Embark: connecting talented young Syrians with business leaders

Embark: Connecting talented young Syrians with business leaders

This month saw the launch of Embark – a reverse mentoring scheme that connects Turkish business leaders with young Syrians in Turkey to exchange ideas, develop understanding, and build meaningful connections. The initiative launches with a three-month pilot connecting 13 senior leaders from Unilever Turkey with 13 driven Syrians. Embark's pilot partners include Unilever and the Turkish NGOs United Work and Gelecek Daha Net.

Launch of Embark Istanbul
Launch of Embark Istanbul

The idea for Embark emerged from Xynteo's Leadership Vanguard programme, which sees top leadership talent from global organisations collaborate to find new ways to solve humanity's biggest problems.

Talented young Syrians

There are an estimated four million Syrians in Turkey, and many of them have extensive professional experience and expertise. They represent a remarkable new talent pool for Turkish businesses to draw from. At the same time, the Syrian community now forms a substantial and important new market segment for businesses to cater to. The Syrian professionals joining the initiative come with expertise in marketing, IT, finance and media. Although their backgrounds vary, they share a commitment to helping the business leaders participating in the pilot understand the potential of the Syrian diaspora to enrich and contribute to their host communities: "More people in Turkey need to understand the calibre of talent represented by the refugee community. When other companies see Embark in action, they'll all want to join," said Enis Bey, GM of Embark partner United Work.

A new approach to mentoring

Reverse mentoring subverts the traditional way we think about mentorship. The practice was championed by former General Electrics CEO Jack Welch, and has recently been adopted by companies such as Microsoft, Mastercard and Cisco Systems to give senior leaders a better understanding of generational or gender-based differences in technology, culture, values, motivation and skills. We believe that there is incredible value in pairing people with different cultural backgrounds or life experiences to challenge assumptions and build bridges.

Connecting mentors and mentees

The launch event, which took place at Unilever Turkey, introduced pairs of mentors and mentees to each other, and led them through a workshop to set shared goals for their meetings over the coming months.

Launch event

One of the activities at the event was a group session where participants listed several identities they carry – e.g. mother, engineer, Turkish citizen – and discussed when these identities have caused them pride or pain, or when stereotypes often associated with these identities have not rung true for them. The activity helped kick-start some of the challenging discussions the mentors and mentees will tackle over the following months. The launch also allowed participants to build new, unexpected relationships: "Before I met my mentee I was sceptical and unsure whether we would have meaningful engagement. But then we started talking and discovering we had so much in common. The same ambitions and dreams and ways of thinking about things. We've both got so much to learn from each other too. He's actually the perfect match for me", said one of the mentors, Yasmin Nayal.

Next steps for Embark

The ambition is to bring Embark to more companies and sectors in Turkey. Several global companies have already registered their intent to take part and to be ambassadors for Embark's mission. For the next cycle, Embark welcomes businesses from across different sectors who recognise the potential of Turkey's Syrian community and wish to sharpen their understanding and connection with this demographic. "This is a fantastic initiative and we need more companies to take part. Unilever can't do this alone," said Mustafa Seçkin, Chairman Global Compact Turkey, who attended the launch.