Celal Karadogan

“Our work is about human rights. We defend human rights... How can we succeed in this without agitating [the status quo]?” says Celal Karadogan, founder of ‘Youth and Disabled Sports Club’ in Turkey.

I met Celal on the sidelines of Ashoka Turkey’s Innovative Solutions for Refugees conference, which brings together social entrepreneurs, funders, and community centers to collaborate on creative solutions to the refugee crisis affecting the Middle East and Europe.

Currently, in his ‘Youth and Disabled Sports Club’, Celal engages both disabled and non-disabled youth in interactive opportunities where they exercise empathy with one another through sports activities, education support, career guidance and mentoring.

But how did Celal—an Ashoka Fellow— get to this point in his life, and transform his own disability into inertia for inspiring social change in communities across Turkey?

When he was between 12 and 13 years old, Celal wanted to play soccer with his peers, but, because of his disability, his peers refused to allow him to participate.  Some people would have ended their journey there. However, Celal was fed up with being treated as ‘sub-human’. He took the existing prejudice in his society and decided to make his own system with new rules, establishing himself as a changemaker. As a teenager, he created his own mini soccer league with other teens in his community.

“First they didn’t let me play,” says Celal with a smile. “Then, they could not play without me because I had an actual league.” Now, as an adult, Celal says he is more determined than ever to change government policy with respect to obtaining equality for those with disabilities. Celal is currently helping form a network of sports clubs in 110 locations across Turkey with disabled youth. As part of a community of social entrepreneurs (Ashoka Fellows) in Turkey, he is planning to expand his existing youth program to support disabled refugee youth.

There are many important insights to pull from a determined changemaker like Celal. An important thing to remember is that the experience of trying to lead and build something should start early-on in a person’s life. Why? Because practicing leadership at an early age and the process of transforming one’s passions into tools for solving community challenges can greatly impact the trajectory of a young person growing up in today’s world.

More than 80% of Ashoka Fellows, who are all seasoned social innovators today, started initiatives before they were 20 years old. This was due to their abilities in the fields of empathy, leadership, team culture, and changemaking. Parents, teachers, employers, schools and universities all have a role to play in valuing and supporting young changemakers in their teens so that they are able to experience and master empathy, fluid leadership, team of teams culture, and changemaking.

Most importantly, all young people should have the chance to step into their changemaker journeys by self-identifying as changemakers, acting on it, and sharing their changemaking with the world. The health and progress of our neighborhoods, our schools, our societies, and our world depend on great changemakers beginning their journey in their teens.

Still a skeptic? Check out more examples from Ashoka of Richard Branson, Robin Chase and other bold social entrepreneurs starting changemaking in their teens. Got your own story of taking charge of a problem in your community at a young age? Share it with @ashoka and @youth_venture with the tags #YouthLead and/or #MyYouthVenture so that more people can promote youth-led innovation and ideas. Check out Youth Venture or our Medium page to explore some more changemaker stories of youth in charge.

To get fresh updates on the innovative solutions for refugees mobilized at Ashoka Turkey’s recent conference, follow @AshokaTurkiye on Twitter!


This article was originally published on 1 April 2017

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