The business sector and the civil society are working together for peace and strengthening democracy in Poland. In this interview, Orange Poland explains why a telecommunications company would use its resources to support dialogue and the social fabric.
The world sees examples of polarization, increased xenophobia and political leaders undermining human rights. Should influential companies ignore these threats and do business as usual? Could a company collaborate with the civil society to strengthen social fabric?
Orange Poland is a major telecom company with more than 13.000 employees. In 2018 it initiated a campaign called “Turn off your ego, understand the other”, to facilitate dialogue in Polish society.
Through a series of events and public meetings Orange Poland built a coalition of “friends of dialogue” from almost 30 organizations.
Orange invited the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue to partner on dialogue training courses, with an ambitious goal: to train up to one hundred people with the skills needed to organize dialogue sessions in their own communities.
Konrad Ciesiolkiewicz, Orange Poland’s Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, Public Affairs and Communication, shares with us his thoughts about the campaign.
-Konrad Ciesiolkiewicz, why did Orange start with dialogue training in Poland?
The main reason is our deeply rooted sense that one of the most necessary things we could do in the current world is to build bridges between people representing numerous interests, feelings and experiences, and different sectors, including NGOs, the public and business, who are looking for something in common.
Dialogue is perceived by many as a theoretical concept only. Many others claim that dialogue is permanently overused as a tool to manoeuvre people. Trying to understand all the given voices, we treat dialogue first of all as a competence which can always be acquired and developed.
We treat dialogue first of all as a competence which can always be acquired and developed
Taking this approach into account, we actually convey a very optimistic message meaning that the situation is never hopeless. We can always take action and make changes for good. It sounds like a cliché, but in a world characterized by such strong polarization dividing each and every element of our lives into black and white, moral and immoral, good and bad, we would like to concentrate our efforts on human dignity, respecting the complexity of human and social nature. Only in this way could we try to make sustainable social changes leading to social peace encountered on a daily basis.
Some time ago we met Christiane Seehausen from the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue, who conducted workshops in Warsaw and introduced us to Alfredo Zamudio. It turned out that the Center has developed this approach in practice for more than twenty years now and its expertise is unbelievably credible. A few months later we jointly launched the project in Poland based on the five-day basic full immersion training and the additional course for the advanced level, preparing dialogue facilitators.
-In what way do you think dialogue can help the situation in Poland?
We really believe in the exceptional role to be played by NGOs in overcoming social polarization. These organizations have highly committed, quick-witted and impressively level-headed people. No doubt, there is a huge potential in such promising peaceful and civic movements. Therefore, we have built our initiative in full cooperation with NGOs, including think tanks, leadership centres, civic media outlets and organizations involved in the corporate social responsibility area.
The initiative, “Turn off your ego: Understand the other”, is targeted at socially, civically, publicly or industrially highly committed representatives of organizations. There are six main partners of the project. Moreover, we have built a coalition of “friends of dialogue” consisting of almost 30 other organizations from all over Poland.
We really believe in the exceptional role to be played by NGOs in overcoming social polarization.
We have trained around 100 people so far. Most of them take advantage of the competencies they have acquired thanks to the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue. We can see how eager the graduates are to take action and how much they do in their local societies. Besides facilitating the training sessions, we keep in touch with our graduates and invite them to develop the initiative together by organizing consultation sessions, workshops, sharing experiences and inspiring each other. We define our role as an enabler and we want to serve them first and foremost.
-Why does a telecom company choose to get involved in dialogue?
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and a sustainable approach to critical social issues we are facing is part of the DNA within our corporate culture at Orange. We follow a well-developed CSR strategy covering social challenges I mentioned before, including social and digital development, disparities, social capital, supporting civic society, NGOs, independent media outlets, democratic institutions and so on. We really believe that only by building a positive social ecosystem can we support real socio-economic growth, having an essentially fruitful impact on both society and business. Our common initiative is the best and visible proof of how it works.
We really believe that only by building a positive social ecosystem can we support real socio-economic growth
We have received an overwhelming positive response from civil society and other businesses. We believe that this experience can be useful for other situations in Europe or elsewhere: the business sector and civil society can work together for peace and to strengthen democracy.
-Do you have any examples of how dialogue is being used in Polish society?
There are plenty of local initiatives in Poland based on dialogue. The main barrier we can observe today is radical polarization which, unfortunately, sells in the media. People’s attention is drawn by negative communication and toxic divisions driven by many social and economic interests and models.
Let me just mention some of our partners in the project we are talking about. The Centre for Social Innovation and Research has been developing civic participation for 10 years in many parts of Poland. Its founder is one of the founding fathers of the Polish NGO sector, Jakub Wygnanski, who attended the round table talks between the communists and the underground movement in 1989 that led to peaceful transformation in Poland.
Laboratory of Bonds is a socio-Christian think tank that is developing social, interreligious and intercultural dialogue based on the respect for human dignity. It is also one of the most renowned centres of Christian-Jewish dialogue.
There are plenty of local initiatives in Poland based on dialogue
Another partner is the Leadership Academy, which has been training leaders-to-be for more than twenty years and teaching them how to empower and serve people. They have thousands of graduates working all over Poland in all sectors, grassroots movements and institutions.
The European Solidarity Centre based in Gdansk has just joined us and become one of the friends of dialogue. We could do little without them. To sum up, it goes without saying that only thanks to such valuable people wanting to invest their energy and skills in fixing the social tissue can we look at the future optimistically. Without them the world we live in would be much worse.
-From your point of view, what does Polish society need to do to handle the challenges you are facing?
Our challenges are very similar to the challenges of many other Western countries at the moment. The local significance of those challenges are obviously contextual and rooted in our culture and history. Having said that, from my personal angle, what is most problematic is a very sad shortage of universal perspective. People’s behaviors in different parts of the world actually are the same due to the fact that we as human beings have more in common than we have separating us.
Our challenges are very similar to the challenges of many other Western countries at the moment
Poland has had very cruel experiences for the last 200 years, including the partitions in the 18th and 19th centuries, two world wars and the communist dictatorship until 1989. There’s a lot of food for thought, a lot of lessons from such complicated history. Our calling should be to set our hearts on being peacemakers in all respects. I perceive our common initiative exactly as a way of peace which is being made on a small scale.
Konrad Ciesiolkiewicz – Director at Orange Poland and in charge of Corporate Social Responsibility, Public Affairs and Communication. He is also a chairman of the Social Dialogue Committee of the Polish Chamber of Commerce.
The Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue has more than 20 years of experience in developing methodologies, and supporting dialogue projects in the Western Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kenya, Ukraine, Norway, Poland and other countries. The Nansen Center provides capacity building on dialogue, with training, seminars and workshops on dialogue, and is located at the Nansen Academy in Lillehammer, Norway.
The Nansen dialogue work in Poland has been on-going since 2016, with Christiane Seehausen from The Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue as one of the initiative takers. Today also Chro Borhan is responsible for the training courses. The next training will be in October 2019, in Warsaw.
Text: The Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue. Photo: Orange Poland
Published: Oct 10th 2019.