Dr. Bulent Ender was raised to believe that it was his responsibility to give back to those in need. As a first-generation immigrant from Turkey growing up in the suburbs of D.C., he was surrounded by opportunity. Opportunity that came with a clear message from his family and religion.
“Being Muslim in origin, Zakat (a pillar of Islam) expects people with resources and funds to take care of the people who don’t have such resources,” Ender said. “I see philanthropy as my responsibility and that’s an important concept within my own family as well.”
But giving back for Ender isn’t solely fueled by his beliefs now. As he became more aware of the “inequities in society,” he says that it began to really bother him. “We need to care for the well-being of the entire society, not just a select group,” he said. “The only way that society will thrive is if people who have the means to contribute do so, and work to make the playing field equal; to provide access to opportunity. Every person’s success depends on where they are born and what family they are born into – some people have huge barriers right from the start.”
An experienced physician, Ender moved to Raleigh in 1993 with his wife and children. He had never been to the Triangle before but had a good job prospect at Wake Internal Medicine – the same job he holds today – and thought this area would be a good place to raise his family. While the family flourished locally, Ender never forgot about his relatives and important causes back in Turkey, and when he began to accumulate enough to give back, he focused initially on working with local organizations who had ties back to his home country.
A board member for Bridge to Turkiye Fund, a nonprofit that raises funds to provide healthcare and education for the youth of Turkey, Ender says that he finds joy in volunteering. “That’s been a really delightful experience,” he said.
“Turkish-Americans are their primary donors, and so there’s a real sense of community among everyone. We all volunteer, and the organization has really grown over the years and continues to thrive.”
Ender also works closely with Carolina Türk Evi (Turkish House) at UNC-Chapel Hill, ensuring that Turkish-American students have housing throughout their higher education experience. They are currently in the process of building a cultural center and residence hall that will serve the broader UNC community, in addition to Turkish students.
Once his family’s roots began to take hold in the Triangle, Ender realized that there were also gaps locally that he wanted to fill, and he became more involved with working towards a thriving community here at home.
“People must have the basics without barriers, like water, food, and lodging,” he said. “A more equitable ecosystem is the cornerstone of a thriving society. It’s important to ask questions and understand the needs of the community. Many of us are unaware about the social programs in our neighborhoods and towns that seek to remove barriers and bring opportunities for growth. Giving at the local level is more impactful than anything else. You can see the benefit immediately; it’s our community – we can all pitch in to make it better.”
Ender says that recently he’s focused more and more locally and contributed his time and dollars to the causes he’s passionate about, but also realizing that there are other worthy areas he didn’t know about before. Things like affordable housing, recovery from drug addiction, or investing in vibrant arts. “I’m increasingly interested in learning where the greatest needs are, and what I can do to help,” he said.
So, what is he passionate about? As a doctor, Ender believes strongly that health is the foundation of any venture going forward. “You need healthy moms, and healthy kids; that’s where it all starts,” he said. Ender wants to ensure that there is access to healthcare and education and thinks that the two go hand in hand – in an equitable society.
“I really want more people to have the opportunity to take advantage of a higher degree,” he said. We need to encourage children to think of education as a life-long pursuit, but that’s hard to do when there are barriers – including access to health care or primary and secondary schools with resources.”
When asked what thoughts he would leave with other donors, Ender said he was thinking lately about two things – succession and trust.
“You can be a great leader, but if you don’t have a successor with the right mindset and capabilities, then your legacy disappears over time,” he said. “That’s true in families too. It’s important that we communicate with our family members and get them involved in the process of giving. We’ve always included our kids’ voices in the process, and we’re preparing them to someday take over as the new generation – to carry out what we’ve done, but also make it theirs.”
As far as being open to change, Ender says that it’s unfortunate that so many donors aren’t willing to give unless they have total control over how the funds are used. “It’s time we trust institutions,” he said. “Be willing to donate because it makes you feel good and you’re doing something right and trust the organizations you are a part of to make a difference.”
Dr. Ender is a fundholder at the Foundation.
Written by Meg Buckingham, Director of Marketing and Communications