This summer I completed my Leadership-in-Action experience with the Jerzy Regulski Foundation in Support of Local Democracy in Warsaw – the largest NGO supporting the development of civic society and self-governance in Poland. Throughout my six-week placement, I had the great privilege to work on the Foundation’s EU-funded ‘Building Bridges – Civic Capital in Local Communities’ project, aiming to strengthen the potential of local civic society organisations (CSOs) as well as promoting European values and rights.
By far the largest commitment of the project was the organisation of the ‘National Congress of Local Cooperation’ – an educational and networking event aimed at Polish CSOs and representatives of local government units from all over the country. The event, organised for the first time this year by the Foundation, attracted an unprecedented level of interest with over 250 individuals registering to take part in the initiative. As such, most of my time with the Foundation was focused on the Congress’s preparation. I was also involved, however, in the project’s intervention grant competition, supporting initiatives of other CSOs in the area of crisis intervention and the planning of training sessions aiming to build up the skills and capacities of CSOs in small towns.
My day-to-day activities involved as follows:
In week 1, my work primarily concerned familiarising myself with the organisational and legal details of the Congress, as well as sending out invitations for the event to official guests representing the Polish CSO and local government sectors.
In week 2, I began working on creating an informative brochure relating to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which will be given out to all participants of the Congress, as well as preparing shorter segments to be posted on our project’s social media. This week I also participated in our first general project team meeting and was involved in meetings regarding the securing of media patronships for the Congress.
In week 3, I worked on the verification of our registered guests, helped in finalising the event programme and began writing up bios for all of our speakers and panellists. Additionally, I was able to participate in a meeting of third sector experts concerning their evaluation of intervention projects which were submitted to one of the Foundation’s grants competitions.
In week 4, I visited the Congress venue for the first time and worked on finding a suitable venue for an integration dinner taking place in the evening of the first day of the Congress. I was also involved in the choosing of designs for notebooks, pens, bags and other materials provided for participants and worked on translating an informative leaflet concerning the activities of the Foundation.
In week 5, I had the opportunity to attend a national socio-political event for Polish youth at which I was able to promote the Congress. I was involved in the recording of a promotional video with one of our panellists and in putting together a programme for future training sessions conducted by the Foundation aimed at the local NGO sector.
In week 6, I finalised all of my previous work, including the brochure on fundamental rights, speaker bios, verifying registrations and printing all Congress material. I also worked on translating the finalised programme into English and had the chance to meet with the European Commission official who is overseeing our project – for whom I will also work as an interpreter during some parts of the Congress!
I have learned a lot throughout my work with the Foundation, both with respect to large-scale project management within the third sector and with regards to the current state of civic society in Poland. The project opened my eyes to many legal, political and educational problems faced by NGOs in the country – something which felt very personal to me as a Polish citizen.
Given the challenging context of civic society in Poland, I am particularly inspired by the amazing work being conducted by the ‘Building Bridges’ project. The Congress in particular will touch upon a very wide range of topics - from the effective use of marketing for civic activity, to new tools for activating the civic activity of young people – which will in turn have great educational benefits for workers in the Polish third sector. Meanwhile, the networking and integration opportunities for participants will hopefully inspire more collaborations between the third sector and local governments – collaborations which as I’ve learned are especially important for the effectiveness of civic activity in Poland.
The National Congress of Local Cooperation is taking place on the 19th-20th of September, and I am already excited to return to Warsaw on these dates to see the event come together. I believe the Congress has a huge potential to make a difference in the Polish third sector and support civic society in the country, and I am in turn very grateful for the opportunity to get involved in this project.