Justyna Politańska has led the development of GEW Poland since 2011. She recently co-founded the Global Entrepreneurship Week Foundation in Poland and is currently its CEO.
A graduate in Political Science at the University of Warsaw, a scholar of Universidad Complutense in Spain and Universitaet Konstanz in Germany, she conducted research about the political participation of women in Germany and Poland. Following graduation she worked in advertising and later became president of the Youth Forum Lewiatan, a job that allowed her to pursue her passion of helping young people in Poland by promoting entrepreneurship and human rights.
During the recent Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Moscow, Politańska received the Champion Catalyzer Award for Most Partners on behalf of GEW Poland. The award recognizes the national campaign with the most partners organizing events during Global Entrepreneurship Week. During GEW 2013, Poland topped the list with 2,206 partners, followed by: United States (1,247), Germany (821), United Kingdom (633) and Brazil (598).
When and how did you/your organization first get involved in Global Entrepreneurship Week?
When GEW began in 2008, the Polish Confederation of Private Employees asked the Youth Forum Lewiatan if it was interested in coordinating the GEW initiative in Poland. At the time, the Youth Forum Lewiatan was just an informal group of students and graduates but with help of many local organizations, we were able to make the event a success. Since then, GEW has grown bigger each year in Poland. We recently decided to establish a legal entity to make our actions even more effective. That is how the Global Entrepreneurship Week Foundation came into existence.
Why is Global Entrepreneurship Week important—overall and to your country, specifically?
At their core, entrepreneurs create jobs and help economies grow. GEW is a celebration of entrepreneurship; an opportunity to underline this crucial role entrepreneurship plays in today’s world. It is also a great occasion to demonstrate the possibility of entrepreneurship as a way of living, and spread important knowledge to nascent entrepreneurs about how to start and develop their own business.
GEW Poland aims to reach children and youth, by explaining to them the career opportunities that entrepreneurship provides, beyond just having their own business! Poland is the only EU country with obligatory entrepreneurship lessons in high schools, but we don’t use them well enough. GEW is a unique opportunity to speak up about this and other issues related to entrepreneurship in Poland, such as youth unemployment and bureaucracy issues in Poland.
How does GEW support the work that you do throughout the year?
GEW is our foundation’s key event each year. It helps us gain partners such as companies, pubic institutions, NGO’s and universities, as well as sponsors who work with us throughout the year. Because we organize the largest entrepreneurship celebration in Poland, our organization obtains considerable recognition from the polish entrepreneurship ecosystem. In addition, people recognize the value that being a GEW host holds, especially in terms to having a large international organization supporting our aims and values.
How has GEW grown in Poland? What are you doing to build on its momentum?
GEW grows each and every year. In 2013, over 80,000 people participated in events across 16 regions of our country! We achieved this by doing a few things, starting with working with big partners like Junior Achievement. We also created a network of “regional coordinators” that operate in almost every polish voivodship (region). They are responsible for promoting GEW locally and reaching local partners. Without them we wouldn’t be able to do as many events as we do each year. Regional coordinators or regional boards comprised of important companies or institutions promoting entrepreneurship are a great resource mainly because they know best what will work in their region. They know what the key problems are, which stakeholders we should talk to and what people expect when attending events. A full list of our coordinators can be found on our website.
Are there challenges or barriers that you would like to overcome to increase participation?
GEW Poland is currently facing three barriers to increased participation.
- We need to get even more big stakeholders involved. While last year, we were honored to host Poland’s vice prime minister and minister of economy at our opening ceremony, as well as the American ambassador to Poland, we need to build on that momentum for this year’s campaign.
- Better communication between the many players in Poland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is needed. This can be challenging when working with dozens of regional coordinators working with very different regions. Better communication is also needed between our private and public partners. In fact, our aim is to make GEW the platform for said dialogue and communication.
- Lastly, we need to involve more schools and universities in our campaign. As these are where the youth are spending the majority of their formative years, these are also the best places to talk about entrepreneurship.
What makes your GEW campaign unique?
Our GEW campaign is a grassroots movement. While we host GEW Poland each year, it is our many partners who organize events and are truly the backbone of our GEW campaign. The schools, foundations, entrepreneurship incubators, public institutions, as well as companies big and small that we work with volunteer their time and resources to spread entrepreneurship in Poland.
What event(s) are you most looking forward to for GEW 2014?
I always look forward to the annual Opening Ceremony, which this year will take place November 17, 2014, in Warsaw. It attracts considerable media and public attention each year, a great way to kick off the week!
How would you characterize the entrepreneurial environment in Poland? If you could change one thing to make it better, what would it be?
The entrepreneurial environment in Poland is disorganized. Many private and public institutions work to promote entrepreneurship, but they don’t communicate with each other. In fact, sometimes they don’t even know what others are doing! This lack of communication is a potential loss; one that I strongly believe that it has to be changed in order for ecosystem to be more efficient.
An important consequence of the lack of a strong entrepreneurship ecosystem in Poland is the dissemination of false information. Entrepreneurs in need of support don’t know where to find it, despite their being so many resources available to them in the country.
What kind of an impact has GEW had on the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Poland?
GEW contributes a lot to the building of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Poland, by making it possible for companies, entrepreneurs, schools and public institutions to get involved in one common event. It also helps us keep people's attention and pinpoint the most important issues related to developing entrepreneurship in Poland, such as lack of a thorough education, complicated laws, bureaucracy, and poor internship conditions, which don’t help young people develop their skills or find a first job.
For more information on GEW Poland, visit the GEW Poland website.