Istanbul&I Turns Five
Founded in 2016 with a dream of building and fostering a unique community in Istanbul, Istanbul&I has brought together people from disadvantaged and disenfranchised communities despite socio-cultural divides. By focusing on social inclusion and volunteering, Istanbul&I has become a hub for young changemakers looking to give back to their communities. Today, five years later, Istanbul&I has over 250 volunteers from over 50 countries who continue to serve hundreds of beneficiaries and enact social change through volunteer projects with our partner organizations such as Sokak Lambası, Ahtapot Gönüllüleri, and Yedikule Animal Shelter.
This year, Istanbul&I celebrates a significant milestone as we mark our five-year anniversary after one of the most challenging years for our organization and the world. Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all our lives and Istanbul&I was equally met with a set of unprecedented challenges. Unfortunately, we had to close our center in Karaköy for the first time in Istanbul&I history, as well as suspend our in-person events in accordance with health precautions.
Thankfully, Istanbul&I’s Executive Board has been successful in overcoming these challenges with the support of the wider community. Many of our flagship social inclusion events were moved online, while some volunteering projects continued with strict health and safety provisions taken. However, as a non-profit organization that runs entirely on donations as well as support from the community and partner organizations, Istanbul&I was in danger of shutting down. Istanbul&I launched a crowdfunding campaign on LaunchGood in February 2021 to save our organization with an ambitious goal of fundraising $15,000. Amber Sema Erkan, the new Executive Coordinator, reveals, “We were surprised by how well received the fundraiser was. It reinforced the idea that the work we’re doing at Istanbul&I is extremely necessary and it would be devastating for us and the communities that we serve to see this one-of-a-kind NGO fall apart.” After just a month of intense fundraising with support from our personal networks as well as the local and international community, we were delighted to achieve our goal, just in time for Istanbul&I’s five-year anniversary!
To celebrate our anniversary and hitting our LaunchGood goal, Istanbul&I hosted an online event where volunteers reflected on their experiences during the pandemic and the obstacles we’ve overcome together as a community. Star volunteers such as Banu Betül Çiçek and Manohur Chand Poonyth received gifts for bringing in the highest number of donations and the most money overall. The event ended with a raffle for all volunteers who had donated $10 during the event. Prizes included a lavender manicure at Ayna Ayna Beauty Center, soy candles from Om Candle, and an Istanbul&I t-shirt, pin, and pen.
As Istanbul&I enters its sixth year, the organization is focused on working towards sustainable structural changes. Noting the importance of this goal, Amber affirms, “This year, the executive board is focusing on bringing in sustainable long-term partners and sponsors as well as strengthening our pre-existing partnerships. We want to make partnerships with similar NGOs in Istanbul and build more of a coalition that’s serving refugees and migrants because we’re more powerful when we’re working together.”
Osama Hijazi – 18/3/21