"You can see it everywhere in the city: how vibrant this society can be, how mixed and how democratic it is becoming. […] It is probably 15 or maybe 20 years that we will need, but there is no doubt that the Turkey of tomorrow will be ready to become part of the European Union."
Ishak Alaton, born into an old Jewish Istanbul family in 1927, is one of the most successful businessmen in Istanbul and a leading civil society figure.
Alaton went to Sweden in 1951 to work as a welder. There he was influenced by the Social Democratic movement of Sweden, including Olof Palme:
"I brought back to Turkey this mentality of private entrepreneurship, which is combined with social democracy: first creating wealth and then sharing wealth with the society where you live."
When Alaton returned to Turkey in 1954, together with his partner Üzeyir Garih he founded ALARKO, a company. From a single office room it grew into one of Turkey's leading enterprises, currently employing more than 6,000 people. ALARKO is involved in many different areas of investment, from manufacturing to tourism, to land development, urban construction and energy. It is currently building the new Istanbul metro.
Alaton also played a prominent role in supporting Turkish civil society organizations. He is one of the founders of Turkey's most prestigious think tank, TESEV (Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation).
Turkey's economic system, as Alaton sees it, has changed a lot since the 1980s:
"In the 1980s, it was impossible to convince the bureaucracy to sign an agreement for importing new ideas or technology. They wouldn't allow you to pay for new ideas. Now it is free and you can integrate your economy and your industry in such a way that you can become No. 1 in the world for quality."