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28 September 2022

Erinch Sahan Q&A: “I’d like Picasso to paint my portrait: I always wanted a pointier jaw”

The sustainable-business advocate on the coming culture war over climate change and the optimism of the early 1900s.

By New Statesman

Erinch Sahan was born in Turkey in 1981 and is the business and enterprise lead at the Doughnut Economics Action Lab. He has previously worked at Oxfam and as the CEO of the World Fair Trade Organisation.

What’s your earliest memory?

Climbing a disused cannon in my home town just outside Bursa. It was last used in the aftermath of the First World War. People would gather there annually on the anniversary of the liberation of the town from Greek forces, which happened to coincide with my birthday. I used to think they were celebrating my birthday.

Who are your heroes?

Michael Jordan was my childhood hero. I thought if I practised enough I could hit game-winning baskets as he did. As an adult, it’s George Orwell. The raw honesty of works such as Down and Out in Paris and London continues to resonate for me.

What book last changed your thinking?

Hello, Stranger by Will Buckingham. I have struggled to stay put, while yearning for a sense of home. His book gave me a sense of why this is a struggle for so many.

[See also: Deyan Sudjic Q&A: “Anybody who isn’t in a state of anxiety isn’t paying attention”]

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Which political figure do you look up to?

The Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. He’s built a movement that cuts across society. Fighting the forces of division is one of the hardest things to do.

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What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

How to design businesses. I get excited when I see models such as Patagonia’s steward ownership or platform cooperatives like Fairbnb. I think about how such businesses can do things regular businesses can’t – like pay workers much better and invest boldly to save our planet.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

The early 1900s. It would be exciting to watch the modern world emerging. Technology was progressing, ideas were bubbling, people were travelling, and there seemed to be a number of different ways humanity could go.

What TV show could you not live without?

The West Wing. It portrays a comforting fantasy of the post-Cold War era when good people in positions of power were creating a better world for us all.

Who would paint your portrait?

Picasso. I’ve always wanted a pointier jaw.

What’s your theme tune?

“NY State of Mind” by Nas.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Sit with the discomfort – of conflict, frustration, disappointment, pressure. I try to follow it. But sometimes I do retreat from uncomfortable moments.

What’s currently bugging you?

That culture wars are emerging around climate change. People who are taking action (vegans, cycling advocates) are being labelled as smug hipsters. This seems to me like a convenient way to avoid confronting the truth: that we all need to change our lifestyles.

What single thing would make your life better?

Fewer car-centric streets.

When were you happiest?

March 2011, when I landed in Oxford from Australia, newly recruited to work for Oxfam, enthusiastic to meet new friends and build a new life.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

A basketball commentator. I spend too long listening to NBA podcasts.

Are we all doomed?

Probably. But let’s go out fighting.

Erinch Sahan will appear at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on 10 October

[See also: Kathy Reichs Q&A: “I worry every time my grandkids go out”]

This article appears in the 28 Sep 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Truss Delusion