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The Warsaw Voice » Society » September 17, 2008
Society
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Making a Difference
September 17, 2008   
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Foreign companies in Poland have in recent years stepped up social responsibility initiatives. Hilary Heuler talks to officials from three organizations leading the way in this field.


Frank ter Borg, president of Rotary Club Warszawa-Wilanów:

Can you tell me about the history of Rotary in Poland? How has it been received here?
Rotary is a phenomenon that started in Chicago in 1905. It was a group of friends, businesspeople, who met at each other's places with the rotary principle of taking turns. It came to Europe in the 1910s, and in the '30s to Poland. After the transition of the early '90s Rotary was revived in Poland. It tends to draw members from business circles, since the membership fee is a considerable amount. It's people who can afford to spend money for charity, for example by participating in fundraising black-tie and gala parties-it's about having a good time, and at the same time raising funds. Also members participate in activities like distributing wheelchairs or collecting used clothes.

How many members does Rotary have in Warsaw?
There are around 25 in our club, and there are eight clubs in Warsaw. Most major cities in Poland have one or more Rotary clubs, and there are three clubs where English is the main language: in Szczecin, Sopot and Warsaw. We have about a dozen nationalities represented in our club alone.

What does the club do for Poland? What are its top priorities here?
We decided to focus about a year ago on community development, health care and children. In Radzyń Podlaski we helped to convert a barn into a community center where kids can get computer lessons. A lot of these rural kids already have a bad start in life, with single-parent, low-income families, but if you help kids become computer literate, you help them for life. This is where our zloty can make a difference. Another project was school meals that we provided for about 20 children in a school outside Warsaw. It's a very hard system in Poland-parents are required to pay for school meals, and if the parents can't pay, the children are excluded. But for only four zlotys, the kids could get a three-course meal, so we paid for a year. We've supported dozens of such projects since our club's founding, maybe around six per year. We also have sister relationships with other clubs internationally, and contribute to each other's projects, though Poland is usually on the receiving end because of its income situation.

Why did you personally decide to join Rotary?
It's by invitation. When I returned to the Netherlands from a posting in Moscow, they invited me to become a member, maybe because they thought it would be interesting to have an outsider with a story to tell. My reason to join was my curiosity to meet people from other walks of life, and I certainly meet people here I wouldn't meet otherwise.

What is your personal involvement with the club's community service, and what do you feel you get out of it?
When you're a member long enough, sooner or later you'll be asked to join the board, so I became president this year. We make a point to visit our projects a couple times a year, so we can see what is done with the means provided and maybe contribute to the next stage. I know it is fashionable in America to talk about "giving back." I'm European, I pay my high taxes, so this giving back thing is not really appealing to me personally. But when you realize that there are great disparities in wealth and income-and the disparities in Poland are far bigger than in my home country-then you also see that with a little contribution, you can make a big difference. And it's not something far away in Africa, it's something close by that you can go and visit. It's about making a difference on a scale that's manageable.
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