A collaboration between the Habitat Association, The Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB) and Coca-Cola Turkey, helps female restaurant owners with generous grants and training sessions to improve their business acumen.

“I’m originally from Sanliurfa, Suruc. My father was a doctor, and he was assigned to Mersin so we moved as a family when I was 12,” says Rusen Cetiner, one of the grant winners of the ‘My Sister Project’ in 2019.

Cetiner lived in Mersin until she was 25, and then went to Istanbul to study at Yeditepe University’s Department of Gastronomy and Culinary Arts from 2009 to 2013. She had internships in the United States, and then worked 14-hour days for a while at Wyoming’s Jackson Hole, at a fine dining restaurant that catered to a high-end clientele.

All the while she had one goal in mind: To return to Turkey and start her own restaurant. She came back to Mersin in 2013, and opened ‘Bikase  Lokantasi’ a month later.

“Once I had my restaurant, the NGOs in Mersin who saw that I was a small business owner and a woman, alerted me to the ‘My Sister Project’,” the 36-year-old says. “So I applied, along with nine others in 2019, and was selected in August as the winner from Mersin. I went through another round of eliminations, and ended up being one of the ten recipients of the ‘My Sister Grant’.”

Chef Rusen Cetiner in an undated photo.
Chef Rusen Cetiner in an undated photo. (Courtesy of the Habitat Association)

“The ‘My Sister Project’ is a project that aims to empower female business owners and instill an entrepreneurial spirit,” Hilal Gercek tells TRT World. Gercek is the Deputy Secretary-General of the Habitat Association and the Project Coordinator for the My Sister Project. Other stakeholders include The Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB) and Coca-Cola Turkey.

 “This year, we will give 30 women grants. 29 women will have grants of 25,000 TL each (approx. $3,375) , and one woman will receive the special jury prize, which is 40,000 TL (approx. $5,400). The total pot money is 765,000 TL (approx. $103,300),” Gercek explains. Female restaurant owners who employ no more than five people are encouraged to apply. The deadline this year is January 15.

According  to the materials provided by the Habitat Association, in the first stage, “women entrepreneurs in the food and drink industry will be able to submit their online application by 15th of January 2021 with the certificate they receive after completing the online training on the kizkardesim.net website.”

In the second stage, “women entrepreneurs who complete their training on kizkardesim.net will pass through an elimination process after they submit their application.”

The third stage sees, “on a city basis, the applicants with the highest points ... invited to the Online Grant Program Camp, which will last for 2 days and include accelerated training designed for women entrepreneurs.” 

The fourth stage consists of “the final jury evaluation, [where] 30 women with the highest points according to grant receiving criteria will be awarded an entrepreneurship grant. On the last day of the Grant Program Camp, there will be an online ceremony.”

Before the pandemic, the Habitat Association would travel throughout Turkey to cities as diverse as Sanliurfa, Bolu, Diyarbakir and Izmir. Gercek says they plan to continue with training sessions once everything returns to ‘normal’.

“We have reached more than 50,000 women with our activities and training sessions,” Gercek tells TRT World. “Women get inspired by each other’s success, and we build on that,” she muses.

“We teach women how to run a business, how to promote their restaurant, how to market their product on social media – photography, internet marketing, the works,” Gercek adds. “Coca Cola, who funds our programmes, has filmed these women for their adverts on TV, and got great feedback.”

Another positive aspect of the training is that you don’t have to be a Turkish citizen to partake in them. Gercek says that while most training sessions are in Turkish, they also offer Arabic translation on some others which are geared towards refugees.

Rusen Cetiner, the owner of Bikase Lokanta, says being a grant winner has helped her immensely. She says she has bought equipment for her restaurant, and was able to hire more female workers.

“Aside from me, there are eight women and two men who work in my restaurant,” Cetiner tells TRT World. “Before the pandemic, we could seat 50 people and serve about 200 people a day, with 5-6 different dishes cooked daily.”

Cetiner concludes by saying “Thanks to this grant, I was able to grow my business, to hire more women, and to continue my training as a chef, while more training sessions gave me awareness of how to run and promote my business.”

Main photo: The 2019 winners of the 'My Sister Project' grants. Photo courtesy of the Habitat Association.

Source: TRT World