When Haldun Tashman, a Turkish-born entrepreneur living in Arizona, hears about another successful Turkish-American like himself, he feels more than a glow of kinship, he makes a note. Tashman, 69, is the founding chairman of Turkish Philanthropies Fund (TPF), a New York-headquartered community foundation that seeks to recruit potential donors in the U.S. and connect them to social projects, primarily in Turkey.
Tashman established TPF almost nine years ago, when the sale of a medical supplies business he’d built in Phoenix allowed him to pursue his passion. Having earned an MBA at Columbia as a Fulbright Foreign Student Fellow in 1968, in 2003 he created the Tashman Fellows program, which provides support for young Turkish or Turkish-American MBA students. But he wanted to do more, and his experience as a trustee of Arizona Community Foundation showed him how. He commissioned one of his bright young Tashman MBAs to conduct a feasibility study and, encouraged by the results and the examples of funds established by the diaspora of many other countries, formed TPF, to promote philanthropy among Turkish- Americans. At the same time, he and his wife, Nihal, established the first community foundation of Turkey in his hometown, Bolu.
In the years since Tashman and his three partners founded TPF, it has raised more than $16 million, of which it has distributed more than $11 million in grants. Most of the funds go to education, much of it specifically to gender equality programs designed to educate and empower women and girls. Like all community funds, TPF offers advantages to philanthropists who choose that route: it screens nonprofits to advise donors about where to make the best social investments; follows up to ensure the funds have been properly used; and handles the onerous paperwork that can defeat the most committed philanthropist; to do this, Tashman travels in a continual loop between Phoenix, New York, and Istanbul.
TPF money has gone to build village schools, provide disaster relief after the earthquake in eastern Turkey in 2010, and support traditional rugmaking in Anatolia. One donor in New York, rather than throwing a birthday party for her daughter, raised $20,000 to buy books for girls in Turkey, Tashman notes. In Bolu, the Tashmans are using their own community foundation to support the development of an infrastructure for philanthropy, as well as an early-education project. “There are foundations in Turkey, but everybody wants to do their own thing,” says Tashman, who hopes to bring people together to share best practices and give more strategically.
But to thrive, he notes, TPF must recruit the next generation of Turkish-Americans. TPF has a junior board of younger directors, U.S.-educated professionals with dazzling credentials. One of the Tashmans’ daughters is a donor to TPF, and Tashman believes he is providing seed capital through his fellowships. By the time the fellowship program wraps up, he estimates, it will have sent 50 fellows out into the world. “I’m looking for one or two who will be very successful and will do great things in philanthropy,” Tashman says, “and I’ll feel, mission accomplished.”
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