The Guild cooperative shakes up Turkey’s translation sector

16 Mar 2023

The Guild translators’ cooperative was borne out of a number of students’ shared dissatisfaction with the translation industry in Turkey. 

“In our sector in Turkey, job security pretty much does not exist,” said co-founder Mehmet Ali Özgündüz. “Exploitation is institutionalised in the translation sector in Turkey. Nobody is employing anyone officially, everything is based on freelance labour, without insurance and without tax. Rates are getting lower and lower… there wasn't a sustainable situation.” 

In 2019, a group of students studying at Marmara University got together to discuss these issues, not knowing that they were setting out on a path toward cooperation.  

But as they talked more, the idea of setting up a coop for translators, based on horizontal relationships, fair pay and ethical working hours, became more of a possibility.  

The group sought advice from Turkish coop development organisation Genç İşi Kooperatif, which, as well as providing some initial training, told the group about the Youth Replication Project. 

They secured €7,500 funding and mentoring via the YRP and by September 2021 were incorporated as the Guild translation cooperative.  

The funding provided by the YRP was essential to the Guild’s initial progress, as well as the mentoring, as fellow Guild founder Alara türkü Aktaş explained. Following the mentoring, Alara “had a more clear understanding of what was expected of me, and what I could expect of my partners from my cooperative career,” she said. 

Alara added that being chosen for the YRP also provided reassurance that what they were setting out to do was a viable idea. 

“When I first heard about the idea, I wasn't so sure of it,” she said. “I was a little sceptical, Because as a student, I wasn't even freelance working at that time. And when we discussed it with other professors or employers that came to conferences, [they made it seem] impossible…. Getting selected by the ICA as one of the replication projects was really eye opening for me - like, this is not impossible. It is getting recognised by a lot of people that know that stuff. They are experienced in cooperatives, and it could have many benefits. It's not a fruitless job.” 

Mehmet echoed this point, explaining that they have faced a lot of discouragement, because what they are trying to do threatens to “shake up the very existence of the established sector”.  

So far, the Guild has secured a number of translation contracts, with a particular focus on localisation services. 25% of their business has come from fellow cooperatives. 

The cooperative’s next steps are to refine and amplify its brand through its website and social media channels and secure more work in order to become financially sustainable. 

“We are very grateful to the Replication Project for giving us the opportunity to establish something that we are proud of for the rest of our lives,” said Mehmet, “also the opportunity for us to establish something that will sustain our lives.”