Activating people in spite of contradictory political signals

Following our interview partners, the indifference and passivity of many people is the biggest challenge for rural development in North-East Poland. As a legacy of the life determining state farms in the communist era until today, many people are rather waiting for help from the administration than to take initiative themselves. Social economy organisations like the NIDA Development Foundation fight against this unloved heritage by fostering self-employment and social entrepreneurship, delivering an English teaching programme, providing scholarships for talented and disadvantaged pupils and creating positive role models.

One of NIDA’s most influential initiatives is the Pottery Village (“Garncarska Wioska”). Since 2007, NIDA builds-up a traditional settlement housing a pottery workshop, a tavern, as blacksmith’s shop, a cinema, an amphitheater etc. By making alive rural pottery art and organizing markets and festivals, the pottery village imparts knowledge about traditional village life and established a new kind of gathering place and tourist attraction in a predominantly agricultural region. NIDA created a number of workplaces particularly for people with low job prospects and created a role model for many other developments. Today, a number of rural communities have established own theme villages (Wool Village, Wicker Village, Herb Village et al.) in North-East Poland and beyond.

Another strategy for empowering people is fostering self-employment. As regional coordinator of the public programme OWES, NIDA provides comprehensive support for social business start-ups. This includes coaching, trainings, incubator work places and grants for the first year of the business. OWES stands for the importance that the Polish government dedicates to the social economy. This becomes apparent as well with a new clause that pledges administrations to favour social enterprises in public tenders. However, other governmental decisions undermine the ambitions towards social business development. When the government introduced considerably increased child allowances (“Rodzina 500 plus”) the number of social business start-ups immediately dropped down. The social intention provoked a negative incentive. Less surprisingly, interview partners repeatedly express one desire if it comes to an enabling environment for rural social entrepreneurship: They ask for foresighted and reliable political decisions.