Making empty space work in the UK, Turkey spreads its wings and microfinance on the march.
From Africa to the Middle East, Turkey has become a leading exporter of infrastructure. In the late 1990s Turkey began privatising its transit network and companies used it as an opportunity to hone their expertise. “Turkey was our laboratory,” says Sani Sener, ceo of Tav Group, now the world’s largest airport-construction firm.
Since launching Istanbul Ataturk Airport in 2000, Tav has built seven more in the region and is constructing another six across the Gulf states. It handles operations for 18 other airports too, servicing more than 102 million passengers in 2015 alone.
Turks have been nabbing contracts in Africa that were once the reserve of Chinese firms. Contracting company Yapi Merkezi is building a new rail link in Ethiopia, as well as Istanbul’s Eurasia Tunnel and a high-speed link between Mecca and Medina.
Ataturk Airport will be replaced by Istanbul Grand Airport by 2021 but Tav is pursuing global projects. “We started with Ataturk Airport and within 16 years it became 50 per cent of our revenue,” says Sener. “With another five years we can create another Ataturk.”
It was curiosity that first led Fred Wyatt to enquire about vacant plots in the centre of UK city Bristol. “They were all set for development but with no timeframe in place for when work might begin,” he says. That’s how the concept of a so-called “meanwhile lease” – in which he’d rent out dormant sites until long-term commercial tenants were found – was born. Wyatt started out by converting derelict land into parking spots for hire but soon focused on creating affordable office spaces for entrepreneurs.
“The breakthrough came in 2012 when the police offered their dilapidated office block for rent,” says Wyatt, who launched Meanwhile Creative the next year. Today the organisation provides 150 businesses with spaces and Wyatt has an eye on expansion. “People are doing such creative things that even the weirdest space can be someone’s perfect home.”
Belgrade start-up Booka has sparked a quiet but palpable revolution on the Balkan publishing scene. The region’s retailers are packed with translated works but readers with tastes more left-field than Jeremy Clarkson or JK Rowling are often left wanting. Rather than seethe in silence, Booka’s founder Ivan Bevc started his own imprint, publishing the books he wanted to read in his native Serbian.
An impressive stable of contemporary authors – including Michel Houellebecq, Ryu Murakami and Ali Smith – have been swayed by the start-up’s philosophy. “Quality translation, proofreading and, of course, design,” says Bevc. “We’re recognised as the publisher with the most beautiful books.” The aesthetics will soon translate into retail, with Booka planning a Belgrade shop to showcase its catalogue.
Italian beekeeper Andrea Paternoster is changing the way we cook with honey. The founder of Mieli Thun physically moves his bees across Italy – from the rhododendrons of the Dolomites to the fragrant shores of Venice – to capture a variety of flavours for his 24 types of mono-floral honey. “Just as one flower is different from another in smell and colour, so is the honey that comes from it,” he says.
Restaurateurs are catching on: chef Niko Romito has installed beehives at his Michelin-starred restaurant Reale. “When we taste honey,” says Paternoster, “we are tasting perfume that flowers produce exclusively for bees.”
Rupert Scofield and John Hatch founded Finca, an international microfinance institution, in 1985 to provide low-income entrepreneurs with financial services. Its UK subsidiary just launched a campaign to raise £1m (€1.3m) in donations over the next 12 months for female entrepreneurs, who make up half of Finca’s clients.
Why is it so important to support entrepreneurs, particularly those in developing countries?
Entrepreneurship is even more important in developing countries because the small and medium-sized enterprise sector is very underdeveloped. These countries need to create legal and financial frameworks to help enterprises prosper.
How does microfinance sustainably alleviate poverty?
Many other charities simply provide handouts and in many cases there is little long-term impact. Microfinance is a tool that has the power to put capital into the hands of people of modest means who can start or expand a business that feeds their families, and eventually their employees and the whole community.
What regions are you hoping to reach in the near future?
When the Middle East calms down we intend to expand there as it is the world’s most underserved region, with only 15 per cent of the microfinance market served. The people of that region are incredibly resourceful and resilient and I have no doubt that once the guns are silenced it will be the next big economic success story.