Aysegul Kayahan is a successful entrepreneur, Non-Executive Director, Angel Investor and active philanthropist. She is the Founder and Principal of Relocation Specialists, providing domestic and global mobility services. Her Non-Executive Director roles include KYEEMA Foundation, improving food security in poor countries; SolarBuddy.org, addressing energy poverty; Brisbane Angels Group Ltd, angel investors for technology startups; and Ethicos Group, helping organisations prevent and respond to sexual harassment and bullying.
Aysegul’s experience of living as an expatriate have informed her business pursuits, her desire to build community and connect with others. She is a self confessed global citizen and active mentor in the start up community. Guided by a strong ethical code, generosity of spirit, and insatiable curiosity, Aysegul is driven by a genuine desire to help others and to create a better, sustainable and fairer world through social enterprise.
Why did you choose to become a member of Brisbane Angels Group?
The Brisbane Angels Group has been a big part of my life for more than 8 years. After the GFC I went looking for alternative investments, I had lost confidence in the share market and did not really enjoy trading shares (they never held my attention for long which can be risky). I knew I wanted something I could be more hands-on with, rang a few friends that I knew could help me and was introduced to the concept of “angel investing”. One in particular suggested I call Brisbane Angels and was invited to their next meeting. I was not sure what the group was about and if I would fit in but felt welcome from the start.
I made my first angel investment within months of joining, it was either the first or second pitch I watched. Talk about jumping in at the deep end, a steep learning curve followed. I assisted with the capital raise and was supported by a number of the other angels who I now consider as dear friends and mentors.
My involvement with Brisbane Angels helped shape the development of my portfolio of startup investments, mentoring activities and bolstered my confidence during some very difficult times. I am proud member and board member of Brisbane Angels and enjoy welcoming new members to the community. The diversity of our community makes for active learning, great discussion and for me personally some wonderful friendships. The fact that I am expecting my portfolio of investments to bring some healthy returns over the coming years and that I am able to actively contribute to some of that success is very rewarding.
As NED of Brisbane Angels Group Limited, what is your vision for Brisbane’s innovation sector?
My vision has evolved rapidly over the past few months. Two other female members of Brisbane Angels and I have founded a NFP, Angel Loop to focus on promoting Angel Investing in Queensland. The various Advance Queensland Initiatives, the increasing number of incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces are great in terms of encouraging more people to develop startups (globally scalable businesses).
But without a larger, collaborative angel investor community throughout Queensland, scaling is going to be a challenge for businesses. Unless what they are doing is so unique that they will scale anyway. We need more informed, hands-on Angel Investors, who see value to themselves and their communities in investing, mentoring and opening their networks to the startups that they are investing in.
You don’t need to be a high-net-worth individual to be an Angel Investor. Angel Investors form a critical segment of the ecosystem in that they provide the mentoring, experiential and financial support for Queensland companies to scale and create jobs and economic activity.
As Non-Executive Director (NED) of the KYEEMA Foundation, tell us how the organisation is improving food security, growing socio-economic safety nets and uplifting women.
The KYEEMA Foundation supports local solutions to empower lives. We collaborate with communities, their governments and the private sector to improve livelihoods and decrease poverty in the poorest countries in the world. KYEEMA’s aim is to empower each and every household to become food secure and create a sustainable future.
We do this primarily through improving village poultry production. Research shows that for every $1 invested in Newcastle disease control programs in village chickens, there is a $60 return to the community. By funding these programs, we can be part of enabling a family to put food on the table. As well as send a child to school, purchase much needed medicines and household items. Poultry are one of the few natural capital assets owned by many households. Especially women, who live on or below the poverty line.
Our model of sustainable disease control encourages people to make an investment in vaccinating their chickens. This costs between 5 and 10c per bird, three times a year. This is achieved through: (1) Advocacy campaigns and training (2) supporting local people to run a business vaccinating birds using locally made vaccine, and (3) supporting households to access vaccine.
The chicken and eggs provide vital protein for families. Small-scale poultry are able to be kept by vulnerable groups, including women, those with disabilities or chronic disease and gives them a source of income. Increased production can promote rural economic growth.
By targeting a livestock species and production system that is largely under the control of women, improvements to production systems can preferentially benefit women, promoting their empowerment. Income under the control of women is also more likely to be used to support the education of their children.
As NED of SolarBuddy.org, how does energy poverty impact marginalised communities and what action can we take to help address it?
Energy Poverty impacts marginalised communities in four vital aspects.
- Economically: An average family spends between 20-40% of their income on fuel for light and cooking. Lack of power also results in drastically reduced working hours and business opportunities.
- Educationally: It has been proven that a child will sit and learn on average of 38% longer with a solar lantern over a kerosene lantern.
- Health: Energy Poverty kills more people than HIV and Malaria combined. Toxic fumes kill! World Health Organisation report 50% of ALL children throughout the world who die before their 5th birthday, die from illnesses and infections directly associated with Energy Poverty.
- Safety: Women and children often walk up to 30km’s a day to source firewood for cooking and light. Very often facing sexual attacks in remote areas.
Environmentally Energy Poverty is as large a polluter as every motor vehicle on the road in Europe. We need to increase education within western societies about energy poverty. Specifically how ending it will create vibrant, self-sustaining economies. Organisations like SolarBuddy create safe, healthy, environments for children to flourish, learn and develop the skills needed to end poverty.
As NED of Ethicos Group, how does the organisation help individuals respond to organisational sexual harassment and bullying?
Every year, Australian workplaces damage thousands of workers, and cost billions of dollars in lost productivity. This occurs when they permit or fail to prevent unlawful and unacceptable conduct. This covers bullying, sexual harassment, fraud and corruption, retaliation against whistleblowers, discrimination on the basis of age, gender or ethnicity, non-compliance with safety standards, and other abuses.
Workplace Bullying and Sexual Harassment cost the Australian economy over $20 billion annually. And involves about half of all workers, directly or indirectly. You have probably experienced some form of bullying and sexual harassment, at work or in public place. This article reminded me of numerous personal experiences, particularly from my youth.
Sexual harassment, bullying, conflicts of interest, fraud, and misconduct scandals are now commonplace. Ministers, public servants and business leaders alike are investigated for corruption in increasing numbers. Community standards on what is acceptable workplace conduct can be unhelpful. And the relevant law can be hard to find and impossible to interpret. Meanwhile, scandals stay on the Internet forever. Both individual and corporate reputations can be damaged permanently.
The Ethicos Toolkits are the result of years of research and development. We are close to public and corporate release. There is an individual version and an organisation version. They will help executives, managers, contractors or individual workers to identify unlawful or unacceptable workplace practices quickly and accurately. Also to obtain independent advice about available options.
Our tools will help empower employees and employers to work towards prevention of workplace bullying and harassment. Only then we have truly healthy workplaces and healthier employees.
What has been your greatest challenge?
Finding time for me and remembering to breathe deeply occasionally. Life is so amazingly complex. Sometimes things happen to you that you never thought would. Some good and some rather awful. And while you know the awful will eventually be less so, you have to keep living and not keep holding your “breath” waiting for the “air to smell sweeter”. My greatest challenges have always involved other people, as have my greatest joys.
What are you most proud of?
My children. I have a tendency to want to appease those around me, especially family and partners. But you cannot let others dictate the terms of your happiness. Many times during their early years, I wished I could slow things down a little, work less and enjoy them more.
I tend not to measure myself in terms of my personal accomplishments and whatever “success” looks like at some point in time. If there is anything to be “proud of” it is my desire to keep learning, sharing and following my heart. Being useful and contributing to the social good, however small each individual contribution is.
What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?
Be sure you know what you want. Try to imagine your life in 10 or 20 years and visualise what you want that to look like.
My advice for future leaders is the same I give to my children. Honour your potential and be the best version of yourself that you can be. I truly enjoy helping other people. While I have ended up in leadership positions or running my own businesses (often out of necessity), improving my abilities in the areas I am interested in has been my greatest motivation. Cultivate a curious mind.