The future of the world,
In whose hand?
In your hand, brother, in your hand!
But do not mistreat the world.
Deal with it as your best friend,
As your only friend.
- Sri Chinmoy
An alarming increase in the number of children missing school due to working on the streets of Turkey’s busy mega metropolis Istanbul prompted Garanti Pension & Life Company to launch a unique corporate responsibility program to lure students back to school on a full time basis. No easy task, as their families largely depended on the incomes of their children for their basic living expenses and had lamentable attitudes about the value of education. In the 2010 pilot program alone, Garanti Pension’s “Pen in Hand” CSR program achieved a 7% success rate. Today, momentum is building as more and more children and parents see the value of education for the future. By taking a pencil in their hands, rather than cash, the children believe they have the potential for a more productive and happy future.

What better result can a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program have than having social impact with a community that fits its business? Garanti Pension did just that: they redirected a growing segment of working street children in Istanbul back to school and fostered good will in the process.

Istanbul, a city with a swelling population of some 20 million, is home to millions of primary and secondary school children. A large segment of these children come from families where unemployment and other problems require the children to become the major breadwinners. The urban community is plagued with the problem of thousands of children working in the streets in increasing numbers. While they largely are enrolled in school, as primary and secondary school education is mandatory in Turkey, the rate of absences is “off the charts.” What’s more, the majority drop out of school completely. No one has “stepped up to the plate” to remedy this social travesty.

Taking care of the family should not be the duty of a child. Children working on the streets face unfathomable danger, while their families allow and even encourage them to work on the streets. The way protect children is to keep them in school. The primary objective of Garanti Pension’s program is exactly that.

Public research regarding the trends in child employment in the streets, crime statistics, plus school records of attendance and academic performance were essential in planning the program.

Knowing that typically the most successful CSR programs are in fact Community Relations initiatives, Garanti Pension formed a four way team including the Ministry of Education, Bogazici University, local schools. and employee volunteers. Involving the Ministry of Education from the outset was critical for institutionalizing the program and garnering productive cooperation from the participating teachers in the selected schools. Using training and curriculum methodology from the prestigious Bogazici University ensured quality. Local schools supplied the names of eligible students and teachers willing to participate. Garanti Pension provided employee volunteers, administration and funding for the program.

To succeed in motivating the children to leave their street jobs and take their futures in their hands through full time school attendance, the following indicators and objectives were established:

• Change in family opinions about education
• Increase in school attendance
• Integration in the general school study body
• Improvement of academic achievement
• Elevation of future aspirations
• Increase in number of students that stop working in the streets

During the pilot phase of the program, specific numbers and percentages were not determined. It was preferred to let the program produce its best results in the first year in order to set quantifiable standards for the future years.

In early 2010, the project was organized. First, guidance counselors and course teachers were selected and trained about their individual roles and responsibilities. Then the guidance counselors met with the parents and explained the importance of their children's education. It was extremely critical to have the parents “on board” and clearly understand their roles in helping their children make the conversion from breadwinners to full time students. The counselors raised parent awareness that taking care of the household is the duty of the parents, not the children.
Next, Garanti Pension employee volunteers and even Board members, were trained and briefed about the project, their individual roles and responsibilities.

A press meeting was held to announce the new pilot program to rescue working street kids in Istanbul.

The “Pen in Hand” program was launched in March, 2010 with five participating school districts with low SES (social and economic status) and a high number of working school children. Some 18 guidance counselors and 54 teachers worked with approximately 1,000 students, whose families had given their consent.

At their schools, twice a week children attended a program to integrate in the general student body population, where they learned tools for self-confidence, developed study skills and acquired a sense of belonging.

Nearly 100 Garanti Pension employee volunteers participated in school activities on weekends and provided educational support in foreign language and other courses. They also joined personal development activities with the children such as acting, dancing, painting, photography and chess.

So far, some 19 schools in six districts have joined since the beginning of the project with just over 1,500 students redirected to school from the streets. In the pilot phase alone, 7% of the students stopped working completely.

Changing the attitudes of parents towards school is an indication that a child would continue to attend school and that the rate of children working in the streets would decrease. In a post-pilot survey of the parents, the majority reported the following values:
- I believe education is valuable to every person
- If I were a child again, I would like to continue my education
- I talk to my children about school every day

It is striking that achievement rates have increased in at least four subjects (science, math, social studies, Turkish). Student attitudes towards school and teachers have changed positively after just the first three months alone. The key attitude changes, according to a post-pilot survey of the students, were:
-This school is a good match for me
-My teachers make learning interesting

A key result from the 2010 program is that average excused absences from school declined from an average per term of 2.8 to 1.0.

Going forward in 2011, Garanti Pension aims to reach more than 30 schools with some 3,000 students – aiming to increase school attendance of redirected children from 7% to 15%, while decreasing the number of children working on the streets.