CEO Spotlight

Vuslat Doğan Sabancı: Generous Listening is the missing piece for living and flourishing together

Vuslat Doğan Sabancı
Vuslat Doğan Sabancı (Image courtesy: Vuslat Doğan Sabancı/FILE PHOTO.)

With wars ongoing around the world, terrible natural disasters like the earthquake which recently devastated parts of Turkey and Syria, climate change a growing problem and inflation exacerbating income inequality, today’s world often seems chaotic. Moreover, this tumultuous time has followed years of other troubles, including political and media polarisation, social media-fueled hate speech, racial tensions as well as COVID-19-induced spikes in social exclusion and workplace disillusionment. 

Vuslat Foundation founder Vuslat Doğan Sabancı believes that these interrelated problems share a common underlying driver: disconnection. According to Doğan Sabancı, a Turkish international business leader, artist, philanthropist, and activist, the crisis of disconnection between and within people has reached a point where superficial solutions are no longer viable. She believes that nothing short of a new social contract is needed, founded on empathetic communication and elevated human connection. These practices offer an antidote to the forces of division hindering today’s world, which Doğan Sabancı has dubbed “Generous Listening.”

Doğan Sabancı defines Generous Listening as “a form of listening that hears beyond words, with both the heart and mind,” which facilitates genuine connection with oneself, others and nature by listening with courage, curiosity and responsiveness. As a self-taught artist, she uses her art to explore these notions of connection and Generous Listening, as in her first solo exhibition curated in London, “Silence,” a meditation on the role of silence in our relations with ourselves, each other and our surroundings. Doğan Sabancı’s art also serves as a metaphor for the role of listening in building bridges of peace, notably exemplified by the symbolic white marble sculpture that she presented to Pope Francis during a Vatican visit with international NGO Peace Leaders Group. 

Through the Vuslat Foundation – whose symbolic name translates as the “freedom reached by reuniting with estranged parts of the bigger whole” – Doğan Sabancı aims to put Generous Listening at the heart of our spaces for connection and collaboration. From business and politics to civil society and the natural world, she envisions embedding a sense of hope and empathy through Generous Listening, driven by a passion to share this gift that she discovered during a life-changing journey into the unknown.  

From quantity to quality of connections

While a publisher at Hürriyet – Turkey’s leading newspaper – Doğan Sabancı led its transformation into the country’s top digital media outlet while strongly embedding human rights and gender equality in its editorial line. Her experience as one of Turkey’s most successful media executives and activists gave her valuable insight into the power of communication to unite people behind a common cause, a power she notably mobilised for her No! To Domestic Violence” movement that was honoured with a UN Grand Award

But Doğan Sabancı also became all too familiar with the media’s potential as a tool for malevolent, divisive ends. Over the past decade, social media fueled an increasingly polarised, clicks-at-all-costs media climate, triggering a realisation that she had to liberate herself from these new shackles to free and open expression. 

“I began to wonder…how could we go into another culture, where we listened more,” Doğan Sabancı has said, a line of thinking that inspired her to seek out people from all walks of life with wildly different worldviews. This odyssey taught her to become a better listener and value quality connections over quantity, leading her to conclude that “true freedom necessitates not only the rights for free speech but also the right to be heard and acknowledged.” 

An abstract idea grows into Vuslat Foundation 

Following this instinct, Doğan Sabancı left behind her old life in media, getting straight to work on how to translate her transcendent experience with Generous Listening into a concrete vessel for creating positive change in the world – particularly vital in the current political climate of division, inaction and mutual mistrust.

The answer came in 2020 when she launched the Vuslat Foundation as a multifaceted initiative for Generous Listening awareness-raising, experiences, and academic exploration. Emphasising that Generous Listening “is not just an abstract concept but an effective tool that can fundamentally transform our way of connecting,” Doğan Sabancı aims for this foundation to lead a movement that will change the listening culture in organisations across all sectors by developing and sharing accessible tools to implement and evaluate Generous Listening skills, thereby helping to solve societal problems with new, unexpected solutions that arise from genuine human connection—such as organizing generous listening circles for survivors of the recent earthquake, in order to provide emotional support and to build self-confidence and resilience.

In an article for the World Economic Forum ahead of its recent Davos summit, she set out a core arsenal of Generous Listening practices, which, while focused on improving uninspired, inauthentic workplaces, can be applied effectively in any environment. Chief among her rules for authentic exchange is being fully present and ‘in the moment,’ setting aside personal biases and having the sincere intention to listen and learn rather than simply getting across preconceived arguments.

Generous Listening in practice

The Vuslat Foundation has taken significant strides since its inception to unlock the potential of Generous Listening in a wide range of influential contexts.

Responding to the theme of the 2021 Venice Biennale of Architecture, ‘How will we live together?,’ the Vuslat Foundation presented a monumental installation by leading Italian artist Giuseppe Penone, ‘the Listener,’ to highlight art’s role in meaningfully bringing people together to create spaces of listening, while also holding a Generous Listening symposium. 

Recognising architecture’s unique quality as an art form that creates physical spaces for listening and connection, the Vuslat Foundation also partnered with MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning in 2021 to establish a Generous Listening fellowship that is spurring innovative research in this emerging field. 

In the same year, the Vuslat Foundation joined forces with Tufts University, a pioneer in the study and teaching of civic life, to launch the Generous Listening and Dialogue Center as a training and knowledge generation hub for authentic communication. But while these high-level ventures will be key in spreading awareness and expertise, Doğan Sabancı is adamant that Generous Listening must resonate within communities to make a meaningful impact. 

Her ultimate goal is for the Vuslat Foundation to inspire people from all walks of life to be part of the change the world needs. She believes everyone needs to be involved in incorporating Generous Listening methods – from world leaders at Davos and international aid organisations to participants of the Foundation’s community listening circles – to identify the root causes of society’s problems, develop long-lasting solutions and build bridges.


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Sophie Ireland
SVP for News and Editorial Director. As CEOWORLD magazine's senior vice president for news and editorial director, Sophie Ireland oversees CEOWORLD magazine's journalism and journalists around the world and across platforms. She leads an award-winning team of journalists and newsroom executives who are committed to excellence, innovation and the highest quality reporting and storytelling. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or connect on LinkedIn. Email her at sophie@ceoworld.biz.