As a social entrepreneur I have encountered and overcome resistance while breaking through many boundaries during the early beginning years of my company, Bajer Watches, a high-quality, uniquely designed business venture that provides empowerment to the Kurdish communities around the globe. The boundaries I encountered were geographical, cultural, generational, gender-related and even familial in nature.

It has not been an easy journey.  Rather, it has been a journey spanning thousands of miles and many years, but it is one that I would embark upon again if I had the opportunity to do so.  Overcoming these boundaries has resulted in an incredible education that opened doors to an enriched life, as I founded a company that provides assistance to people living in my native country of Turkey, while maintaining supportive and loving relationships with my husband and two amazing daughters.

Many people ask me how I did it.  It took time, lots of time, planning and patience. One step at a time, I progressed. During this time I strove to become my authentic self. As I look back, I try to instill in my daughters some of the lessons I have learned by breaking through these boundaries.  Here is what I plan to share with them as they get older:

Education:  Education is an inalienable right that I believe should never be taken for granted.  Too many people in countries around the world do not have access to education.  According to the United Nations, “78 million children in the world don’t go to school at all, for reasons that include conflict, climate disasters and displacement, while tens of millions more receive only sporadic teaching.”
Where I grew up, in the, war-torn Kurdish territory of Turkey, in an area known as Suru, located on the border with Syria, most girls were not encouraged to get an education, and thus, parents kept their daughters home, where they learned culture and traditions from their female relatives.  While this region is rich in traditions, culture and art, I knew being entrenched in this community wasn’t going to be enough for me.  My parents supported my wishes to seek more from my life and sent me to school.  Not only was I the only girl in my graduating class, I was the only girl in my extremely large extended tribal family of about 5,000 people to have graduated high school.  I was also the first to leave my community for college to attend university in the United States:  I am currently in graduate school. Recognizing that many people who live in my native country don’t have the access to education that I have had, my company seeks to help provide educational assistance to the Kurdish people in Turkey. We do this via my company, Bajer as we partner with NGOs to provide training, education, and healthcare, which helps others  to attain independence.

Perseverance: While there wasn’t one specific thing or event that led me to continue my quest to break through the many hurdles and boundaries that stood before me, I can best attribute my perseverance to my lifelong dreams. Having experienced the dire restrictions that women and girls were subjected to, I knew deep inside that life could be filled with a better future.  I kept dreaming: Dreaming of being able to make my life one that is filled with meaning, one that is filled with purpose, and one that could free my fellow females from the restrictions that we have been forced to endure. With the help of my parents, I followed my dreams.  And as I did this,  I also made sure not to leave my culture behind.  The women I grew up with were too dedicated, too smart, too caring, to just leave them behind.  Bajer’s watch designs celebrate the women who, from generation to generation, have persevered in passing down their skills and customs to their children so that their rich culture lives on. I embrace and amplify these traits in our Swiss-made watches, with designs, motifs and materials that celebrate the rich traditions of my culture.

Resilience: As an entrepreneur, I find it is essential to be resilient. While my education has taught me how to conduct research; formulate a business plan; analyze each step necessary to be prepared to grow a start-up; and, even prepare for failure — the act of being resilient is not something that any advanced education can teach you.  It may prepare you for adversity, but it can’t teach you how to be resilient.  For me, resilience has come from not only my personal inner strength, but frankly, from all of the boundaries I faced growing up coupled with the strength and resilience of the Kurdish women who were (and are) an integral part of my life.

These are the traits that I will be sharing with my daughters as they venture into the world. I am sure I will be learning a lot from them, too, as they cross their own boundaries and make their own marks on this world.

This article was contributed by Leyla Uysal, founder and president of Bajer Watches.

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