Jacek Jakubowski

Ashoka Fellow
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Poland
Fellow Since 1995
This description of Jacek Jakubowski's work was prepared when Jacek Jakubowski was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1995 .

Introduction

Jacek Jakubowski, a psychologist and education reformer, is helping Polish young people break from patterns of apathy and anxiety and begin to generate youth-based development in which they start their own businesses, cultural groups and service organizations.

The New Idea

When Jacek Jakubowski looks at the problems facing modern Poland, he sees its youth as an untapped resource. Jacek has focused his energy on addressing the unique problems of the new generation of young people. He has developed a process that helps them confront the sense of helplessness and apathy common among them, and to transform it into creative planning. When young people take the initiative to build much-needed new organizations and activities in their communities, Jacek believes they empower themselves to become self-confident and competent citizens in tomorrow's Poland.

Jacek helps young Poles to organize themselves around mutual passions and then links their new organizations to other segments of Polish society that provide the young people with vital support and services and ensure the survival of their organizations. For example, one young theater group has been linked to individuals in the National Opera Company. These connections ground the young people in the larger society and give them access to vital resources.

The Problem

Growing up in the wake of almost 50 years of Communist rule, many Polish youth are apathetic. The previous regime actively discouraged independent thought and creativity. In fact, less than ten years ago community activism was considered a crime.

There is also the question of what to do. In the past the Communist governments of Central Europe placed a great deal of importance on indoctrinating youth into the Party. They spent large sums of money for youth sports leagues, clubs, huge "palaces of culture" and summer camps. Young people of all backgrounds never lacked for things to do. There were low-priced theater tickets and other inexpensive activities for them. But because of declining revenues, the new governments have reduced expenditures for youth-centered activities.

Expectations of the state as a societal parent persist, but they are often dashed. In the past, for example, the state guaranteed jobs for young people as they entered the work force, but in the course of privatization, inefficient state-owned industries have closed and unemployment has become rampant. One of the hardest-hit groups has been young people: the jobless rate among to 15- to 21-year-olds is approximately 50 percent in Poland.

Young Poles frequently believe that it is impossible for them to change their situations. In frustration and confusion they often resort to drugs, crime and other negative activities. It is no exaggeration to say there is a crisis of the spirit in Poland's youth, exacerbated by a lack of quality job training and weak youth organization left over from the Communist era.

The Strategy

Jacek has developed a strategic sequence of processes. First, working through the organization he founded in Warsaw, the Universal Youth Academy, he holds intensive exercises designed to promote self-examination. At the beginning, these exercises are usually painful because each member of the group must go deep within his or her psyche and address the issues and traumas that have helped to shape their attitudes. But Jacek, who has been doing psychologically-oriented work with young people for two decades, believes that this is a necessary step in building self-confidence.

In addition, the young people perform a number of team-building exercises that teach them the value of cooperation. For example, a team may be presented with a task such as climbing a ten-foot high wall without the use of ropes or other tools. The team quickly discovers the task is impossible to complete unless they work as a team and help each other over the wall.

Upon completing the team-building exercises, the group is asked to think of ways in which they can change their lives through organization and teamwork. Once ideas have been developed, a team of Academy counselors helps the youths implement their ideas by providing training in a number of areas, including organizational management and accounting.

Jacek's Academy also reaches out to connect with other segments of Polish society, including the business community, the government, academia, key individuals and other citizens' organizations. These individuals or groups are then linked to one of the ventures and provide critical technical and/or financial support for the project. Or, conversely, the young people look for ways that they can contribute to the work of the partner organization. For example, Academy youth have volunteered in the programs of Polish Ashoka Fellows Wojciech Onyszkiewicz (food bank distribution system) and Jacek Schindler (environmental education).

The Person

Jacek has been the creator of many innovative ideas. In the 1970s he developed a program to teach school drop-outs. Despite resistance from the Communist regime, the program prospered and was adopted by the first Solidarity government. A psychologist, he is the chairman and founder of the Polish Psychological Association and is fighting a personal battle to reform the Polish education system. He hopes to transform schools into more hospitable and welcoming institutions. Jacek has worked to improve the quality of teachers and counselors and conducts creativity seminars for educators.

In addition to his work with children, Jacek is a father of three, loves nature and enjoys playing chess. He plays the guitar; pictures of him with the young people at his center show them making music together.