Eva Turk spearheads entrepreneurship for women in LebanonBy Hanna Lustig September 18, 2014
Spring brings wildflowers and nearly perfect weather to Lebanon, elegantly framed by distant, snowy peaks. But during Eva Aouad Turk’s childhood, spring also brought perennial turmoil, rooted in complex, ongoing civil war.
Violence had a season in Lebanon, ushering in a predictable wave of casualties, car bombings, and public unrest. The fighting, however, was only a backdrop to Turk’s early life. To avoid danger, Turk’s parents swept their five children away to the coast, taking refuge by the Mediterranean Sea.
“For me, it was like the war didn’t exist,” says Turk. “Others, however, were not so lucky.”
There, Turk and her siblings fell in love with the water, swimming and snorkeling every day. Now a mother of two, Turk, 41, still harbors that enthusiasm for sport.
In fact, she’s built her life around it.
While studying political science and public administration in college (a decision inspired by her country’s struggles), Turk began working as a reporter and editor for sports.com. Upon graduating, she and her husband co-founded Sport Evasion, an event-planning company that merges work with play by creating competitions and team-building experiences for schools and corporations.
“We believe that healthy employees are more productive employees,” Turk says. “Physical activity is not only good for the body, but for the mind and soul.”
Sport Evasion has planned an employee soccer league, a youth street basketball tournament, and a freestyle ski and snowboarding acrobatic show, to name only a few of Turk’s projects. Yet, at these events, Turk couldn’t help but notice the poor female turnout– a discrepancy paralleled elsewhere in Lebanese society. In 2008, Turk got down to business, taking a hiatus from Sport Evasion to pursue another passion: advocacy on behalf of female entrepreneurs.
For two years, she worked as a project manager for the Lebanese League for Women in Business, an organization seeking to help female entrepreneurs thrive through networking and education. During her time with LLWB, Turk oversaw the creation of a conference for businesswomen. Turk benefited from a similar experience herself, through her yearlong business mentorship with the Mowgli Foundation.
“The way things are structured, women have to manage it all – a career, a family, the household,” Turk says. “You have to work late, you have to travel, and you have to be available to pick up the children from school.”
Turk is right– according to the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Gender Gap Report, women comprise just 25 percent of the Lebanese labor force, despite greater female enrollment in primary, secondary, and tertiary education. Traditional gender roles prevail in Lebanon, pressuring women to remain in the domestic sphere.
“Encouraging women to become entrepreneurs allows them the flexibility they need to have a family and a business,” Turk says. “You are your own boss. You can work from home without having to explain that to your manager.”
Even after returning to Sports Evasion, Turk kept working to spark positive change. She hopes to create an event model specifically targeting women, blending sport with business in perfect harmony. If a woman felt confident competing in a fitness challenge, for example, that experience could embolden and mobilize her in other areas of life– testament to what Turk calls the “unifying effect” of sports.
“Right now, the system in Lebanon is not very conducive to working women,” Turk says.
“Promoting women’s entrepreneurship is not only good for the family, but good for the economy.”