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Polish youth powering the economic and social transformation

A new generation of young leaders is asking an important question: How can we fix the economic, social and environmental problems our elders failed to solve? Polish students with the “Education is a Window to the World” programme created the “Global Reading on Global Challenges” project to educate Poles, from juniors to seniors, on the Sustainable Development Goals and climate action ahead of the COP24 Katowice Climate Conference in December.

October 29, 2018 - New Eastern Europe - Articles and CommentaryEvents

Photo courtesy of the Bridge Foundation.

The circular economy, which aims to promote a sustainable use of resources, is setting the trend in space exploration, military security, innovative business and everyday life. What’s more, it has been knocking on the door of the average Smith and Kowalski for years. It is not always straightforward – in stores (not only in Poland) you can still buy ordinary light bulbs – but the transformation from the traditional linear economy to a more circular one appears to be unstoppable and driven by a new economic reality where waste and pollution are costs that need to be eliminated from business models.

Buildings, for example, generate more than a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. This pollution can be drastically reduced at a profit. The retrofit of the Empire State Building where 6,000 windows were remanufactured into super-windows saved 45 per cent of its energy costs, with a pay-back of three years.

Young leaders take charge ahead of COP24

Through the “Education is a Window to the World” programme of The Bridge Foundation, 400 high school students from 20 Polish schools have been exploring global economic, environmental and social challenges at the faculty of management with the University of Warsaw, the programme’s host partner. The renaissance of space exploration, the 4.0 economy, energy security and financial aspects of economic and social transformation are topics being explored during this intellectual ping-pong with the youth.

One unique approach in the project, which was spearheaded by the new generation of young leaders, focuses on the use of storytelling – a powerful way to reach hearts and minds. The participants of the programme translated into Polish “Fairytales for a Fairer World” – a storybook initiative of the United Nations Director-General to promote the Sustainable Development Goals. The book was made available into all the official languages of the United Nations, but not Polish. The young students took the initiative themselves and decided to translate the book so it would reach a Polish audience. What’s more, the project is working with the national public library network and other partner organisations to maximise reach and give Polish readers access to the fairytales. As a result, these young leaders became true ambassadors of Poland within the UN structures and the Director-General thanked them for their contribution.

A must for urgent climate action

1.8 billion young people around the world ages 10-24 are set to become tomorrow’s leaders in all sectors of life: public, business, diplomatic and scientific. The Bridge Foundation’s programme aims to turn them into global citizens, prepared for the challenges that will face them. Its timing is prescient as Poland is hosting the COP24 Climate Conference in December in Katowice. “The most important investment for our future is education. Informed and aware, we are ready for the SDG challenge,” says Agata Tomaszewska from the Copernicus High School in Warsaw.

“Critical pedagogy is at the heart of the programme’s methodology. It dares students to take a holistic view of issues and ask challenging questions. It is paramount for young people to see the world as a network of connected vessels” says Margo Koniuszewski, president of the Bridge Foundation. “Context plays a key role in learning and the lectures for young people on the 21st century challenges begin by setting the scene: from the Big Bang to the agricultural and industrial revolutions, the digital age, space exploration and climate change, to a remedy for modern ills: the circular economy”, adds Ms Koniuszewski.  

“For change to happen we must act on all fronts. We mobilised students in 37 of the largest universities in Poland to organise workshops and discussions in high schools on the Sustainable Development Goals and how to implement them in practice,” says Radek Łyko, president of the Erasmus Student Network in Poland. Having student associations on board opens up new possibilities. “As part of our ‘Reading-Helping’ project, the medical students association IFMSA-Poland will read fragments of the fairytales to young patients in hospitals,” said Mateusz Zarzecki, the organisation’s president. “Law students will also shine! We will organise SDG workshops and give special attention to SDG#10 Reduced Inequalities during our annual Days of Legal Education in November,” added Kamil Baran, president of the European Law Students Association, ELSA-Poland.

A new breed of leaders 

“The words of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his video message empowered us to action! The solutions are in our hands,” said Hania Sapierzynska from Kochanowski High School in Warsaw. “Thanks to the letter from the UN Director-General, Michael Møller, we feel that we can make a real contribution to solving the SDGs,” added Kamil Muszyński from the Konopnicka High School in Legionowo.  

One chapter of the fairytales was turned into a theatrical play by students from the bilingual Polish-French Żmichowska High School in co-operation with the directing department of the National Academy of Dramatic Art in Warsaw. Young people love fresh and innovative ideas. Stimulating their minds on global challenges through stories and art helps them develop critical thinking skills and a holistic way of seeing the world.

The premiere of the Global Reading on Global Challenges and the theatrical play based on the Fairytales for a Fairer World (in Polish Baśnie i Dziwy, by Świat był Sprawiedliwy) will take place at the Warsaw Stock Exchange on November 5th. The young Poles will have a chance to present their innovative project to a wide audience in Warsaw. “Capital markets can support scaling-up innovative solutions for a sustainable future,” says Marek Dietl, president of the Warsaw Stock Exchange.

“We are very pleased that the Warsaw Stock Exchange will host the Global Reading on Global Challenges launch in the presence of opinion leaders from international organisations, diplomacy, science, business, culture, media and public institutions,” adds Margo Koniuszewski. “Finance and business must be part of the solution. Of the 100 largest economic entities in the world 69 are not countries but corporations.”

Margo Koniuszewski is the President of The Bridge Foundation that she co-founded with her husband.

Adam Koniuszewski is an executive in residence at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, a Fellow of Order of Chartered Professional Accountants in Canada and the World Academy of Art and Science, and a Chartered Financial Analyst.

New Eastern Europe is a media partner of this project.

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