Ozlem Denizmen

In every country, there are women who juggle their careers and families and somehow manage to do it all with ease and style. Özlem Denizmen is such a woman, but this mother of two also has the added benefit of helping her country in the process…

From an early age, Özlem Denizem knew that to succeed, you needed to arm yourself with a great education. So she went on to earn a B.S. degree from Cornell University’s Department of Industrial Management and an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. She then began her career in 1994 as a financial analyst at Merrill Lynch, the US Investment Bank, and swiftly climbed the ladder of success. Currently the Head of Strategy at Dogus Holding, a 60-year-old multi-business conglomerate and one of the top corporations in Turkey.

Yet that’s not all. Wanting to give back to her society, Denizem thought of doing something in her field that would benefit ordinary Turks. “In early 2010, I launched the Para Durumu multi-media platform, which is the first financial literacy initiative of Turkey,” Denizmen proudly explains. Para Durumu (which means Currency Status) aims to increase financial education in Turkey and financial inclusion. Before embarking on this venture, Denizmen, investigated the benchmarks, made a plan and realised a media platform would be the most effective way to change people’s mindsets. As she explains, “there is not much done about personal finance in Turkey; there is no one you can go to and ask for advice.” She believes that because Turkey’s economic growth is increasing rapidly along with the use of credit cards, the risk of getting into debt is increasing as well. Even with the country’s booming economy, it still lacks financial awareness, “I am the big sister that wants to help my countrymen out,” Denizmen explains.

And her platform model is one of a kind.  Its uniqueness lies in its multiple mediums, such as a weekly TV show, a page in the national newspaper Posta and Hurriyet and a radio show on Kral FM Turkey. The platform also utilises social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter to interact with the audience. Para Durumu offers people guidance to solve their personal financial problems, such as saving up to buy a house, budget decisions and most importantly, credit card issues. It has basically become a venue where people talk about money in search for advice whether participating in the TV show or reading the official blog of the initiative. The initiative also tries to reach out to several groups in society through different mediums. For example, it organises physical meetings and seminars for university students and government employees.

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To date Para Durumu has been recognised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as the first financial literacy initiative in Turkey. The platform also won the Special Jury Award for being the best volunteer project in 2011 by the Corporate Volunteer Association of Turkey. And guess what? Para Durumu is coming to the Middle East, “Turkey and the Arab World have similar cultures and needs, so we can export our model,” Denizmen states. Para Durumu also started a new personal finance education movement for women, with support of the Ministry of Family and Social Policies, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and the Dogus Holding Group. And of course similar initiatives are now also needed in the Middle East.

Another milestone in Denizmen’s career was her visit to the Obama White House in 2010 for the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship. Denizmen was the only social entrepreneur from Turkey to attend and was honoured to be there. As she explains, “this summit made me think big, and encouraged me to think of taking what I do to the Middle East,” she says. Soon after that, theWorld Economic Forum chose her as a Young Global Leader in 2011, another prestigious accolade. Honoured by the title, Denizmen is still stunned by all the recognition, “I don’t know how all this happened! This recognition gave me wings, it helped guide my path,” she exclaims.

So what does this financial expert have to say about Egypt’s financial situation? “I see Egypt as a Benjamin Button. Egypt has such amazing history. It will get stronger and healthier and the revolution will bring about a new dynamism to entrepreneurship, and that will be the engine of Egypt’s growth.”

For Egypt and the Arab world’s young entrepreneurs out there, she also has some sage advice, “have a dream. Have strong family ties. Plan, but don’t over analyze. And most importantly, work hard to make a difference.”

When we asked her about her own future plans, she kept it short and straightforward. “I just want to be healthy, be loved and be happy. Life is this simple.”

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