The honor of representing my country in two continents in just one week

With less than a week before the local elections, I had to make a concise plan to represent my country at two key events, one in the UK and one in Canada, from Monday to Saturday, and then have enough time to return to vote. Here are the details of the adventure from the Food Banking Summit in London to the events in Montreal…


I've been planning the last week of March for a long time. In fact, two important events coincided with one another. The first was the event organised by the Foodbanking Leadership Institute (FBLI) in London, where annually food banks from all over the world come together, and the second was the entrepreneurship competition at McGill University in Canada, where I graduated 20 years ago. In addition to being a jury member and mentor at the McGill Dobson Cup, the next day I had to teach in two classes, one for graduates and the other for undergraduate students. As a result, I found a way to go to both England and Canada.


First of all, the “Food Banking Leadership Institute 2019” event organized by the Global Foodbanking Network (GFN) in the UK started last Monday. I went to England on Monday evening because I had to go to Ankara that day. I flew from Ankara to Istanbul airport and then continued directly to London. I was ready for my speech on Tuesday. The interesting part was that my speech was to finish at 2pm and I had to leave the hotel without any distraction to catch my 4.30pm flight departing from London Heathrow Airport.


For this year’s GFN FBLI event, our Chairman of TIDER, Hande Tibuk, Member of the Board, Yasemin Ahıskalı and General Manager, Nil Tibukoğlu attended. After landing in London on Monday evening, we had dinner at a Spanish restaurant and talked about the topics of the association and had a nice chat.



The privilege of the first innovation award


I attended two important panels in the morning. In the meantime, we met with GFN officials. After completing my departure from the hotel, I went to lunch and then went to the relevant hall for the panel.

The topic of the panel speech was “Food Banking in Hard-to-Reach Places”. It was really a difficult food banking issue. It was personally enjoyable for me. The panel included Canada, the second largest country in the world, Germany, one of the first choice of immigrants in Europe, many different migrants from South America and some from Colombia which struggled with many different problems. Being chosen as the moderator on the panel clearly showed me the importance they apply to Turkey. The speakers and especially the moderators are meticulously selected in GFN’s conferences that’s why tt was an important platform for Turkey to show itself.


A delight-like panel


After the conferences in the morning, we advised that we would offer Turkish delight to the participants of the panel. Food banking executives, who were interested in the topic that was going to be discussed, and then hearing of our gesture, filled the hall.

I started the panel 10 minutes late after being informed and spoke at 1.10pm. The panel lasted for about 1 hour in total. On the panel, there was Canadian Kirstin Beardsley (Chief Network Services Officer - Food Banks Canada) and Ryan Harty (Migration and Integration Project Director, Tafel Deutschland e.V) on behalf of Germany, and Juan Carlos Buitrago Ortiz of Colombia (Executive Director, Asociación de Bancos de Alimentos de Colombia (ABACO) in which I spoke Spanish with. Because there were translators and as I was proficient in both languages, I was quite comfortable.



The panel briefly addressed the following: Food banks often need to adapt to serve specific groups of vulnerable people. In our session we talked about the services provided to immigrants and the population located in physically remote places. Ryan, representing Germany, talked about his programs on immigrants. Representing Canada, Kirstin explained how they serve the populations in the northern regions and far away, especially beyond the population concentrated on the American border. Juan Carlos explained how they serve Latin America, especially the Venezuelan immigrants.


From left to right: Me, Ryan, Kirstin and Juan Carlos


I gave examples about our country. I spoke of the almost 4 million Syrian migrants that live in Turkey and how we integrate immigrants into the country and the number of difficulties we experience during this. I asked 3 questions to each panelist and answered 3 questions from the audience. Time passed quickly during the conversation session.


The full throttle from London to Montreal!


As soon as the panel was over, I immediately took the microphones off and went downstairs, took my suitcase and headed for the airport. With the convenience of having boarding cards in advance, I checked to see if my luggage was loaded on the plane. Apart from sleeping for 1-2 hours on the plane, I read the files of the contestants in the Dobson Cup. I took notes. I raised a lot of questions and made a note of my advice. After a comfortable trip, I arrived in Montreal.


They've really accelerated all entries into the country. I registered my arrival myself from a digital screen. After giving back the entry pass given to me on the plane to the officials, I entered Montreal Airport without waiting any further. Then I called an Uber and made my way to the hotel. The Uber driver who took me to the hotel was an Italian born Montreal citizen. We talked about ice hockey, the New York/Montreal comparison and Canadian politics.


When I arrived at the hotel, I felt like I was home. Because when I first came to Canada in 1994, I booked a place at the Omni Hotel where I stayed with my father. The Omni Hotel is just across the Bronfman building that I used to study in. I remember always looking at the Bronfman building from where my years of study took place, a street which was parallel to Peel street.


 A photo of Omni Hotel from the outside


The Bronfman Building, where McGill's Faculty of Business Administration is located, where 4 of my years had passed, that being the most important period of my life


Everyone deserves a second chance at life


When I first came to Canada in 94, it is impossible to forget the first time we left this hotel. My father, my twin Baran and I left the hotel. We turned around the corner of Peel Street, and as soon as I turned around, a bitter car brake sound ended in a crash which still resonates in my ear. As soon as I turned my head, I remember seeing the body of a homeless man lying in front of the car, trembling. It was such a tremor that I couldn't get it out of mind. And then everyone gathered around a woman who quickly got out of the car screaming “Help me, please, my God, how did this happen? Please help me” and I remember the whole street echoing with her voice. I remember my father saying, “look away, the man is dying”. And I remember telling him, "No, I can handle this.” Ambulance and police cars arrived within in a few seconds to this event which developed over a couple of minutes. But it was too late. We realized that the homeless man lying on the ground died after he stopped shaking within seconds. We weren't doctors, we didn't know how to administer first aid and I quickly thought about what I could do within that few seconds, and after I realized he was dead, I remember saying “pity this man, who knows what kind of life he had?” I remember the words “Everyone needs a second chance in this life” crossing over in my mind. Then we left the scene with the shock of what just happened (and of course with the desperation of knowing that we could do nothing). I remember that I was trying to figure out what was going on in the moment and what should be done to get the homeless and orphans out of these kinds of situations. We actually never talked about this later on.


I don't know, maybe this is one of my sources of my motivation behind establishing the Basic Needs Association, of which I am the founding president.

Being jury in a competition amongst companies


In the evening, I went over the Dobson Cup file before going to bed. I was ready for the next day. At 8am in the morning the program started with a breakfast. Opening speeches and information sessions were held at 8.30am. The event started at 9am. I was a jury member in the social company’s division.


In total, McGill students who founded 10 companies made presentations throughout the day. We had a lunch break in the middle of the day.  All interviews lasted up until 4pm. Scoring was then performed. The scoring resulted in an interesting result. The first 3 favorites of the 4 judges were the same. Only the rankings were different. We argued among us about which one deserves it the most. As a result, we unanimously decided to rank the top three. I will not tell you who the winners are here because the winners were not declared at the time of me writing this article. I will make a note below this post for information after April 4, when the only winners will be announced.


After the scoring process, which lasted up until 5pm, a cocktail was held between 5–7pm. During the cocktail, I had the chance to chat with many students and jury members. I personally liked the fact that the students came up to me and chatted from the template of the social companies that I was mentoring for. With the pleasure of sharing all my experiences, I spent all day with them, I answered the additional questions of many students for 2 hours and continued to convey my experiences in the cocktail. After the cocktail which ended at 7pm, it was time for me to get ready.


We had a pleasant conversation with these Chinese students who gave us presentations.

These young women will go back to their countries and achieve  great things.


While I was having dinner, I was working on my presentations and speeches that I had to give the next day. My preparations continued until late at night. On the other hand, I was also responding to important e-mails being sent to me.

This time the students are in my class at my university

The next morning, at 8.20am, I met Daniel Cere, a progress officer from our business division, and went straight to the class of graduate students. As soon as we entered the room, everyone introduced themselves in the classroom and the course, which started at 8.35am and lasted until 9.25am. The name of the lesson was Managing Strategy and Innovation. So, I talked about solar energy, the EkoRE strategy and our perspective on innovation.


During the presentation, the students often cut me off with questions. I got asked some very good questions. At McGill, one of Canada's best universities, the levels are really high. I am not saying this because it is my school, I am saying it because of the level of the questions that were being asked. Honestly, I enjoyed answering these questions which only increased my motivation to talk. There could have been more questions. But we had to cut it there because my time was up.



A photo I took in front of our Bronfman building

Then Daniel and I went to a café near the Bronfman and had coffee over conversation. At 10am, I went to the class of other undergraduate students. The course titled Strategic Management started at 10.05am and finished at 11.25am. I made a similar presentation to my previous one to the undergraduate students. The younger students were shy at first, but when I insisted “Ask me questions about anything you get stuck on”, suddenly the questions began to come flying at me. I really like that. Even McGill's 1st and 2nd year students are very smart and curious. Like the previous lesson, I didn’t realise how quick the time went by.

I would like to share with you the sticker on the door of the toilet of my school, which I am proud of and where the activist students are located

After these two lessons, I got very good feedback from both the professors and students. I received many thanks for offering them another lesson with other kinds of perspective. I received many Linkedin messages saying, “I learnt a lot thanks to you”. This was like the cherry on top.

I would like to share with you one of my presentations I made to the McGill students here as an example:




























Interview, library and friends…


After these classes, I had a snack and in the afternoon Karl Cooper, one of McGill's famous professors, interviewed me. He announced that my interview will be published in the Globe & Mail, one of Canada's most widely read and respected newspapers.


Then I had a long conversation with another assistant professor about my view points and stance in life. After this conversation, I went to the McGill Bookstore to shop as I had planned. I hadn’t been there in a long time. I bought all the McGill clothes and accessories and books that I liked. I joked with the lady at the counter “Today I came to increase your profit margins”. Then we talked about why they moved the Bookstore from its old place. McGill put graduate students in Business Administration in the area of the old bookstore. Moreover, I gave the first lesson to the master students in the building of the old bookstore (they made the building very beautiful by the way. Congratulations to the contributors). I joked to the people at the counter by saying, ’Thank God they moved our department to the Bookstore, and not any other department”.


After I left, I went to the hotel, and after answering some messages and e-mails about work, I went to dinner with one of my closest McGill friends, Sirel who I have been friends with since 95. Sirel also stayed in Canada and has had a good career and is currently managing a different business model of Samsung.

Returning to the voting polls after all the meetings

The next morning after leaving the hotel at 7am, I went to meet with Targray, one of the major solar energy companies located in Kirkland, which is in the outskirts of Montreal. Our meeting which started with breakfast at 8am in the morning, lasted till 10.15am.



Then I had a meeting and lunch with a director of the state investment agency Investissement Québec. After this meal I went to Moisson Montréal, Montreal's food bank.



What was interesting here was that Maggie, one of the directors of this organization, was my classmate from McGill. She told me that she wanted to meet me on the phone the night before. I called her and she said to me on the phone: “Serhan, don't you remember me? I didn't remember her name, but I did when I saw her face. After a 1.5-hour meeting and a food bank tour with Executive Director Richard Daneux and Maggie Borowiec, head of Moisson Montréal, I left there and went to see Jill and Xeno in their home, who took care and looked after me like my real parents 20-25 years ago. After about 1.5 hours of visit, it was time to go to the airport, so I set out on my way.

A photo with Richard, the head of Moission Montreal


Honestly, I was planning to stay in Montreal over the weekend. But in order to fulfil my civic citizen duty, I flew back to my country on Friday night to be home by Saturday evening and on Sunday be ready to take my grandmother and I to vote.


I had such a full paced 3 days that the minute I got on the plane, I slept, and when I opened my eyes, we had landed in London.


But of course, whatever you fuss about, generally falls apart somehow. I put the McGill stuff I bought after 20 years in a suitcase. When my plane landed in Istanbul, one of my luggages came out, and the suitcases with the McGill belongings didn't. After the unpleasant process, I left the airport.


Someone took my luggage, although I had my name on it. They called the next evening. Turns out my suitcase went all the way to Beylikdüzü. I am waiting for them to send it to Çekmeköy. What can I say, the person who took my suitcase without even looking at the labels and taking it all the way to Beylikdüzü needs to be more careful. The only consolation out of this is at least they were honest enough to return it.


Thus, I was welcomed back to my country with these kind of complexities...

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