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Bedriye Hulye: opening new doors for women in Turkey

Serial entrepreneur Bedriye Hulye is passionate about leveraging her unique business model to create a new and brighter future for Turkish women.

 

 B-Fit, Hulye’s chain of women-only gyms, today has over a hundred and sixty thousand members. Two hundred and fifty women franchisees in nearly fifty cities across Turkey and Cyprus employ a further five hundred women.

“B-Fit is sometimes considered discriminatory because of its women-only model,” Hulye tells wamda.com. “But we believe that in order to close the huge gender-gap in countries like Turkey, where there are neither quotas nor positive discrimination policies, we have to provide specific tools focusing on women’s development.”

With a twenty-year entrepreneurial background which includes the founding of a restaurant, two hotels, and an importing company in Turkey, Hulye took some classes at business school in New York in 1998. While there, she joined a women-only gym where she was introduced to a thirty-minute rotation programme, and the idea of taking the concept back home to Turkey was born.

“I saw an opportunity to enable Turkish women to empower themselves,” she tells ashoka.org. In early 2006, with funds from her personal savings and investments from a few close friends, she opened the first branch of b-Fit in a middle-class neighbourhood of Izmir. A month later, with no advertising other than word-of-mouth referrals, the gym had attracted fifty members.

Hulye realised that to expand the business, the franchise model would be ideal, perfectly dovetailing with her vision of empowering women and girls and enabling them to become entrepreneurs in their own right. “We expect our franchisees to be solution-orientated, motivated, and friendly,” says Hulye. “We don’t base selection criteria on education level or previous work experience – in fact, many of our franchisees have very basic education and have never worked in their lives before.”

B-Fit franchisees are provided with constant support in entrepreneurship, management, communication, and gender awareness, and are brought together at regular intervals to build a strong sense of community. The model combines a gym with a community centre, creating spaces where women of all ages and backgrounds have the opportunity not only to improve their health and fitness, but also to come together socially and to develop a range of business and life-skills.

“Women’s physical, mental, and economic empowerment is central to the b-Fit model,” Hulye says. “The centres are founded and entirely managed by women, creating opportunities for them to start, grow, and own businesses while mastering skills that help them survive in this entrepreneurial life. In turn, they become role models and local changemakers, inspiring many more to follow.”

As the largest and most widespread health and recreation chain in Turkey, b-Fit has significantly transformed a sector which has traditionally been dominated by male-only billiard halls, weightlifting saloons, and football fields. Traditional gender roles are strictly enforced, and women have been largely financially dependent on fathers or husbands and vulnerable to violation of their basic human rights. Hulye and her team encourage franchisees to invest back into their businesses for greater sustainability, and to make informed financial decisions for their own economic security.
“Inequality is enmeshed in our relationships and our norms,” says Hulye. “In a country where ninety-two percent of all immovable property is owned by men, it is also part of women’s empowerment to make smart financial investments for their future.”

To make b-Fit available to even the most-disadvantaged  women, Hulye is partnering with local social organisations in impoverished regions of Turkey and has already set up one low-cost centre for this purpose. She continues to focus on developing a strategy for sustainability and further spread in lower-income groups, as well as planning to expand the b-Fit model to other countries across the Middle East.

With her vision, passion, and commitment, this inspiring entrepreneurial role model is truly making a real difference in the lives of thousands of women and girls.

Watch our interview with Bedriye Hulye

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