The School for Leaders was founded in the summer of 1994 by the initiative of Dr Zbigniew A. Pełczyński, professor at the Oxford University. In 1997 the project transformed into the School for Leaders Association, which in 2014 became School for Leaders Foundation. Our mission is to support the development of civil society through training and support of leaders who perform their activities within the public sphere in NGOs, local government institutions and political parties. The participants of our programs are the people of different political and social backgrounds. After over 20 years of activity, our Alumni are members of the European and Polish Parliament, of the government and of many local governments. They also run hundreds of organizations and social initiatives in over 40 countries all across the world.
One of the most important challenges that Poland has to face nowadays is the construction of the social capital which is not only the value in itself but also serves as a kind of fuel for all the other development challenges. The key factor for the growth of the social capital is the leadership which is a vital tool for building cooperation and ties which enhance the level of confidence and the intensity of civic activity and actions for the common good.
Another important development factor is the preparation of the public personnel for the introduction of the necessary changes. It is vital to provide them with the appropriate competences in such areas as creation of the vision, risk taking, acting based on the long-term strategies, methods of engaging people into common activities and creating the conditions for the cooperation around the common aims and creativity. It is necessary to enhance and develop the leadership competences and attitudes of people who are to shape the development of Poland, their own institutions, organizations and local communities. There is a need for a conscious policy of supporting those who are influential so that the others follow them.
Those are the needs we are trying to meet through our various programs, including:
- School for Political Leaders,
- PAFF Leaders Program
- School for Leaders of the Polish Community Abroad,
- National Consultation Network of Leaders,
- and many others.
Professor Zbigniew Pełczyński has always been ahead of his times. Fifteen years ago he opened the Oxford University for Polish scientists; in 1987 he convinced the philanthropist George Soros to found the Batory Foundation in Poland; in 1994 he created the School of Young Social and Political Leaders. His younger partners complain that they are not able to keep up with him. One of them greeted him in his office one morning with the following words: “Already at work, professor?” “Actually, I was leaving” – answered the 71-year old Pełczyński who had been sitting there for over a day. When speaking of himself he says that since the 80’s he has been changing from the scientist into the “social entrepreneur”, i. e. someone who is able to anticipate social needs and to find practical ways to meet them. After the uprising he landed in England. He studied political science and economy there. He became known in the world of science as a Hegelian. He was a lecturer at the Oxford University till 1993 when he retired. However, above all he felt an educator. Among the students to whom he is bound by ties of friendship there was Bill Clinton. Professor likes to be in touch with the youth. – Thanks to them instead of looking back, I look ahead – he says. Pełczyński belongs to the youngest generation of the military London immigration. At the beginning his attitude towards his country separated him from the older generation. From 1956 he used to come to Poland trying to form his own opinion on the possibility to reform the system. He interpreted the announcement of the martial law as the beginning of the end of the communism. The result of such a diagnosis was that the most important thing was to prepare the country for life after the change of the system. That’s why he decided to enable the Polish scientists to get closer to the world science. He convinced the Oxford University to launch a broad grant program for the Poles. Thanks to him 450 Polish scientists have had a chance to study at this university since 1982. The grants are addressed to the most talented students of the last year and the future PhD students. In the 80’s professor Pełczyński established contact with George Soros, a millionaire of Hungarian origin and the founder of the “Open Society” Foundation. They both shared the Popper’s idea of the construction of the “open society”. “Let’s make a deal – Soros proposed – for each Hungarian brought to Oxford I will fund the stay of one Pole at the university”. Thus in 1986 the first ten Hungarians were brought to Oxford thanks to Pełczyński. When scientists from other Central European countries and USSR started to come to Oxford, the Polish program was changed into the Central European program. The tireless Pełczyński convinced Cambridge, Manchester and other British universities to join the program. His next idea with regard to getting Poland closer to the West was the Batory Foundation. At the time it already existed in Hungary. Pełczyński convinced Soros to create another foundation in Poland. He founded it in Warsaw on his behalf in 1988. Since 1989 the professor has been cooperating with the solidarity government. Today he prefers to change the reality by educating Polish elites.
– The best will pull the rest – says the professor. That’s why he founded and he runs the School for Young Social and Political Leaders. The school educates politicians, as well as local government and social activists in the difficult art of coming to an agreement and reaching compromise. The professor is particularly interested in the introduction of Oxford debate in Poland, i. e. a civilised discussion run according to the strict rules. He managed to arise enthusiasm among the students of the Warsaw University who already run such discussions. Pełczyński hopes that debate clubs will soon spread all over the country and that a similar thing will happen in Belarus and Ukraine. The participants of the School for Leaders can improve their skills by observing local government elections in Great Britain, by working in the office of one of the Americans senators or by doing an internship in the Polish Parliament or in consulting companies.
– In our generation of London immigration – says Bolesław Taborski – Pełczyński’s friend, a poet and writer – with sorrow – there were thousands of people with an enormous professional output who were ready to go back to the country after retiring in order to offer their experience. However, nobody called them. It’s good that the professor decided to show up himself to fulfil its needs.
Maria Kruczkowska; “Magazyn Gazety Wyborczej” no. 2, 10 January 1997