Interview: Hüsnü Özyeğin
As e-commerce grows, how can small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) use technology to their advantage and what is its overall economic impact?
HUSNU ÖZYEĞİN: Turkish companies and consumers have adapted to increased use of the internet and social media networks. Turkish “.com” companies such as yemeksepeti.com, a food delivery website, are now trying to enter foreign markets like Russia, while some large US .coms have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire successful Turkish counterparts.
As the government increasingly focuses on encouraging high-tech research, more Turkish engineers and firms are looking into the opportunities online. Currently, research and development (R&D) expenditures represent about 0.9% of GDP, but the government’s goal is to push R&D expenditures to 3% in the medium-to-long term. This will add to the share of value added by innovative manufactured products, and it will require greater dependency on the services available online.
Furthermore, the number of research institutions and techno-parks established by universities is rising. Since these groups are in closer cooperation with private industry actors the opportunities for smaller firms to produce higher value added products, with easier accessibility to markets within Turkey and internationally is likewise growing. Diversification has, in part, been driven by the ability to more easily seek out new customers, or for customers to find Turkish producers, as a result of their online presence.
I think English proficiency is absolutely important to be successful in the global economy that exists today. This is one area in which Turkey has been struggling to maintain and emphasise. In an attempt to overcome insufficient language instruction students to take in the national curriculum, many universities require 12-18 months of English instruction, followed by a proficiency test, as a prerequisite to enrolling in a degree programme.
In an era where we are connected to people all over the world via technology, it is not possible to sustain economic growth with a labour force that is not fluent in English. There needs to be a concerted effort to overhaul the English-language education system in Turkey to improve proficiency.
What are Turkey’s plans to encourage more women to enter the workforce? ÖZYEĞİN: Women constitute the largest group of unemployed people in Turkey, and female participation in the labour force is only 23%. All stakeholders in the economy agree that entrepreneurship is the way to reduce unemployment and generate sustainable growth, and the government has begun to take important steps to this end. Thus, the first and the most crucial way to reduce unemployment should be to increase not merely the number of entrepreneurs, but the number of women entrepreneurs, as economic plans that exclude half of the population are destined to fail.
Several institutions have recognised this, including the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey, with its Women Entrepreneurs Board, and the Turkish Women Entrepreneurs Association. Turkish banks have recently begun offering special loans and rates for women entrepreneurs. As the country’s prosperity and education levels continue to rise, the obstacles that stand in the way of women entrepreneurship will gradually be overcome.
Entrepreneurship training programmes designed for women are on the rise, and, in terms of professionalism, the women I have met in these programmes are on par with their male counterparts. I have no doubt that when they are given an opportunity to exhibit their skills, Turkish women will lay the foundations of high-impact business ventures. As the number of successful female role models grows, more young women will be encouraged and inspired to be entrepreneurs.
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