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Manohur Chand Poonyth

August 4, 2022  .  8 min read  .  1680

Half-year round-up: Interview with Istanbul&I’s Executive Coordinator, Manohur Chand Poonyth

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What has been the highlight of the first half of 2022?

November 2022 will be our 5th year as a registered NGO in Turkey. What amazes me at Istanbul&I is the amount of effort that dedicated volunteers put into running the organization! I’ve been a volunteer at Istanbul&I since December 2019 and today, as the Executive Coordinator, I have to say that the fuel of this youth-led organization is commitment and dedication to creating a safe space for everyone! I would say that the highlight of 2022 was making fewer compromises and setting more realistic goals!

What changes did you make? 

Over the years, Istanbul&I has done different forms of social inclusion and community service activities ranging from our annual Iftar&Community during Ramadan, Culture Nights, all the way up to other initiatives such as activity-based clubs. One of the major changes that the Executive Board made this year was to redefine the areas of activities on which the NGO can focus on. This year, we framed our activities using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It is a theory of psychology explaining human motivation based on the pursuit of different levels of needs. We aim to be more impactful as an NGO by channeling our resources to provide for the top 3 tiers of the hierarchy which are love and belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs. Within this scope, the five areas of activities are Community Services, Art and Culture, Education, Social Inclusion & Integration, and lastly, providing an ecosystem for people to develop their ideas in our community center! By doing so we can work to fulfill our mission. Following that, we are focusing on establishing collaborations with local partners and working together with them to give back to the host community. Last, we also worked on internal structures to establish better workflow within the organization.

What were some of the planned projects for 2022 that are now active?

The Youth4Youth Mentorship Program. At the end of 2021, the previous Executive Board came up with a project called the Youth4Youth Mentorship Program. Ambitious, this program was prepared with the hope of securing a grant to launch it. The Y4Y Mentorship Program required a budget of 26,438.68 USD but unfortunately, the grant was not approved. On the other hand, our yearly fundraising had a poor run and we collected only 7503 USD. We kicked off 2022 with a tight budget and the launching of Y4Y could not be a matter of priority. At this stage, we are reworking the scope of the Youth4Youth Mentorship Program and setting realistic goals for the program and the NGO. 

Language Exchange Event. Istanbul&I is well known for its speaking clubs and by the end of 2021, it was observed that the speaking clubs were not receiving adequate attention. It was temporarily discontinued and eventually rebranded as the Language Exchange Events. Launched in June 2022, this event has piqued the interest of our participants once again! 

How has I&I grown in the past 6 months (resources, no. of projects, volunteers, responsibilities, etc.) 

A unique quality of this NGO is its adaptability! I would not use ‘grown’ to explain changes within the NGO. I would rather opt for ‘developed’ or ‘matured’. Our main resource is the volunteers. Istanbul&I accepts new volunteers every year (while others leave due to other commitments) and that’s why adaptability is a key aspect of this organization. New volunteers step in and embrace new roles once they develop a sense of belonging to the community. 

This adaptation mechanism is unique in being a form of community learning for us. 

As for our events, under the Events Coordinator and her team, the different events are organized regularly. Now, we can expect a minimum level of participation at each event. Some participants turn up every now and then, while others show up regularly! 

Has I&I partnered up with other NGOs this year, if so could you tell us more about that? What is the shared vision and mission? 

In the first half of 2022, Istanbul&I collaborated with a number of NGOs for different activities. For our community services projects, the collaborators are Sokak Lambası (for the Human Welfare Project), Yedikule Hayvan Barınağı (for the Animals Rights Project) and Yusra Community Centre (for the Homework Help Project). With these collaborators, our volunteers help the mentioned organizations on a weekly basis and this form of collaboration helps us fulfill our community services projects. We also co-organized a one-off event with other collaborators such as Migration Jam, Inshira Collectives, Yusra Community Centre, The Philia Project and Göçmen Kadınlar for Women’s Day. The common point we had with the aforementioned organizations is that we all work with immigrant women and design activities to empower them.

As for partnerships, we have two partners which help develop our volunteers through training and coaching sessions. The first one is PUHU (Project for Utility and Humanity) which is a project, research, and consultancy company (SME) that aims to utilize the relationship between academic knowledge and practices. They do so by focusing on the two main fields of social sciences and technology. PUHU developed a project called the COFCUDI Project(Coach Training, and Coaching for the Future of Culturally Diverse Individuals) that aims at the integration of migrants into local communities. Second, United World Coach (UWC) is a Pro Bono coaching network that works with humanitarian and non-governmental agencies to coach their staff working with affected populations. UWC helps to coach our volunteers and aid their development.

What would you say has been the biggest obstacle so far?

The biggest obstacle so far has been finding a consistent source of funding. We are a youth-led NGO that runs on donations but we have to strike a balance between staying true to our mission and a sustainable compromise to keep doing what we’ve been doing for the community. This also includes having a feasible balance between activities eligible for formal grants/funding and those that best represent our core values. Being a safe space where everyone is welcome. So far, I’d say we’re managing well on that front. 


How did I&I overcome this? (How do I&I aim to overcome it?)

We are aware of our potential as a youth-led NGO and the difference we make in our community. We will reach out to more local partners and donors who wish to put their trust in the youth and work together with them to achieve our goals.

How would you describe your management style as a newly elected EC? Could you define the organization’s personality in your own terms?

I remember a sentence I used during the elections - “I do not like to pretend that I am the smartest person in the room.” This means that I seek from people when I have to and I am not afraid to ask for help. I put a lot of trust in the members of the Executive Board and I believe that those who are dedicated return this trust. Other than that, irrespective of my title and the organizational hierarchy, I am a person who will roll my sleeves up and be a team player. I also believe that I can only lead a group of people by doing the work with them rather than instructing them on what to do. On the second question, I can list several values that represent I&I but I want to rather communicate a feeling to our readers - “Imagine a space where dedicated people come up with constructive ideas for the betterment of their community. A space where volunteers dedicate their time to improve themselves and to work for a cause. A space where you can feel part of a community. 

It may sound too cliché but this is what I&I was created for and what the current Executive Board aims for.”

What does I&I have in store for the rest of the year?

By the end of 2022, I will be halfway through my term as the Executive Coordinator. By that time, I expect to have further defined the internal structures within the organization. This will help the organization grow and also identify areas of weakness. Then, hopefully, a humble yet still ambitious version of the Youth4Youth Mentorship Program will be launched. Lastly, I expect to establish a minimum of 2 key partnerships with other stakeholders in the same field.

What are some of the long-term objectives you would like to see completed in 2022?

Cultural misunderstandings are a common growing pain of diverse communities. My goal is to change the image of immigrants. By doing a range of activities that empower our volunteers while they also give back to the host community, I want to present a truer image of what immigrants are actually all about Irrespective of our background and differences, I want Istanbul&I to be a medium which helps the youth empower themselves and contribute to their communities.