Improving the Quality of Life in a Disadvantaged Neighbourhood

Ankara, Turkey

This project aims to achieve social inclusion through civic engagement, cultural vitality, gender equity, and poverty reduction

Mamak district of Ankara is an area of social exclusion with migration problems, deprived infrastructure, education, health, intra-family violence, supressed rights of women, and youth unemployment. In Aksemsettin, an area in Mamak, the number of squatter housing reaches around 600 units by the end 1990s'. It was one of the first ‘gecekondu’ (squatter housing) areas in Turkey. Settling in squatter areas can be traced back to the 1950s, when migrants from central Anatolia came to Ankara looking for better jobs. Nowadays the reason for the settlement is primarily internal migration; inhabitants consist of people who cannot cope with conditions in Ankara. In particular, women have socio-economic problems in Mamak. They need counselling, commonly have health problems and are often unaware of their civic rights.

Present policies aim to achieve social inclusion through civic engagement, cultural vitality, gender equity, and poverty reduction. Multiple partners from cross-divisional departments and groups have carried out successful collaboration work and raised living conditions for disadvantaged people in Mamak. Collaboration between project partners directly address the needs of Mamak women by offering preparatory courses, establishing a Community Centre and a weaving workshop improved job opportunities, and reducing intra-neighbourhood discrepancies. The approach had an integrative and participative character. 


City information

Size and population development
2011: 4,194,000, 1990: 2,561,000, 2025: 5,702,000, 2010-2015: 2.22%

Main functions
Capital City, Governmental center

Main industries / business
Industrial sector, Agricultural

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Background and objectives

Migrants originating from central Anatolian villages dominate Aksemsettin, a poor housing area in the district of Mamak, they move to the area searching for better jobs. In Mamak unemployment is relatively high, and especially groups such as women and children suffer from poor educational and work opportunities. There is also a lack of active participation in public life by minority social groups. High levels of complaints about infrastructure problems (bus service, electricity supply, running water, sewage disposal etc.) from deprived parts of the population have not been taken seriously by local authorities. No other initiative has been launched before to solve the conflicts mentioned above. Besides infrastructure problems, lack of proper health services has also been noticeable in recent years.

Background in socio economic situations in Mamak in effect reduces weaker members of society to worse conditions and often inhibits any further development.

This project mainly aims to provide women and young people with a minimum income in order to improve their overall quality of life. Young people acquire civic awareness in public life by generating income and taking preparatory courses. These courses were carried out by student volunteers from Middle East Technical University, sociology department. A team of experts including lawyers, doctors and other academic personnel encouraged an increase in civic awareness.

Strategies to fulfil the aim of improving the quality of life of disadvantaged people have been constructed in various ways. Festivals where people demonstrated their own culture were organised in the neighbourhood to show vitality and potential for integration in the district. Demonstrating social and cultural empowerment was one way to make the district liveable – especially for the young generation. Focus on endogenous development, sustainable empowerment for disadvantaged people in Mamak was designed to be securely established. Beyond this action, vocational training programmes in the textile sector were offered, aiming for more independent (economically), and self-determined lives for women.


The initiative for this project was launched in April 1997. To determine the needs of Mamak residents, initial members started to hold conferences about women’s health, civil rights, child rearing and education, functions of governmental organisations, and the municipality. During the first meeting with women in 1997, an NGO, Ankara Universal Values Caucus UVC, was introduced and major Habitat II aims were presented. After discussing the needs of this neighbourhood, a sociological research study was carried out to examine parameters such as women’s paid employment, youth education (preparatory courses), and health facilities. To continue the project with more satisfying results, financial support became indispensable. However, the calculated budget for this project was 41,000 USD, direct financial support was impossible to acquire. Henceforward, a large number of donors were sought for the project to progress. UVC therefore negotiated with the Foundation for the Blind (Türkiye Korler Vakfi) to acquire knitting machines for a weaving workshop. In May 1998, a Community Centre opened in the neighbourhood, simultaneously with an event and bringing unused knitting machines to the centre, including all the various project partners. After the Community Centre had been established, social activities and integration increased. For instance, in October 1998 the caucus prepared a small-scale festival in the neighbourhood called ‘Let’s own our neighbourhood’, where people celebrated traditional food, music, and folk dance. In 1997 a health centre was opened in Mamak. The steps mentioned above were apparently necessary to encourage people to become more active and led to practical project management.

A variety of instruments in practice were used for successful policy transfer. Actors from other institutions were brought in for collaboration. Students from Middle East Technical University sociology department volunteered teaching women, young people, and children in the preparatory courses.

Together with the local authority and some local private firms in the clothing sector, elderly women are intended to focus on female entrepreneurship with weaving production, whereas young people are being introduced more and more to the voluntary programmes such as preparatory courses given by Middle East Technical University students.

All these processes were realised through various stakeholders, in the form of donations or rather by a partner initiative and motivation: the Foundation for the Blind, the Association of Turkish Sociologists took part in the project as NGOs. Technical and financial support came also from two research institutions, Middle East Technical University and Bilkent University Health Centre. The main stakeholders and supports were Ankara Municipality, the Governor of Mamak District, and the national Department of Work and Employment.

Financing and resources

Acquiring financial support for this project was quite difficult because financing had to be found before initial goals could be successfully achieved. In searching for financial resources, caucus coordinators applied to various governmental departments, Mamak Municipality and other NGOs.

TKV, Turkish Foundation for the Blind, should be named as one of the most important supporting institutions in this project. Knitting machines for the weaving workshop were donated by this Foundation: most of overall project financial support was not in cash but in supplies.

Financial support was also allocated by the local authorities (Municipality of Mamak and the Provincial Governor of Mamak District), by national government through the Department of Work and Employment and the Department of University Students’ Dormitories and Credits (Yurt). Besides Bilkent University Health Centre (contributing to equip the new municipal building), the project was financially supported by a private Ankara engineering firm.  

Results and impacts

This project has achieved most of its goals. The major objective in improving the quality of life for disadvantaged people was approached by urban transformation focusing on gender equity. Women began to be more active in public life and improved their right to be consulted in municipal issues such as infrastructure, health, and education. Three juveniles, for instance, were able to attend university after they successfully passed preparation lessons initiated by project members.

The weaving workshop led to positive effects in generating new and independent income for the women. In some cases this effect has already spilled over to the younger generation of girls. Women independently started to look for markets to sell products they produced with the new knitting machines. The women asked project coordinators to inform them about opportunities for women cooperatives and market locations beyond Mamak. The case of Mamak turned depressed people towards better public awareness and acceptance of minorities. They started to be more self-confident and even organised public demonstrations to complain about social ills.

The high demand for preparation lessons seems to continue on a pleasing level. People are now asking for more specific courses to specialise their personal skills in certain branches. Computer-based learning is also recently gaining in demand.

The project brought together various partners from varying organisations. The Anatolian Development Foundation has already expressed its interest of funding small projects with similar kind of practice and backgrounds.

Barriers and challenges

Apart from positive results and impacts of this project, a few barriers and conflicts occurred during the implementation phase and afterwards. Introducing elder women to educational programmes was often accompanied with problems of comprehension. The absence of realising the necessity for education was a major problem; obviously this is a common problem if women's socio-cultural position in Turkish society is considered. Some women do not see necessities for self-realisation if they are repressed in a male-dominated society. Some women do not feel uncomfortable about being dependent on their husbands. In collaboration with local authorities, private entrepreneurs put main emphasis on elder women and focused on younger women generations for educational programmes. Elderly women received several opportunities to enter small markets with their clothing production through the weaving workshop. Stimulating female entrepreneurship in this way was, on the one hand, a good idea to enhance their economic purview. On the other hand it also created a new but already well-known problem. Trying to involve women more into economic life in such a small and relatively insignificant sector may for the most part retain women in the informal sector, thus having fewer chances to free themselves from informal structures. The establishment of the Community Centre became an overall instrument for mediating conflicts.

Lessons learned and transferability

Besides barriers and conflicts which appeared in this project, numerous positive effects were discovered, some of which can be transferred to other projects with similar practice and background. Considering the financial support difficulties in this project, overall achievements in practice can primarily be evaluated as satisfactory. Financial support is vital but not necessary and sometimes may also contain obstacles. The cross-divisional approach intensified public activities by (formerly) deprived people.

Today, especially second-generation women seem to be highly motivated in working and generating their own income more independently. Guaranteeing motivation and encouragement for women who were offered courses and preparation lessons is intended to enable the chance of employment after the project. To ensure further project activation without negative prospects, increasing expectations through such a project must be avoided if the project cannot continue due to lack of financial support.

Multiple partners should be well integrated in the project in order not to disappoint expectations of the product. This guarantees appropriate marketing of the final product – a successful policy transfer. Strengthening community sense of togetherness in Mamak, this example of practice showed an important impact of social interaction and potential for intense collective behaviour in the neighbourhood. 


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