Hostility towards other people was becoming more serious. Radical ideologies, defined as dangerous for the society, were visible. The dialogue project in Poland started because of negative trends in the society, and because Orange Poland decided to support a positive change.
-The tendencies are alarming and we decided to respond with the resources that we had. We wanted to prevent radicalization and increase human and social capital in the Polish society, says Daria Drabik, responsible for CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) in Orange Poland.
Promoting a culture of openness and tolerance became a remedy towards hostility. The main idea was to support local organizations and grassroots initiatives by giving tools to people who are change-makers in the society.
-As radical ideologies are destructive for every society, we wanted to provide those who would like to support civic action with tools and power to transform conflicts in their communities. We wanted to help build relations based on dialogue, Daria explains.
The project was called «Turn off the ego. Understand the other.» and was the latest of several programs conducted by the telecom company. The campaign was a natural sequel to projects like «Orange Studios», helping citizens to get acquainted with modern technologies, also with an important social dimension, in one hundred small towns around the country.
-The culture of dialogue is much needed in all spheres of public life, but also in everyday private and business relations, as the level of social capital in Poland is very low. Our goal is to support a long-term development of the whole society and general quality of life, Daria says.
Connecting with local communities
It started after Konrad Ciesiołkiewicz, responsible for the CSR department, attended a conference. He was impressed by what one of the speakers, Christiane Seehausen from the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue (NCPD), said about dialogue. Later Daria and Christiane met and the ball started rolling. Orange decided to make a dialogue project as a contribution to the 100-year celebration of independence in Poland.
We wanted a mix as rich as possible -Daria Drabik
-Almost 400 applied to the first dialogue training course for leaders in local societies. We were looking for people who were active in their local environment, working directly with people, engaged and highly motivated to support their communities. To build diversity we invited people from different fields: education, local governments, local NGOs, from public and cultural institutions. A connection with the local community was one of the most important factors for us, and we tried to recruit from different parts of Poland, including small villages. We wanted the mix to be as rich as possible, says Daria.
Depending on relationships
The success of projects like this are very much depending on relationships, according to Christiane Seehausen from the Nansen Center.
-To run this project we totally depend on people like Daria. We communicate very easily and Daria has everything that is needed. She is open-minded, interested, hard-working, flexible, service-minded, professional and intelligent. She learned about dialogue by participating in a training, and without her commitment we would not be able to do this. I felt I could trust her from the beginning. I remember very well our first meeting. I was wondering why a telecom company would meet a small peace organization like the Nansen Center, Christiane says.
-We chose the Nansen Center because of Christiane and because she provided answers to the questions we had. We trusted her and the others involved. It was a wonderful experience and a deep cooperation based on mutual trust and understanding. In this way, it was so special, Daria explains.
-Poland has a long history of dialogue, but we are not very dialogical now. The term is sometimes used as a kind of manipulation or instead of negotiation. We wanted to help bring some more of the original meaning back. In Orange, dialogue is a part of our philosophy, but it was not so defined before we started this cooperation. Working with the Nansen Center was the best part of my job ever. I learned a lot, met so many wonderful people and I am so proud of the work of our participants. When we started, we had no idea how it would develop, Daria says.
-What is your personal motivation for this work?
Christiane: -As a German, to work in Poland is for me very special. My mother is 85 and was living in Germany during the Second World War. She said that what we Germans have done to the Polish people is unforgivable, and that this project is important. Because NCPD is Norwegian and I am living in Norway now, I believe some doors has been opened. Norway is considered neutral in Poland. The relationship between Germany and Poland is more complicated. The time in Poland, all the talks and the family stories are for me personally very important.
-First of all, Daria has been a motivation, and also the participants. Some of the attending organizations are small, but they are doing incredible work under the difficult circumstances in Poland right now. This has encouraged me very much. I am impressed by how open the participants were for the methodology and how they embraced it. The dialogue method works a little bit against the typical Polish mindset, in my impression. I was worried that dialogue could be difficult to implement in Poland because a change of attitude would be necessary. And this is what Orange wants, to reduce ego and make people listen to each other and be more open to each other.
”I find the development very inspiring -Christiane Seehausen
Daria: -My first motivation was Christiane and the whole concept of working with an organization like the Nansen Center. I was curious about how we could make dialogue useful for the society in Poland. The project we were having in mind had no precedent in our country. The second part of my motivation came along with the applications submitted by people who wanted to participate in dialogue training. I was truly impressed with their experiences, attitudes and actions. I understood that this is a chance to meet and work with wonderful people who are literally changing the world. I felt that together we can do something of deep importance, influence and impact. That we can make life a little bit better for some communities.
-What are the most important outcomes?
Daria: -One hundred people have completed the basic dialogue training. Twenty-five of them went on to the facilitation training. This group of people has arranged workshops, meetings and facilitation processes. They have reached out to more than 300 NGOs, cultural and educational institutions, public institutions, organizations and universities. The number of people participating in the activities connected to dialogue is more than 10,000. They are from different parts of Poland and they represent the biggest cities, small towns and villages.
”Seeing the work of our participants makes me believe more in humans -Daria Drabik
-Our participants have facilitated meetings commissioned by city authorities and conducted public dialogues for large group of participants. They also facilitated very local conflict resolutions, in schools or to support communities in a block of flats. They support migrants, facilitate meetings between right wing and LGBTQ+ organizations (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer), organize workshops for students, teachers and parents, religious organizations, civic activists, officials and many others. We made a survey recently and saw the whole and detailed picture for the first time. It was really impressive and inspiring. A coming report will tell even more about the outcomes. Seeing the work of our participants makes me believe more in humans. When we started, I did not imagine such a big scale.
Christiane: -The connection between the participants has been strengthened by dialogues online, starting after the Corona outbreak. And organizations are asking to have joint projects with the Nansen Center to train people to be capable of training others. In this way the teaching will in a greater degree reach the countryside. I find it very inspiring to see the development and that organizations also from smaller places are taking it forward.
Daria: -We are satisfied by how organizations have developed during our training courses. The smaller ones have started to cooperate with the bigger and more professionalized ones, and they can learn from each other. Cooperating also with a partner like the Nansen Center gives the organizations more confidence and they receive more trust from their local communities. Also, the planned translation of the Nansen Center Handbook into Polish is important in this work. The organizations will help spread the book all over Poland.
Christiane: -In the future we will continue to use online tools for dialogues and consultancy. Nevertheless, we all are looking forward to arranging physical meetings again, after the Corona situation has normalized.
Text: Kai Nygaard. Photo of Daria Drabik: Private. Photo of Christiane Seehausen: Kai Nygaard.
This article was originally published in the report “Creating Space For Making Change” about dialogue work in Poland. The full report is available here.
Published on Internet: December 15th 2020.