How the Turkish Airlines ENGAGE Empowerering League started

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Last Saturday the Turkish Airlines ENGAGE Empowering League, the premier wheelchair basketball competition in South Asia ended in a positive note. After six months of preparations, we were finally at the end.

Partnerships were the foundations of the League, an initiative that on the one hand, promotes social inclusion and advocates for better living conditions for youths living with disabilities and on the other hand, it tries to focus on raising the levels of wheelchair basketball in Nepal.

Yet it takes time and commitment to build a rapport and you need to give your best at trying to forge a relationship. People often asked me how I managed to get Turkish Airlines involved and well it is a long history.

Even if I never really played basketball, I like the sport. Actually I love most of the sports and I tried myself to be updated with all the main events. When I was child, I used to go to watch with my father Olympia Milano playing, at the time one of the strongest basketball teams in Europe.

Fast forward and I must confess that I neglected basketball a bit and it was only because of my friend Micheal Rosenkrantz that I rediscovered the love for the game.

As a proud European, I was curious to know what was happening in Europe in terms of basketball. I had no idea that there was a professional league called Euroleague whose title sponsor was Turkish Airlines.

Then two years ago, Bikram and Utkrist, our senior most ENGAGE Sport Coaches, our flagship program that basically trains local youths with a passion for basketball to teams of youths with disabilities willing to play wheelchair basketball, proposed the idea of setting up a semiprofessional wheelchair basketball league.

Initially we thought that well, it was not that big deal, we thought that we could easily organize such events with a small budget.

Well it turned out that the League was a “gamechanger” and also a much more complex endeavor for ENGAGE but it hugely paid off at the end.

At the time of finding the money for the League, immediately Turkish Airlines popped up in my mind. I still remember the day I made a call to Archanna Shrestha, Marketing Manager at Turkish Airlines office.

Somehow I managed, also to my surprise, to get an appointment with her and her colleague Benazir Khan, the Sales Manager.

I still remember the meeting with them, I was with Bikram, it was beginning of December 2015 and we could not imagine that after two years, we would have gone that far.

Archanna and Benazir liked the idea but obviously we were proposing something totally new, something bold and also risky for a corporate partner.

In that meeting I tried my best to link the idea of organizing a wheelchair basketball league with the fact that Turkish Airlines was investing money in the European Basket.

Before the meeting, we also did some research and we found out that Turkish Airlines was not only investing on sport sponsorships around the world but also that they were heavily involved with a global corporate social responsibility program called “Widen your Hearth” that is basically funding community based initiatives around the world.

It took several months before we could hear back from Turkish Airlines. Meanwhile we had approached several other potential partners.

Even for the second edition, we struggled a lot to get the attention of corporates. For example I had to visit at least 10 times one big national conglomerate begging for an appointment with the CEO. That appointment never came and promise of a super tiny financial support never materialized.

Yet it was worthy trying. We had the opportunity to visit other big companies and we were at least successful in getting a chance to meet the CEOs. Despite not getting any endorsements, at least we were happy we had a chance to introduce ourselves and explain our initiative.

The successful partnership with Turkish Airlines was a combination of factors, including a very good understanding with the then new General Manager, Mr. Abdullah Kececi who enthusiastically embraced the idea, believed on it since day one and successfully pitched it with the HQ.

We did our best to match the expectations of Turkish Airlines and from their side, they trusted a small NGO like ENGAGE and they took a risk on this.

We have been building a relationship based on mutual understanding and the concept of learning by doing and self-improvement.

Along the way, we were able to bring on board other key partners like the Ministry of Youth and Sport and very strategically the Embassy of Switzerland who loved the idea of creating a more inclusive society through sports whose support has been fundamental to organize a series of awareness programs at schools. 

The Turkish Airlines team in Nepal gave us hope and helped boosting our confidence so that we could approach, sometimes with success and many more time with failures, other partners. Themselves they helped connecting us with opportunities.

With a major corporate partner like Turkish Airlines, with a very committed development partner like the Embassy of Switzerland, we were confident that organizing such big initiative was possible.

We succeeded also because we won the trust of other partners like D Life Styles, Civil Bank, IME, MSI, CBM, Hero, AYON and the Duke of Edinburgh International Award and NSCISA. Each of them played an important role and trusted us.

Building partnership is not about cashing in but it is about building relationships, show your strengths but also your weaknesses. Listening carefully and understanding others ‘perspectives and never be afraid of sharing your perspectives. It requires an investment in time and energies but also some luck to be on your side.

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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