Anna Kucinska
27 January 2015

Challenges for social economy in Poland discussed at the 8th National Conference on Social Economy in Warsaw

During 8th National Conference on Social Economy in Warsaw, Poland, the main challenges of social entrepreneurship in Poland were discussed and ways forward proposed.
In the opening session Krzysztof Cibor, the editor-in-chief of the web portal and expert on social economy for the Foundation for Social and Economic Initiatives (FISE), presented opportunities for the development of social economy in Poland which included: demographic changes (the aging of Polish society, which can open up new opportunities for many enterprises operating on the basis of people-centred social economy principles), changes in consumption patterns (Polish society is becoming richer, therefore people can decide what enterprises they want to support with their money) and amendments in legislation (sometimes imposed by the EU, which compel Poland to adopt specific standards). The knowledge of decision makers in this area is also growing and Poles are learning more and more about the principles and functioning of social enterprises. Economists, politicians and a growing section of Polish society are expanding their notion of development and progress and acknowledging different elements and factors which cannot be reduced to the mere GDP. Furthermore, Poles are beginning to value such concepts as community, including local communities and Internet-based communities, in their search for deep values and social bonds that are being threatened in today’s neoliberal consumerist world.  
Tomasz Schimanek, from the Institute of Public Affairs, member of the Permanent Conference on Social Economy, drew attention to the challenges - on many levels - that are facing social economy in Poland, one of them being the poor functioning or the lack of functioning of social co-operatives (only a half of 1,000 registered social co-operatives in Poland are functioning). In Schimanek’s opinion, it could be quite a success to make three quarters of them operate.
Joanna Wardzińska, the vice-president of the Social and Economic Investment Company TISE SA, pointed to the following major challenges: the hermetic nature of the social entrepreneurship environment and the need to open it to other stakeholders, which can only be achieved through education and the promotion of social economy with wider public; searching for inspiration and possible areas of activity abroad – the need to embrace the international dimension of social entrepreneurship; ensuring sustainability of results produced by social economy sector – particularly jobs, effective tested tools and solutions in this area.
Krzysztof Więckiewicz, the director of the Department of Public Benefit at the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, emphasised the need for education on both sides – administration officials and social entrepreneurs. “The state should act as a social investor and therefore it should put more emphasis on results, not procedures. The key to assessing a given action should be the results it has produced, otherwise we will erect monuments to our victories that are higher than the victories themselves”, Więckiewicz summed up. He added that the third crucial challenge will be acting in a more horizontal way that involves networking to a larger extent because dispersed activities do not generate the added value or synergy that they could and this potential remains to be explored.
Dorota Wróblewska, the head of the Regional Centre for Social Policy in Torun, talked about the need for stronger co-ordination of measures on the regional and national level and the lifting of certain technical and organizational barriers such as the minimum number of persons in the management board of a social co-operative. She also opted for not limiting the understanding of social entrepreneurship to the labour market as social enterprises are often motivated by a sense of community, values, enthusiasm or local patriotism.
Ryszard Praszkier, from the Centre for Complex Systems and New Technologies at the Institute for Social Studies at the University of Warsaw, stressed the need to enhance the viability of social enterprises and ensure that more positive changes are sustainable. In order to do so it is indispensable to take account of the nature of a proposed change – exogenic (from the outside) or endogenic (from the inside). It often turns out that endogenic changes are more empowering for people than exogenic ones (imposed from the top) and thus more sustainable. Praszkier also pointed out that the greatest challenge may be to get people with extravagant ideas on board (the method of positive deviance) because it is often them who have the most effective concepts for solving several seemingly insurmountable problems all at one time. We should only learn how to work with them and focus on expected results and not procedures.
The conference was held in Warsaw on 24 October 2014.
Based on: Łukasz Komuda, Wyzwania, wyzwania, wyzwania,