Mapping Turkey: Youth and Participatory Projects


For the full Mapping, please click here.


Youth has both been a priority and a risk group in the modern history of Turkey. The young population (15-24 years old) constituted 16% of the total population in 2017 and is projected to decrease in the next 20 years. There are many public and civic organisations and projects for youth, but no comprehensive policies which are required to ensure that the country has a healthy, educated and skilled society in the future. While young people struggle to create their own world, they also try to under-stand the present and develop the potential of transforming the future. Recognising this potential, since the beginning of the 2000s, governmental and non-governmental organisations – including associations, foundations, university clubs, initiatives, youth councils – as well as corporations have realised some participatory projects for youth in Turkey. The aim of these projects has been to increase the participation of youth in economic, cultural, social and political life. But this has not measured up yet.

Most of the existing youth projects in Turkey have the aim of integrating young people in society and increasing their participation in social life. However, youth should also be supported to develop themselves into strong and productive individuals. In other words, young people need more support in their search, creation and production processes without considering primarily their impact on society. Youth experience dif-ficulties in finding platforms where they can express themselves. Therefore, projects should focus on the possibilities of creating such platforms, with young people being the main focus in any project developed for the local community. Projects targeting youth should empower and inspire, creating self-confidence in these young people.

Another important point is about the unemployment rate among the young populati-on. Although there are some state universities where the costs of education are lower, the exam that is required to have a right to be educated is very difficult to pass with sufficient marks and needs a very concentrated preparation period (usually invol-ving extra private lessons after school, which is very costly, putting youth from poor families at a disadvantage). Students may not have the possibility to be educated at a university or department of their preference as a result of this exam, or may not be able to find a job after finishing university or school because the labour market is extremely competitive. Many others do not even have the chance to go to university due to poverty and early entry in the labour market. There are a lot of opportunities to develop projects with youth from lower socio-economic groups because they are open to and interested in expressing themselves by means of culture. Especially youth who have few avenues open for them to develop, need support from cultural actors to find ways to express themselves and gain self-confidence. Cultural projects can help these young people develop social and cultural skills that can expand their choices in life. In short, cultural projects including non-formal training opportunities in mixed environments focusing on culture with an interdisciplinary approach could be life changing for many young people.

The mainstream youth work in Turkey is mainly boiled down to commercial projects, mobility and exchange projects and education with a focus on career development, either at a national or international level. Although youth has been a working field for a long time, it is not easy to talk about a consistent and long-term youth policy in Turkey. It is hard to find widespread practices and policies of participation for disad-vantaged youth in terms of ethnic identity, migration and gender. Any kind of youth work and participatory project needs to be based on the recognition of youth as a heterogeneous group with different participatory behaviours, needs and priorities. Either centres or projects should focus on the empowerment of disadvantaged youth, including but not limited to support for participation in social decision-making proces-ses, opportunities for self-development and becoming independent individuals, ope-ning platforms to accomplish their dreams and desires, and not only focusing on their immediate transition to the labour market but valuing their creativity and potentials.

Youth tend to feel better and participate more in social life if there are enough public spaces and cultural facilities as well as active civil society organisations available in their city. Participation of youth in the cultural, social and political life, as well as vo-lunteering, has not measured up yet in Turkey. So it is still important to support local platforms and public spaces that encourage youth participation in cultural activities as well as active involvement in social processes, especially in smaller and neglected or underdeveloped cities in Turkey.

For the full Mapping, please click here.