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10 questions about tomorrow for... Oğuz Yılmaz

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Portrait of Oğuz Yılmaz

There are so many issues that we need to tackle if we want to create a better tomorrow for us all. We asked Oğuz Yılmaz, digital consultant and co-founder of artist management agency Yilmaz Hummel, what issues are at the top of his list, where we are at the moment and what needs to change for us to finally start making progress.

1. What are the three most pressing ecological and/or social issues for you right now – and why?

In my opinion, social justice, structural discrimination (also including violence), and environmental protection are the three most important and pressing topics and challenges facing society as a whole right now. All three topics are complex and interwoven. And they are so urgent because it’s not possible for all humans to experience equality and live peacefully and safely on this earth if things remain as they are now. Especially in terms of environmental protection and our climate – we are literally running out of time. We need to be constantly asking ourselves: what kind of a world do we want to live in? We all need to change the way we live and that won’t always be easy or pleasant, but what’s the alternative?

2. When was the first time you really got to grips with these issues and how did it change how you think and act?

Getting to grips with the aforementioned topics was something that happened gradually over the years. I think it started around the time I became vegan and began informing myself about animal and environmental protection. Over time I started following more and more activists and journalists and reading a lot, listening to podcasts and speaking to different people. That’s when I noticed that all these areas are interrelated – and also when I decided I wanted to focus on such issues in my work and make my own contribution. I have the right contacts and such a large reach that it would be a real shame if I didn’t do anything at all with them.

3. What needs to change politically and/or socially so we can finally make progress with these topics?

If we imagine society as a table or a dining room, then it’s like a few people have always been sitting at the big table to eat, but most are sitting on the floor; that’s how sociologist Aladin El-Mafaalani describes it. And to continue his analogy: the table doesn’t represent society, but the people who are making the decisions, editor-in-chiefs, board members of DAX companies and so on. Although more and more black people and people of colour are coming to the table, taking a seat and discussing and eating with everyone, none of the ones who are already sitting down are going to stand up – my wish is for either the table to be so long that everyone (!) can find a seat, or for the ones that have been sitting all this time to get up and make room for others. I want us to go new ways and let people with innovative ideas have their say. I would love more money to be invested in education and for us to give people who haven’t yet had the chance the opportunity to sit at the table. I want us to appreciate heterogeneity and see that problems can be solved better when we look at them from as many perspectives from around the table as possible. I want more otherwise marginalised people, for example, migrants, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ+ community etc. to be able to take their place at the table and have their say.

4. How are you doing your bit?

With our management agency, I’m trying to make a positive contribution to a fairer and better world. We say to a lot of (big) companies: “No, we’re not going to work with you”, preferring instead to support smaller businesses with a genuine sustainability strategy wherever we possibly can. It’s a balancing act every day and it’s not easy to find that balance, but it always works out in the end – I always have faith in that! I also try to speak up for myself and address things that bother me or that need improving. I support activists and journalists with all the means available to me and try to mobilise my influence and the contacts I have in order to support and network good projects and people.

5. If you were Finance Minister for a day, what would you do?

To be honest: no idea! I would be totally overwhelmed because I don’t have a clue about things like that. Of course I would make sure that Germany’s millionaires and billionaires pay their taxes properly and that every damned loophole would be closed, but then no doubt someone would come round the corner who thinks you can’t do that and that the poor rich people “already pay enough taxes”. I would also like to see much, much more money being invested in education so we could say to every single person in Germany: ‘You can become absolutely anything you want to be’ – and not only in theory, but also in practice.

6. Who inspires you when it comes to creating positive change – and why?

Hmm, it’s quite hard for me to find role models and people who inspire me. Although I think it’s good what Greta Thunberg, Luisa Neubauer and Fridays for Future are doing, there’s still always something to disagree with. That’s why I would rather pick bits from lots of different influences – a splash of Margarete Stokowski, a pinch of Samira El Ouassil, a dash of Tupoka Ogette and a tablespoon of my wife Sarah… et voilà!

7. When I picture the future, I see…

…everything looking blurry. I’m not one for being euphoric, but I’m not all doom and gloom either. I’m just doing my best to ensure that my future is green and worth living in, that as many people as possible in the world are doing well, and of course also that I am doing well myself; but I’m just not sure whether or when that will be the case. It’s better to pitch in and lend a hand rather than forever philosophising about what the future could look like, because nobody in the world knows what it will bring. And that’s not really my style anyway.

8. What do you personally want to look back on when you’re older?

All I really want is to be able to look back without having to be ashamed. There are definitely people who have made more of an impact and should be honoured and appreciated for that, but I would simply like to know that I haven’t contributed to the demise of our world – at least not knowingly or actively.

9. One thing that always gives me hope is…

…that more than anything the ‘young ones’ (now that I can meanwhile be classed as one of the ‘oldies’) are active and no longer just passively accepting the way things are. I like that a lot because I’m really against the whole “Well, we’ve always done it that way” attitude. That’s what keeps me motivated. But the younger generation needs to prove itself too, of course, and show us that they’re capable of more than just a few critical TikTok videos or witty tweets.

10. What’s your tip for anyone who wants to initiate change, but doesn’t know where they should start?

Listen carefully. No one expects us all to become activists and dedicate our entire lives to these issues, but if there are already people out there doing that every day, we should at least be backing them in their mission. There are so many people who are providing free education on a wide range of topics – taking advantage of these offers and provide your support by sharing them with others. And if you ever have an odd euro spare, you can also donate it to the right projects and people.