy events. Our well-known, respected speakers from academia, politics and foreign relations give you insight that you can get nowhere else. With your help, we have been organizing great events that connect hundreds of supporters on both a personal and professional level.
We not only provide you with top-notch policy and networking events. We also contribute to greater cultural understanding between the United States and Turkey through our distinct fellowships that support both young and established musicians. The Ahmet Ertegun Memorial Scholarship for talented musicians of Turkish descent at The Juilliard School in New York City continues Mr. Ertegun’s legacy of nurturing talented artists. The Arif Mardin Fellowship allows a student of Turkish descent or nationality to attend the five-week Summer Performance Program at the Berklee College of Music.
The Summer Residency Program at The School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York offers artists an opportunity to work intensively in a private studio and more. Each year SVA offers a special scholarship to Turkish artists that is supported by both ATS and SVA.
Our ATS Moon and Stars Project grants support unique opportunities for Turkish artists, dancers, film makers and others to highlight the changing face of Turkish arts and culture, establishing a cultural interaction between the Unites States and Turkey.
In addition, our Curriculum Development Grants program enhances American teachers’ and students’ knowledge and understanding of Turkey. Teachers are provided with the opportunity to develop special curricula to teach about Turkey, its history, arts and culture. Since 2010 we have supported over 50 teachers reaching out to more than 12,000 students.
Please help us to keep up our good work by donating to The Society or becoming a member. We need your support, your collaboration and participation to keep the ATS community together…now more than ever! Your contribution will go directly into our unique programs and support our artists and community. Thank you for supporting us!
Your contributions are fully tax-deductible.
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