When I was reading an article about Slovenian Soglasnik Language Cooperative, I thought if only we had a similar one in Turkey. What I didn’t know was, The Guild Translation & Localization Cooperative’s foundation was being founded in the meantime. Today, you will see a very unique cooperative founded by university students. Yes, they are new, but they are saying “we are here” by their name, story, the business idea they developed and the international award they won.

Murat and I, from Sosyal Ekonomi, were very happy to get to know The Guild, with the words of Ece and Mehmet Ali. We are hoping for that The Guild Co-Operative will achieve their goals, set an example in their industry and all the translators get their labor’s worth. 

We are presenting a new generation cooperative and two of their founder members, Ece Kaya and Mehmet Ali Özgündüz.

The Guild Co-Operative’s founder members Ece and Mehmet Ali, please introduce yourselves…

E.K.: My name is Ece Kaya, I am 22 years old. I am a 4th grade student of The Department Translation and Interpreting in German at Marmara University.

M.A.Ö.: My name is Mehmet Ali Özgündüz. I am a mature student. I had other careers in the private sectors before. I left my sales and marketing career because of some health problems and some personal issues. I chose to be a translator instead. In the process, I thought “it will be better if I receive a proper education for my choice.”. I entered the university admission exams and enrolled to Marmara University, Department of Translation and Interpreting. Then, I transferred to the English Language Teaching department and still pursuing an undergraduate degree.

The idea of the cooperative was originated in the school cantines.

Was The Guild founded by undergrad students? How did you come up with the idea of establishing a cooperative?

M.A.Ö.: Ours is a cooperative that was founded by students and operates in translation and localization industry. We came up with the idea in university cantines, while making small talk over tea. In the meantime, I was working actively as a translator, and I reached a certain in my career. Meanwhile, I was receiving questions from my classmates such as whether studying will give any result. Some were considering receiving an additional degree to become teachers. I was thinking that why on earth they would try to be teachers since they are being trained for a skilled occupation. In the process, I had reached the limits of my working capacity. I needed to offer my services via an enterprise in order to receive more business.

I was also interested in social economics and cooperatives. At the time, I thought that getting a corporate roof can be achieved by the cooperation work model. On December 19, 2019, I created a WhatsApp group and invited a group of my classmates to learn about their thoughts for such a corporation. That was the beginning point of everything. We all met at the school as students.

Then you are responsible for everything?

M.A.Ö.: Not me. It’s Ece, really. We talked about it with her before one week of that meeting.

E.K.: When I first got to the University, experienced translators were telling us that “You don’t get paid properly when you work in firms. You work day and night but you earn little. Get used to these kind of things”. They were hopeless but they weren’t trying to change anything and out teachers were talking about this almost in every class. When you start you education like this, you become hopeless.

The only output of translation comes from the translator’s mind. When the situation is like this, the income should be the translator’s, or the translator at least should get his or her labor’s worth.

M.A.Ö.: I was pretty motivated by Ece’s hopelessness. And because of that, everything started with Ece. I already had the idea of establishing a corporate structure. I thought I had to establish a company. But companies are a bit opposite to my life principles. Besides, I suffered a lot in the translation industry because of not getting paid properly. The only output of translation comes from the translator’s mind. When the situation is like this, the surplus value should be the translator’s, or the translator at least should get his or her labor’s worth. But sadly, that’s not the situation in our translation industry. The fees of translators are becoming less and less over time. And I didn’t want to be a part of a system like that. When I heard Ece’s complaints, I told my friends the idea of becoming partners in this business. Then we started the process with discussing how and what we can do.

We chose The Guild name first, then the Turkish name for it: Lonca.

Is there story behind the The Guild name? What does it represent to you?

M.A.Ö.:  The name really has a lot of stories that crossover each other and it was a meaningful choice for us. Our Cooperative uses “The Guild” name in international market. The “guild” word gives relation to our chosen area of expertise, which is game localization. In multi-player online games, especially in those based on fantasy literature, “guild” is where players communicate with each other and act like a team. We wanted that familiarity. And “Lonca” is just the Turkish for the same word. Guilds are where artisans grouped in Medieval Europe and Middle East. For example, the Anatolian equivalents of that is the Ahi’s and the Ahi Community. And translation is a craft that has been around since the oldest times.

Our favorite inspiration for our name is the Disc World book series

M.A.Ö.: But our favorite inspiration for our name is the Disc World book series by the famous British fantasy and satire writer Terry Pratchett. In the Disc World universe, Pratchett is making a parody of the European mythologies based modern fantasy literature started by J.R.R. Tolkien. In the Disc World, craftsmen are not the only professions organized under guilds, but thieves, assassins, conmen, and witches, all the other groups did the same. We thought, “We would probably establish a guild if we were in the Disc World,” and first we chose The Guild as our name, then the Turkish word for it, which is Lonca.

How did you proceed after the first meeting?

M.A.Ö.: The process was collaborative, and we discussed everything together. The discussion process enabled friends who would agree on common points come together. I invited 18 of my friends to the first meeting. 15 of them responded, 12 of them said they will come. Then we learned that there are other students that are reorganizing as a similar structure. We met them, explained our idea to them. They thought it was logical and they joined us, thus we our number of partners reached 16. Some of them later left us because of their own choices. So, we established the cooperative with the remaining 8 people. 2 of them, which are me and Egemen Görçek, are experienced translators. Egemen is a literary translator, he has around 200 literary translations under his belt. He was also an administrator of the Fantasia and Sci-Fi Arts Association’s (FABİSAD) for a long time. He is a recognized translator by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The rest of those 8 people are our classmates.

The cooperative model is very fit for unexperienced people. It presents a situation where we can get our labor’s worth and won’t be exploited, also without a superior-subordinate relationship.

Ece, what attracted you to the cooperative model?

E.K.: We only get theorical education at the school. We don’t receive hands-on training. When we graduate, all the firms are seeking for experienced translators. And that is a big problem for us. For someone who has no work experience, finding a job is very hard. That’s why the cooperative model is very fit for unexperienced people. We will get experience by working in every area and we would be able to get into the industry. The cooperative model presents a situation where we can get our labor’s worth and won’t be exploited, also without a superior-subordinate relationship. We would have no boss. That’s why I thought the model will be fit for me.

We aim to take the translation industry’s quality higher. And also, we want to lead the way to impose translators getting their labor’s worth for high quality output in the industry.

What is the purpose of your cooperative?

M.A.Ö.: We aim to increase the living standards of translators. We aim to take the translation industry’s quality higher. And also, we want to lead the way to impose translators getting their labor’s worth for high quality output in the industry. If you pay your translator adequately, the output will be in higher quality and everybody wins.

We didn’t have a role model cooperative like ours.

When you stepped forward for a cooperative model, did you have a Turkish or international role model cooperative?

MA.Ö.: We didn’t have a role model cooperative like ours. There isn’t an example of a translator’s cooperative in Turkey. When we were researching, we found a disbanded translators cooperative in Sweden. And we also learned about the “Writers and Translators Literary Cooperative” which was shut down by the Military Commission in 1982. But that was a cooperative that was established by translators who made literary translations. They weren’t serving for the private sector like us. Lorenzo Navarro from the International Co-Operatives Alliance suggested us to contact the “Soglasnik Language Co-Operative. We got in touch with them but didn’t do anything together.

Then we can say, you are the pioneers in this area…

M.A.Ö.: Since there isn’t any other example, yes, we can say that.

We knew we didn’t know anything about the cooperative we were about to establish. We knew we needed to get help.

Did you get any support in establishing a cooperative?

E.K.: We started searching for people who could help us in establishing a cooperative after the idea got some shape. We were looking for answers about how to establish a cooperative and how to manage one etc. We came across with the Genç İşi Kooperatif along the way. We received training from them; they showed the path about what we can do.

M.A.Ö.: We all already agreed about getting consultation. We knew we didn’t know anything about the cooperative that we were about to establish. We knew we needed to get help. In searching of someone who could teach us, we found Genç İşi Kooperatif, which are organizing trainings about cooperatives and providing consultancy about establishing one. We got in touch. Thankfully, they gave us a very warm welcome. Helped tremendously in every subject. And they keep helping when we have problem. Genç İşi Koopereatif and Mr. Ünal Örnek from the Cooperative Europe Management gave unlimited support to us, and we always admit that. They gave us information that can’t be bought by money.

Even though we received guiding, we had to establish the cooperative twice.

Can you advise the way you followed in establishing (education, getting consultation) to newly established cooperatives?

E.K.: Of course, I do. We didn’t have any experience about cooperatives, we didn’t know what to do. Getting educated made the establishing process work so much faster. Because of that, I advise receiving training prior to founding a cooperative. It takes a lot of hard work.

M.A.Ö.: Even though we received guiding, we had to establish the cooperative twice. Ministry of Commerce rejected our first file. We meticulously wrote our articles of association article by article, while discussing them all among our partners. We studied the legislation and tried to advance accordingly. I can say the discussions between us about this took two months. Ministry of Commerce didn’t accept our articles of association which we had discussions over because no one sent them anything different other than the articles of associations they have on their website, ever.

The Guild Co-Operative defined as what type of cooperative?

M.A.Ö.: They defined us as a services cooperative. Actually, we had a lot of discussion with Genç İşi about the type. The things we wanted to do was in the definition of Scientific Research Co-Operative, and others in the definition of Marketing Co-Operative. The Service Co-Operative covers them all generally at minimum, so we went with that. Originally, the sample articles of association for Service Cooperatives was written with people doing menial tasks in mind. For example, it required every member to put a quarter gold coin in the vault every year or purchasing manual work tools like shovels. We had to use that agreement.

Do you think that Service Cooperatives’ articles of association doesn’t cover the needs of a white-collar worker?

M.A.Ö.: No, it doesn’t cover that at all. And you get rejected when you write your own needs. But Ministry of Commerce specialist Mr. Ferhat Dağ helped and guided us in this process tremendously. He gave us a lot of information and direction to get our articles of association accepted. We owe him a thank you.

When the establishment process took longer and longer, I got hopeless sometimes. But we are all friends in the cooperative. We motivated each other.

How much it took for the cooperative from being just an idea to an actual legal entity?

M.A.Ö.: About two years. Our legal process was finalized in November 2021. It was supposed to be finished earlier but then the pandemic started. It cost us a year.

E.K.: When the founding process took longer and longer, I got hopeless sometimes. But we are all friends in the cooperative. We motivated each other.

What’s your business and income model as The Guild Co-Operative?

M.A.Ö.: We are thinking to do the projects we will take with our partners. They will work in rotation. For example, if Ece is the proofreader of Project A, she will be the project manager of Project C. And I will be the translator of Project C and the manager of Project A. We thought, this model would be good for our partners. Everybody will know what everybody is doing.

Our master principle is equal pay for equal work.

M.A.Ö.: And of course, we are expanding our translator portfolio for bigger projects. We are thinking about applying the same model for other translators that we will work, who are not members of the cooperative. At that time, project managers will be from the partners. But we will not apply different remuneration to them, freelancers will be paid with the same tariff that we will be using for our partners. We want to treat the non-partner translators in a fair manner.

Our master principle is equal pay for equal work . In the industry, remuneration is based on the number of characters or words translated in the job. We differ from the industry here; we have chosen getting paid by project and then distributing the income according to our principle. Let me give an example. Let’s say we have given a budget worth 5000 Euros. First, we will deduct the taxes and other responsibilities of the cooperative. Then, we are planning the cooperative to have a %15-20 cut to maintain sustainability, but the amount can change based on the income flow we will get from projects. The remaining amount will be distributed by multiplying the amount of work completed by the translator and the proofreader with a certain coefficient to calculate the remuneration. This is our payment system.

Our cooperative was one of the two chosen projects from Europe in 2020.

Yours is a very young cooperative but you managed to gain a very important international success: the International Cooperatives Alliance’s youth organization, “The Youth Network,” awarded you with a grant of 7,500 Euros as one of the two chosen projects regarding the Replication Project competition. Can you tell us something about this project?

M.A.Ö.: Ece and Alara did almost all the hard work for this project. Genç İşi informed us about it. The International Cooperatives Alliance’s (ICA) youth organization runs a support program every year, based on their own budget. This support program funds the newly established cooperatives founded by young people for a year. You prepare your budget and apply with your cooperative’s introduction file. They support applicants from both continents.

Our cooperative was one of the two projects chosen among the applicants for Europe in 2020. The other one was from Poland, and they were focused on manufacturing and founded by university students as well. Genç İşi Kooperatif guided and helped us to win the grant. Our project received attention. Like I said at the beginning of the interview, we are a unique cooperative. Thus, they found it as a very original idea, and they supported us.

We are thinking about expanding.

What does the future hold for The Guild? For example, are you thinking about expanding?

M.A.Ö.: We are thinking about expanding. But no more than a group of people sitting around a table and can understand each other. It would be good if we can keep the number around 15-20.

We thought about the partners being in rotation, too. We wanted new partners to come and give us new ideas. Sadly, this isn’t very doable because of the bureaucratic structure of the cooperatives in Turkey. We want to find a way to achieve this rotation. We want other people with new ideas to join and speeding people that moves on to different areas.

We want to have different partners who are doing translations from different languages. And we are asking people who want to be our partners to volunteer for a year. As of now, we have two volunteers. I must add that our remuneration multipliers apply to the volunteers also. We are asking our volunteers to take part in different areas of our work such as social media, marketing, operation, and we want them to take responsibility. If they want to work with us at the end of that one year and become partners, we will evaluate their one-year history with us and accept them accordingly. We came up with this expansion strategy among ourselves.

M.A.Ö.: We are thinking to become experts in localization and social enterprise areas.

The other thing we want to do is this: In Turkey’s translation industry, expertise is quite sought after. Finding an expert translator is very hard. When we talk about translation, we’re talking about business world, science realm, education, and everything else. And someone who graduates from translation and interpreting can’t expertise in all these fields. And can’t expertise in all languages also. Expertise is important to us; we want to be good at what we do in the first place. We don’t want to dispersed around a large area. Therefore, we are thinking to become experts in localization and social enterprise fields. We plan targeting localization of mobile apps, computer games and serve the translation needs of social enterprises. And the customers we have are large firms who are servicing in international language service providers. They do the co-ordination. Our primary customers are these global language service providers. And the secondary ones are the ones who are developing apps and games directly.

And if other translators who will expertise in different areas want to become cooperatives, we want to give them mentorship support. In short, we want a limited expansion in our partners but want to give limitless support to the cooperative expansion in the industry. We encourage the initiatives of the friends who will work in different languages by giving them mentorship and providing network.

 The co-operation system holds support for various needs.

Your translation cooperative model can be applied to other fields. Maybe architects and lawyers can get their labor’s worth if they were to become cooperatives…

Lawyers work under a lot of operational workload. They can come together and with their budget, they can support this kind of an operation. They can bring combine their budgets and labor force under the cooperative roof. They will be doing the same operation, but not by every lawyer for his or herself. Instead, they can become partners. One of their regular operations is sending documents to the courthouses. If they were to reorganize as a cooperative, they can do this work simply once a day with the same personnel, it’s mandatory for the lawyers to have an office. When they are a cooperative, they will have the bargaining force to rent an office. Cooperative model holds many advantages to lawyers.

Who else can establish cooperatives? The private security industry holds a lot of labor exploitation. So, workers in the private security industry can establish a c-operative and help the exploitation decrease. Even psychologists or information technologies workers can think of the cooperative model. It would be very effective in their cases. Because all the labor in developing software is done by developers.

A cooperative economy can be established by the cooperatives serving cooperatives…

The cooperative system holds support for various needs. It makes you kind of jealous when you learn that in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, the cooperatives make 35% of their economy.

I am not just recommending it! I’m doing the propaganda of the model in this area!

Do you recommend young people to follow the cooperative model?

E.K.: Yes, of course I do.

M.A.Ö.: I suggest the cooperative model to younger people. I can promote it also. Cooperatives are the ideal working medium for occupational groups that works solely depending on their own knowledge. I am not just recommending it! I’m doing the propaganda of the model in this area!

Social economy is not an option but a must under the circumstances we live.

Do you have message of Sosyal Ekonomi readers?

E.K.: I think that translation should be accepted as an occupation and should get respect accordingly. We want to reflect the value of our job in the best way and make our presence felt in the industry. This is our main target. That’s why we started to do this job with the cooperative understanding. I want to thank everyone who shed light to our way and offered help. And thanks to you for making our voice heard.

M.A.Ö.: We want to thank you for the opportunity you presented for expressing ourselves. I have a message for the Social Ekonomi Blog readers: Social economy is not an option but a must under the circumstances we live. It presents an opportunity for coming out of economic crises. If we think like the key to welfare is having the capital distributed to the base, one of the best ways for it is cooperatives and I think what we call social economy will be the new generation economy. It will make working people to stand on their own feet and be present in the economy and outside the monopoly system that is being imposed to us.

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