27 March 2023

There is no small step for the climate emergency: Every effort is important

Since 6 February, Turkey has been struggling with the aftermath of several devastating earthquakes which are being seen as one of the largest disasters in history. The earthquakes directly affected 11 provinces, which equals almost a quarter of the country, and more than 15 million people in the region. Unfortunately, the death toll reached more than 50,000 with thousands more injured. For more than five weeks, this massive destruction has touched on each and every sphere of life in the country. Apart from the earthquakes, recent floods have hit the same region and the same people.

A growing series of natural disasters and environmental crises that Turkey has experienced is unfortunately not new or unique. Like most Mediterranean countries, Turkey is also extremely vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis. In recent decades, floods, heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, landslides, mucilage events and extreme windstorms have affected the country with increasing frequency and intensity. According to the report of the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority, Turkey experienced 107 floods, 66 big forest fires, 16 snowstorms and 39 landslides only in 2021. We must face the fact that all these disasters are much more than one-off events triggering great losses, but that they are indicators of the limits of our planet and the climate crisis.

Hesitant but valiant steps on the climate journey

In other words, the climate emergency is no longer a looming threat; it is standing just before us as a major issue! It demands immediate action and strong collaboration from all of us including the philanthropic sector. While we are coming closer to the climate points of no return, global injustices and societal challenges have also been increasing in many areas that philanthropy has prioritised, such as education, health, human rights, equality, and food security. However, we cannot ignore the crucial role of philanthropy in the climate emergency because it does not just address underlying systemic causes, but also focuses on the needs of disadvantaged populations most affected by it such as our target population. So, integrating a climate lens is a huge opportunity to start addressing problems that will only become more unmanageable the longer they are ignored.

Due to these reasons and more, as Sabancı Foundation,webegan our climate journey a few years ago by taking small but concrete steps. Both the global trends in philanthropy and our research made for a big impact project, and showed us that climate change was one of the four most critical issues that we would soon be dealing with.

However, climate was not one of our main working areas as was the case with many other philanthropic organisations in Turkey. We have conducted various activities under the topics of education, culture-art, and social change by focusing on our target groups that consist of women, young people and people with disabilities for almost half a century. That is why it was not easy to take immediate actions with the climate perspective in one day among many big projects and programmes running at the same time.

All foundations are climate foundations

Still, in the belief that “all foundations are climate foundations no matter what their area of work”, we reviewed all of our programmes to apply a climate lens and created a road map. We also used our strong connections with international networks like Philea, Foundations 20 Platform (F20) and Council on Foundations (COF), to learn from each other’s experiences when designing our strategy:

  • We first chose the theme of our Short Film Competition as “Changing Climate, Changing Lives” in which we received almost 300 applications from young filmmakers.
  • Then we published a 10-book series called Papuduk for children telling the adventures of a rabbit aiming to raise awareness about animal rights and nature. So far, we have distributed more than 100,000 books free of charge to the students in state schools, and we continue to organise workshops with children.
  • We added “fighting against climate change” among the sub-themes of our Grant Program and we started to support projects of civil society organisations on climate as well. We also added a question to our application form so that grantees have to consider the climate aspect in their projects. 
  • Then, our paths crossed with the global #PhilanthropyForClimate movement co-initiated by WINGS and Philea for foundations committed to taking urgent action on climate change. We are the first organisation from Turkey to have signed the International Philanthropy Commitment on Climate.
  • In order to learn more about the issue and make it more visible in Turkey, we chose climate emergency as our theme for our International Philanthropy Seminar last year. Together with international experts, we discussed the concrete steps for philanthropic organisations and the significance of youth activism in the climate emergency.
  • Since we also attach importance to our internal capacity, two people from the foundation’s staff participated in the Climate + Philanthropy Learning Journey, a training programme by Active Philanthropy.

Ever since we took the opportunity to focus on climate aspects of our work, we keep on learning and improving our perspective and our climate journey seems endless.  

Key Learnings

We do not have any time to lose by being paralysed due to the severity of the climate emergency. There is a lot we can still do as different actors with diverse potentials. There is no small step: Every effort is important, and we are bound together in our various climate journeys.


Nevgül Bilsel Safkan
General Manager, Sabancı Foundation