Best of 2019: Expanding Opportunities for the New Food Entrepreneurs of Turkey

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At the end of 2018, we shared a promising start for the LIFE Project, a unique initiative leveraging food entrepreneurship and gastrodiplomacy to build sustainable livelihoods, and foster social cohesion among refugees and their host communities in Turkey. 

Over the last year, our teams in Turkey and our global Consortium partners expanded our efforts to enrich the business journeys of over 200 LIFE Entrepreneurs. We selected our favorite videos from 2019 to show you just what this effort looks like in action!

2019 Highlights

  • 251 graduates of the food entrepreneurship incubation program 

  • $96,000 awarded in seed funding to over a thirty  food businesses through the business pitch competition

  • Over 1,000 food sector workers received Ministry of Education approved food sanitation certification 

  • Dozens of specialized and technical training workshops, on topics ranging from licensing, taxation and  market access, were offered in response to member requests

  • Numerous gastrodiplomacy events and business networking opportunities were held at the Food Enterprise Centers (FEC)

  • Four distinct lines of business support services were offered to LIFE Project entrepreneurs: business registration and legal support; access to finance and business development; start-up logistics and accounting; and culinary technique training

Driving Entrepreneurship

In 2019, we focused on expanding opportunities for LIFE Entrepreneurs to showcase their businesses, build their customer base, and engage with their communities. We hosted three “Demo Days” at our Food Enterprise Centers - one in Mersin and two in Istanbul - to connect members with business leaders and potential customers. Roughly 25-50 entrepreneurs participated in each Demo Day, and many used feedback to improve their business pitch and branding for future showcase events.

Building Sustainable Livelihoods

This year, we extended our program to Mersin, a port city in southern Turkey with a thriving gastronomy industry. The LIFE Project launched in Mersin in the spring, and the 1,600-square-meter Mersin Food Enterprise Center was completed in time to host the Business Pitch Competition for the third cohort of Mersin LIFE Entrepreneurs.

Fostering Social Cohesion

As our project grows, we continue to see how the shared language of food can be a powerful tool to bring different communities together. At the end of 2019, we expanded this effort beyond local communities in Turkey with the LIFE Project Cookbook: The Cuisine of LIFE: Recipes and Stories from the New Food Entrepreneurs of Turkey, sharing the stories of 24 LIFE entrepreneurs from seven countries with home cooks around the world.

Looking Ahead

In 2020, the LIFE Project will continue to expand opportunities for food entrepreneurs from refugee and host communities in Turkey. We will welcome an additional six cohorts of members in the entrepreneurship incubation program - three in Istanbul and three in Mersin. We will also continue to identify opportunities for hundreds of members to promote their businesses at local events including trade fairs, exhibitions and conferences, as well as optimize our workforce training program to improve employability for food sector workers in their communities.

The LIFE Project is excited to continue to infuse the practice of gastrodiplomacy throughout program activities and build social cohesion among members - and we look forward to sharing this effort with our global network through new and exciting storytelling tools.