Ela Gokcigdem ’24 has traveled the world, but her heart has never left her homeland in Turkey. Her grandparents instilled a deep love for Avsa Island in the Sea of Marmara.
“They viewed that island as a sacred space,” she says. “But, even as a little kid, I noticed that my island pollutes so little yet takes all of the hits from mainland Turkey.”
She was only 8, but that realization ignited a passion for ocean conservation that has propelled her to the global stage. “I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to elevate the voice of my community at this large scale. They’re what motivates me,” the Babson Presidential Scholar says. “I’m creating a name for what I’m doing, and I want to be able to hold on to that as strongly as possible, and continue the work I’m doing in Turkey.”
Last June, Gokcigdem represented Turkey as a youth delegate at the UN Ocean Conference Youth and Innovation Forum in Portugal, where she bonded with two of the other delegates representing Middle Eastern and North African countries. They immediately launched MENAeco, a youth organization focused on ocean conservation in the region, and just five months later, they presented findings of a youth survey at the high-profile Climate Action Hub of COP27, the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in Egypt.
It was a bit of a whirlwind, even for Gokcigdem, who hasn’t slowed down since. In March, she attended the United Nations Water Conference in New York with the Assembly of Turkish American Associations. She spoke on a panel about Bloom, her climate tech startup to help coastal communities in Turkey combat the algal bloom that disrupts the economy and infrastructure.
Combining her environmental work with a strong business background is why she chose Babson. Gokcigdem first set foot on campus in 2019, attending Summer Study for High School Students, where she discovered the Institute of Social Innovation and met Executive Director Cheryl Kiser. The institute quickly became her home on campus, and Kiser became a mentor, fueling her passion and accelerating her progress.
“Being able to map everything I was witnessing and put it on paper and develop ideas off of—that was eye-opening. I don’t think I would be able to advance my ideas to this level without those core classes.”
Ela Gokcigdem ’24
Gokcigdem’s eyes were opened in the classroom, too, especially the sustainability-related courses that introduced her to systems thinking, a holistic way of looking at the interconnectedness of the world. “Being able to map everything I was witnessing and put it on paper and develop ideas off of—that was eye-opening,” she says. “I don’t think I would be able to advance my ideas to this level without those core classes.
“I want to do all I can to bring all the resources I’m getting from my education in the United States and bring it back, which I’m so proud to say that I am doing right now. What keeps me going is being able to see the change that I’m working on firsthand.”