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The Warsaw Voice » Society » January 28, 2015
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No Country for People Without Initiative
January 28, 2015   
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by Maria Belka

After enjoying the fate of a vagabond for a few eventful years, my challenging academic path, followed by the first shaky steps in my career, led me back to my home country – Poland. That came as nothing short of a shock to my closest companions, with whom I had shared my hunt for happiness in Switzerland, Belgium and Britain. If only I got one zloty for every time I was asked why I had decided to return. I wasn’t exactly rubbing my hands while thinking of the riches that awaited me in Poland but, I cannot lie, I was excited to wave good bye to the immigrant status I had in Western Europe.

And here I am, back in the country where the sky is blue, the meadows green and the position in the Global Competitiveness Report slightly less impressive than the percentage of Catholics in the population.

So what can attract young, ambitious and energetic Poles who launched their careers abroad to return and pursue them in Poland?

This probably isn’t a place where your first salary knocks your socks off or where you lose count when listing the new Silicon Valley-born companies that you dream of working for. However, it is a place that gives you a chance to (hold your breath)... make it. There is room for creation and innovation.

But watch out. There is a hidden catch: in Poland passivity gets you nowhere. Many graduates are dazzled by their own brilliance and maintain an unshakable belief that they deserve to rule the world. In fact, unless you prove yourself in the real world, nobody will reward your academic efforts with a sack of golden coins. The kind capitalism that our parents dreamed of now reigns in Poland and as a result what is rewarded is audacity, hard work and a desire to undertake risk.

In this historically battered country it is crucial to comprehend the effect of the economic transformation and stop expecting a reward for your mere existence.

The sooner you accept that you need to get out of your comfort zone right when the opportunity arises, the bigger chance of early retirement you’ve got. I may be exaggerating in comparing Poland’s bold entrepreneurs or social activists to world-famous history makers, but if Columbus hadn’t dared to pursue his ideas, he would have never succeeded in making the egg stand (and achieving a few other modest accomplishments too).

Myself, I am nowhere near being a fully-fledged accomplished business or NGO expert, but I quickly understood I needed to get involved, including in the voluntary sector.

I googled out an association called Global Shapers (www.globalshapers.org) that I discovered is an international initiative of the World Economic Forum (WEF), grouping together leaders under 30 from across the world. In over 400 cities the WEF has initiated interconnected hubs whose members have proved that they have an outstanding record of proactivity and eagerness to improve the state of local communities. The list of perks of being recruited to become a member of such a WEF hub is lengthy. These include access to an incredible network of accomplished young pioneers from around the globe (including cities like Erbil and Juba), whose stories will move your success baseline a few levels up. Which is utterly inspiring. Let me mention that the Global Shapers Warsaw Hub, of which I am currently a curator, has identified space for major improvement in Polish society through providing guidance for ambitious young people with a mentoring program called Mentors4Starters (www.mentors4starters.pl).

There are also a million other ways to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the developing economic and social environment in Poland.

I won’t deny that I experienced a few sleepless nights before booking my one-way ticket back to Poland. I feared being cut off from the ocean of possibilities available abroad, until I realized that there is a wealth of promising options in business, social enterprise and NGOs in this country too. As long as you’ve got initiative and courage.

Maria Belka, who hails from £ód¼, left Poland in 2006, returning after over six years abroad. She is a graduate of Geneva University, where she gained a bachelor’s degree in Economic History. She obtained an MSc in Public Economic Management and Finance from Britain’s University of Birmingham.

She has been a member of various associations supporting local communities and initiatives for young people, including SIFE (Students In Free Enterprise).
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