Kaz believes that sustained development in rural Poland needs local collaborative social action. Because infrastructure needs are so great, it is possible to show immediate benefits and get a "quick win" for the larger goal of promoting local self-organization by beginning with core infrastructure needs. Accordingly, Kaz started the first independent telephone company in Poland in order to trigger the peoples' capacity to forge their own communities.
Initially there was considerable resistance to Kaz's proposal, which emphasized that the company should be owned by local citizens within a "cooperative" legal structure. Many felt that it was "the government's responsibility." Others chided Kaz for advocating a cooperative legal structure: "You, such a good Catholic, and you are organizing an anti-Christian coop?"
With a core of volunteer professionals and backing from the local government, Kaz raised the capital required to launch the service from the commercial banking system. He then set about providing a quality service that would transform its customers into active owners of the company.
The telephone service that he established provided the most advanced telephone features in all Poland (e.g., call waiting, three-way calling and caller identification), and was a source of immediate pride and delight. The most important feature was its fee structure, in which all calls within the local network were free. This policy was designed to promote local communication and build social capital, and it worked almost magically. The people of Chmielnik began talking to each other, incessantly, on "their" telephone network.
Just as Kaz had hoped, the experience has legitimized cooperative social action more generally and has spurred further collaborative initiatives to improve local infrastructure. "In a way," says Kaz, "the telephone cooperative has been too successful. Now some people want cooperatives for everything! At a meeting we organized to consider an investment in waste and ecological cleaning plants, I had to work hard to convince them that this time they have to look for some other, more relevant solution." In that instance it was decided to incorporate the initiative directly into local government, where it is now well underway.
The program has also diversified in Chmielnik to commercial ventures, including a joint stock company, Chmielnik Spring, to bottle and market local spring water, and a milling cooperative. Plans are well advanced to establish a cooperative for water quality protection.
In order to facilitate this economic and social transformation, Kaz set up a nonprofit organization, the Foundation for Promotion of Telephones Co-ops, which promptly established the Tyczyn Regional Telephone Co-op and continues to catalyze and facilitate new community initiatives. It is a fixture in the community as a resource bank of technical expertise, of assistance in accessing investment finance and, most importantly, of ongoing training and support to run a now perennial stream of new community projects.
From the outset, Kaz envisioned the process in Chmielnik as a model for rural Poland and beyond. To ensure that his approach was replicable, Kaz designed the Foundation as a low-budget, high-social capital organization that works predominantly through volunteers. His initial program in Chmielnik includes nine part-time technically-skilled persons as well as 25 volunteers (e.g., teachers, engineers, business managers, priests, farmers and youth).
Building on the success in Chmielnik, Kazimierz has begun to turn his attention to spreading his model. His spread strategy involves inviting leaders from other parts of rural Poland (so far Mielec, Ustrzyki Dolne and Brzozow), Bulgaria, and the Ukraine to the area to experience the Chmielnik program. Visitors see the social benefits from the program, observe local seminars and training, and study the operations of the cooperatives and other project initiatives. For those who choose to replicate the model in their own areas, Kaz has developed a specific course on how to put together a low-budget, high-social capital organization like the Foundation for Promotion of Telephones Coops. Replications are underway in Mielec, Ustrzyki Dolne and Brzozow in Poland and in the Ukraine as well. Kaz's Foundation provides ongoing training, advice and support to these groups, which Kaz sees as the nucleus of an emerging rural revitalization movement.
Kaz is also seeking to influence national policy. In 1996, he was appointed as one of five members of a expert advisory committee to the national government on rural telephonization. He also organized an international conference in Warsaw in 1996.