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Tough as Nails: supporting Turkish businesswomen with access to finance

Handan Ilkoz is used to people’s surprise when they learn that this smiling, softly-spoken woman runs a construction business. Her company, Izodem Construction Isolation, trades in building supplies and insulation and also specialises in installing wall partitions and dropped ceilings. She employs 30 staff members (21 men and nine women) and has a shop, warehouse and office on a small side street in the north-western Turkish city of Bursa.

Ilkoz qualified as a physiotherapist, but the military coup of 1980 led to a hiring freeze in Turkish hospitals, so instead she started a business with her husband. Together, they built a solid, small construction company and raised three children.

In 2008, just as the crisis hit the economy, her husband died. Closing down the business at a time when her staff would have struggled to find other work was unthinkable for Ilkoz, and she decided to tough it out.

She managed to keep the company afloat, and today the orders are coming in steadily from her network of customers, made up of both commercial and municipal contractors.

Recently, Ilkoz applied for and received a loan worth 50,000 Turkish lira via Garanti Bank. The loan came from an EBRD-funded credit line for women entrepreneurs.

“I hate having debt,” she says. “But sometimes contractors are late with payments, especially in the aftermath of the crisis. And I need to pay my staff. That’s why I need access to credit which is both affordable and approved quickly.

“Before applying for a loan through this scheme for women business owners, I shopped around with about six banks, but this financing was the most attractive.”

The women-only EBRD credit line aims to address the issue of lack of access to finance for female entrepreneurs in Turkey outside the three main cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.

Turkish families are largely geared towards supporting their sons in opening businesses. Daughters, meanwhile, are often expected to contribute from their salaries to help their brothers, rather than focusing on their own entrepreneurial ambitions.

“Established business ladies like myself can get a loan through a normal route, albeit more expensively,” Ilkoz says. “But for a woman who is just starting, a dedicated credit line like this would be invaluable.”

Attitudes are, however, slowly changing. Ilkoz believes that if she had been a new graduate today, she would have been able to open a private physiotherapy clinic. Her two daughters qualified as a psychiatrist and a management consultant respectively and found jobs easily.

Izodem Construction Isolation has just received a sub-contract to build offices in a new stadium that the city is building for its celebrated football team, Bursaspor.

Ilkoz doesn’t follow football; but if Bursa starts holding international matches, no doubt this connection with the stadium will give her builders – who are all fans of the beautiful game – huge bragging rights.


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