Time to stop playing around. Or is it?

The garbage ladies have some catching up to do! It’s been a very busy summer and autumn, so far, is pretty as well, but there are a few more windows of time, in part as there is a bit less swimming going on now…

‘Best practices’ is a phrase I used to look out for, to follow, to pay attention to, to learn from. Now it is a phrase I try to define in my/our own way. We must be doing something right, as the UNDP has named us as one of the ‘best practices’ for emerging markets; Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation and Keystone Foundation have helped sent 3 women from Moldavia to train with us this week, and we have been highlighted several times as one of Turkey’s Changemakers. What may not pique the interest of potential sponsors, and rarely makes the great PR coverage that we receive, however, is something that we think is essential to our success: fun in general and fun together. In addition to basic respect for people and the environment, high yet reasonable expectations, warmth and a supportive structure, laughing, feeling good, and having fun are the principles çöp(m)adam is based on.

Now and again, we are asked how we know we are making a difference. Sales statistics are a good indicator, as are numbers of women who work with us. I would love to see the questionnaire that asks if anyone has purchased a swimsuit for the first time as an indicator of increased self-esteem.

A few years ago, I heard some of our ladies talking amongst themselves about the not just bathing suits they had recently purchased, but that they were bikinis. I asked if they had ventured out in public with them, and the answer was a resounding ‘Yes! We went to the public beach last weekend!’ As I understand it, they did that at least twice a month for the remainder of the swimming season.

Last summer, the talk turned to taking a boat tour around the islands in the bay here in Ayvalik. I didn’t expect anything to come of it, in part as, while for many people the tours are very reasonably priced, still for many others, and for all of our ladies, that is just money spent frivolously.

This summer, there was more talk of a boat tour. One day I blurted out, ‘you guys will never go on the boat tour unless we close the workshop,’ to which they responded, ‘that’s a great idea!

So, we posted a sign on our door that read ‘gone fishin,’ packed or wore our bathing suits, boarded the boat and headed out to sea for the day.

A number of people commented, with disbelief or disdain, ‘you closed the workshop for a day?’ ‘Some people came by but you were closed.’ Both are correct statements: yes, we closed our workshop, where we also sell our items, on a Friday during peak season, to go out to sea and have fun together. And in doing so, we broke the dial on the fun-o-meter. This was an investment in our workers, in our team, in our comradery. A day on and in the Aegean with one’s workers isn’t exactly hardship, and yet I propose this – or something similar – with the same level of sincerity, and the same level of fun, be replicated by others.

While some of our women could not join us, mostly because they have children, those who could, did. And for most of them, it was the first time they took a boat tour in the town they live in. Some of the ladies swam, others moaned about how cold the water was as effort to disguise their fears, others just sat and watched with large smiles.  And yes, they paid their own expenses and yes, they made the most of the experience.

Can I be a partner in a small business and say ‘It’s not only about the money?’ Of course our ladies come to us because they earn money, but they feel a sense of belonging, because they live experiences they have not lived before, because, well, they have fun. That’s not all. In terms of best practices, we have fun together: the boss lady also has fun with the employees, often at the workshop, now and again, after hours. We accept that there is not much that is standard about how we work anyhow. That is in part as I have tried to avoid the business world for most of my life, so I don’t know the standard ways anymore than I want to learn them. We have animals in the workplace – the boss lady’s desk is often covered with cats; for heaven’s sakes, we make our living off making trash into trendy items. Give us your garbage, we’ll work into something cool and then we’ll sell it to you.

No, we are not a standard business enterprise, but we sure are having fun in the process of being what we are and what are becoming.

Another learning experience as summer turns to fall in the life of the garbage ladies.