Innovation Alumni Talks with Deniz Cengiz (RC ‘17)

Author: Ayseli (Grade 11)

*Some parts of this article are taken from Bosphorus Chronicle Issue 3 of 2021

We organize Innovation Alumni Talks to open space to connect Robert College students with RC Alumni who work in the fields of social entrepreneurship, innovation, and creativity.

The first speaker of the year was Deniz Cengiz (RC ‘17), the student founder of the Robert College Social Entrepreneurship Club who now works as a design researcher at IDEO.

Even though Deniz holds a dual degree of archeology and biology, she decided to work as a design researcher. In her talk, Deniz mentioned that social entrepreneurship was something she worked on throughout her education in high school and university, and it has led her to a job she is very passionate about. She defined social entrepreneurship as “what happens when you bring social cause and design thinking into the world of entrepreneurship and business. It is merging the powers of social good with the powers of entrepreneurship”. Deniz discovered social entrepreneurship in her prep year in an English class. She explained that “When we started up the RC Social Entrepreneurship Club we really focused on educating ourselves and our community about social entrepreneurship. We mostly worked with Ashoka, attended and hosted conferences, and designed and implemented exchange programs on social entrepreneurship between high schools.” In a way, the start of her social entrepreneurship journey also embarked the school’s social entrepreneurship journey.

The Social Entrepreneurship Club has evolved over the years and it is now an accomplished community. When we asked Deniz what was the inspiration behind the Social Entrepreneurship Club, she told us that Ashoka and learning and co-creating with her friends were her main sources of inspiration. “We were all very hungry to learn more about social entrepreneurship. We were only three people and we read about new ideas” . Seeing how the club is thriving makes her very excited. She also mentions the importance of design thinking and how it’s a privilege to learn about it while still at high school. The next question was “If you could rewind your RC years, what advice would you give to your younger self?” She pointed out how she did a lot in high school and when she went to college, it felt like less workload. Her biggest advice was to keep one’s options open. “You can connect everything together if you really want to. That was something I had a big conflict with at high school”. She then linked her current career to her experiences in the social entrepreneurship club: “What I did at RC SEC determined my career path. I found out what I would like to work on thanks to RC SEC.”

The next questions were about if Deniz was involved with social entrepreneurship after high school. In fact, Deniz continued her journey of social entrepreneurship in college as well. She worked at the start up of an innovation center at the university she was studying. She was surprised to see that she knew more about design thinking than she thought she did, which shows how transformative and productive her years in the social entrepreneurship club were. She became a part of the office that worked on design thinking, innovation, and social entrepreneurship-related concepts. She described how this small office evolved to become something much bigger: “The first year we had a very small office, 6 people. The director of the innovation center asked the students to use their passions to create the programs. I worked in the education department of the community engagement center.” This is how she contributed to the development of Barbara J. Burger iZone. She said it was the result of having great mentors and no creative limitations. “I actually spent a lot of time doing stuff that is related to innovation, as well as, design thinking which eventually led to my career choice,” she added to her answer. Consequently, she is now working at IDEO. Deniz explained how IDEO works: “IDEO is all about design. They are a consulting agency. Companies come to us about things they are working on. They commission us. There are many different kinds of employees: communication designers, graphic designers, industrial designers, etc”.

Deniz’s whole journey of social entrepreneurship has brought her to exactly where she needs to be. Her career path always gives her something new to explore and she keeps tackling challenges throughout her exciting journey.

The biggest insight we gained from listening to her is deep diving into your passions. Since choosing the “best” career path is really challenging for high school students, it was very helpful to learn about the experiences of someone who went through the same decision-making following an innovative approach.

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Robert College Social Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Creativity Office

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Robert College Social Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Creativity Office