Barka Foundation

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see also Barka's 5-stage model

The Barka Foundation is based in Poznań, Poland. It and its founders, Tomasz Sadowski and Barbara Sadowska, are internationally renowned, and have won the World Bank Award of the Global Development Network, been dubbed ‘European Hero’ by Time Magazine, and been invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos. They are credited with having been the prime movers behind legislation such as the laws on education and social employment and on social co-operatives.


Video links

The film A Piece of Sober Heaven shows Barka's work with alcoholic and homeless Polish migrants in London:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4


Barka operates:

  • a community programme, offering therapeutic communities of 25-30 people;
  • a socio-educational programme, which combines social support and education to achieve reintegration;
  • an employment opportunity programme, which has run for 11 years and places 50 people a year in permanent jobs;
  • a housing programme.

Barka pioneered the Centres of Social Integration, which help disadvantaged people to create their own employment by setting up social co-operatives. Other organisations are now also founding such centres. The Barka school in Poznań gives training in the legal, organisational, market research and economic aspects of setting up social co-operatives.

The EQUAL programme has given the Barka Foundation its first opportunity to scale up social enterprise and involve other major organisations in partnership. Barka’s EQUAL project called Social Economy in Practice set up three model Centres of Social Economy in three contrasting locations: Poznań (city), Kwilcz (small province) and Bogatynia (town of 30,000 people). Their objective is to develop a staff training programme, based on the existing ‘School of Social Animation’, which was itself inspired by the Danish idea of a Folk University. The idea is to train 130 people, including former prisoners, residents of mental homes and orphanages, homeless and long-term unemployed people, who are referred by institutions such as Municipal Centres of Social Help and Work Offices.

It is hoped that these trainees will go on to create several dozen social co-operatives. Sectors that have been researched include second-hand shops, metal recycling, rickshaws for cemetery visitors, sport and recreation centre administration, and agro-tourism. A street paper on the British model is being founded and multi-trade social co-operatives offering services such as cleaning, renovation and gardening are considered a promising avenue.

Other objectives of the project are to improve public perceptions of the target group, to promote European standards of equal opportunity, and to improve the qualifications and effectiveness of individuals employed in the social economy.


Tivoli workshop report

Barka was one of the four cases studies featured at the seminar How can the social economy contribute to local development? held in Tivoli, Italy, on 5-6 December 2006, as part of the EQUAL programme.

The following is the report of workshop B, The little community that could.

Project presenter: Barbara Sadowska, case study: Dorotea Daniele

Poland - social economy in practice

The case shows how a small family foundation that started in 1989 helping the most excluded people has become a major actor of Polish social economy. Barka represents a live laboratory where to experiment social innovation and a complex system of social economy initiatives addressing the multiple needs of excluded people (social re-integration, work, housing) and promoting local development.

The problem

After the end of Communism social economy initiatives have experienced in Poland a dynamic development. Many of them were engaged in direct activities on behalf of people facing problems of the transformation. Unemployment (particularly high for young people and long-term unemployed), low income and huge pockets of poverty still caracterise one of the main European countries.

The Polish third sector consists of a multiplicity of organisations, including foundations and associations (52,000), social co-operatives (30), vocational enterprises for the handicapped (375), social integration centres and clubs (135). The development of third sector organisations has been made possible by internal factors, including an enabling political environment, freedom of association and expression, basic legislation on foundations and associations, social employment, legislation on social rehabilitation and employment of the handicapped, legislation on employment promotion and institutions of the labour market, and external factors (the introduction of a culture of vie associative, professionalisation, financial support, sponsor-led development of citizen organizations).

In recent years, the sector and its role in fighting social exclusion and unemployment has been progressively recognised. A first important act was the Law on Activities of Public Benefit and Volunteering which introduced innovative elements clearly emphasising the need to build partnership between the public administration and non-profit organsations. It also referred to the as yet unrecognised principle of subsidiarity and privileged activities undertaken by citizens’ organisations over those of the government or local administration.

In 2003 and 2004 institutional and legal recognition of social entrepreneurship of low-income groups was attained following the enacting of two specific Acts: the act on Social Employment and the act on Employment Promotion and Institutions of the Labour Market.

These new legal acts are especially important because of the possibility they give to undertake entrepreneurial activities by organizations. This has a special meaning for activities in the sphere of social and professional reintegration of long term unemployed persons. The Law on Social Employment has been a significant success in this sphere. It responds to the problems of exclusion caused by low educational level. It created the Centres of Social Integration that are new forms of social economy structures. The status of the Centre of Social Integration is given for a period of 3 years. Centres of Social Integration may be created by both non-governmental organisations and local administration, as organisationally and budgetary independent units.

A step further is represented by the Law on Social Cooperatives which was approved in April 2006. The law takes inspiration from the type B Italian social cooperatives. The social cooperatives are non-profit social enterprises, which objective is not to generate profit but the professional and social re-integration of persons with minimal qualifications.

Barka Foundation has played an important role in lobbying for this new legal framework and its Equal project aims at experimenting a new model of support structure able to facilitate the development of social cooperatives.

Good practice from EQUAL


The Social economy in practice project aims at fostering social economy and social co-operatives as a means to integrate into work socially excluded groups, thus preventing their further exclusion. It aims at changing passive welfare approaches that have dominated Polish social policy empowering and training social excluded groups and supporting them trough the creation of three model local Social Economy Centres (SECs) [Centra Ekonomii Społecznej (CES)].

Those centres are created in three different local environments: a big city (Poznan), a small town (Drezdenko in Lubuskie region) and a rural district (Kwilcz in Wielkopolska region). A second major objective of the project is the creation of mechanisms for local partnership building, mainly through training and education of local social economy leaders (coming both from social economy organisations and local authorities) able to set up activities benefiting both local communities and excluded people.

Therefore the project is addressed to and concretely involves both social excluded people (unemployed, homeless, ex-offenders, alcoholic and drug addicts, people without any income) and social workers, local administrators, social entrepreneurs, representatives of housing councils, parishes and educational bodies.


The lead organisation, Barka Foundation for Mutual Help is one of the pioneers of social economy in Poland, having started in 1989 activities aiming at work integration of excluded people combining social and entrepreneurial aspects. Barka's role is to co-ordinate the project and transnational activity, to animate the DP and to supervise the interaction between partners at local level. Barka-Koefed School Association has the major task to elaborate training programmes and to promote training activities for social economy leaders.

In the three experimentation areas of the SEC, local partnerships include associations, foundations and local authorities, in order to put together all the relevant actors involved in social and work integration of social excluded people (included housing and sport associations and NGOs representing local communities).

The Institute of Political Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences is in charge of monitoring and evaluation the project.


Social Economy Centres are set at the centre of a complex system aiming at providing different kinds of support to all the categories of excluded people fostering in the meantime local development and social entrepreneurship.

The Centre has various tasks:

  • Recruitment and information: selection of final beneficiaries, information on the project, conduct of surveys for final beneficiaries.
  • Work agency: analysis of the local work market, mediation and guidance to promote employment of final beneficiaries in commercial companies and social enterprises.
  • Vocational counseling and training agency: planning of training schemes, implementation and supervision of training courses with special attention to trade training and training on creation and management of social cooperatives.
  • Development agency: identifying local markets for social cooperatives, testing diverse possibilities of cooperation between social cooperatives and other local community actors, cooperation with partners (mainly with the business sector and financial institutions), support to groups and emerging social cooperatives, evaluation of business plans, advice regarding the creation of social enterprises by non-governmental organizations and assistance in searching for possibilities of financing them, promotion of products and services made by social cooperatives and social enterprises, testing of diverse possibilities of financing for SEC.
  • Aid fund: local financial scheme to support to social economy.

Main issues and proposals

The discussion of the case during the workshop at Tivoli raised several issues that were important to ensure project’s success.

  • Mutual trust between all the actors involved (and especially the target population) is a key factor to achieve results.
  • Local needs and the needs of excluded people should remain the focal point of any support initiative.
  • Continuous and concrete collaboration between all the actors of the territory is essential to face all the problems connected to social exclusion (lack of education, housing, lack of self-esteem, unemployment, etc.).
  • An appropriate mixture of skills is necessary to SEC to perform all the identified tasks.
  • Common identity and objectives are important to meet all the different expectations. SEC should have clear responsibilities, cooperative attitudes and be integrated in local development.
  • Leadership skills are important both in the public sector and in the social economy. Leaders should be able to challenge status quo and to think at new ways to fight social exclusion.
  • An appropriate legal framework is essential to ensure sustainability and self – sustainability in the long run and to allow the reproduction of experimental solutions.
  • Over the years Barka has represented a test-bed and a learning laboratory for social economy initiatives to mainstream.
  • Financial support is needed but should come from a mixture of sources (public sector, local authorities, market, donations, SME and business sector).

Policy recommendations

  • Support structures: second level support structures are needed in order to ensure and to foster the development of a viable social economy. Those structures may have different legal forms and composition but a broad participation of all the stakeholders is essential. Support structures should be embedded in the local context and should invest in local development. They can play a major role in many issues that are crucial to the development of the sector such as: business development, training, identification of market niches, finance, social audit, public procurement.
It is important that governments provide an appropriate legal form to develop support structures responding to the needs and the characteristics of social economy organisations. Up to now, Barka has used the legal form of the Foundation but Italian consortia are recognised as a more suitable structure.
  • Sustainability: sustainability is crucial at every level. Social enterprises should become self-sustainable in order to provide long term employment to excluded people. In order to do so, public funding and incentives are necessary to make up the productivity gap of integration enterprises. Public procurement opportunities are also a positive way of promoting financial sustainability.
Support structures should attain financial sustainability, as consortia in Italy, using mixed sources of funding. They can receive public money but they have to keep their autonomy in order to represent the interests and the needs of the social economy. Continuity is also relevant because the development of social enterprises is a long process that requires a long term strategic vision (as it is proved by all the successful models of support structures, i.e. consortia, cooperative development agencies).
  • Partnership: partnership is central at formal and informal level. Collaboration between social economy, government, trade unions and local authorities is important to achieve formal recognition and to transform pioneer initiatives (such as Barka) in recognised economic organisations.
At local level a continuous dialogue should be put in place to discuss all the steps and components of social economy development: identification of needs, identification and selection of target population, training, enterprise start-up, enabling context, public policies (social, employment, education, housing, economy) financial and support tools, impact of enterprises on local development. Local authorities are a key actor that have to be made aware of the need to create an enabling context (e.g. social clauses on public procurement) in order to maximise the positive impact of social economy on local development.
  • Management and other skills: Social enterprises tend to suffer from low prestige, and to offer employment to people who have not gained formal qualifications. Yet working in them is not easy; it demands flexibility and multiple skills.
Some groups of people disadvantaged in the labour market, such as ex-drug addicts, have the potential to hold down professional jobs, but, having dropped out of formal education, need adapted training/or working conditions.
  • The specific nature of social enterprises means that they need specific new skills and qualifications in the following areas:
    • In personnel or human resource management, social enterprises depend to a far greater extent on the motivation of their workers;
    • There is a need to manage the “social capital” of social enterprises. This not only involves workers but suppliers, final users and clients in both the public and private sectors. This social capital is made up of: the level of trust, reciprocity, the norms of behaviour, a sense of belonging and networks;
    • Social enterprises do not rely so heavily on conventional, anonymous marketing techniques. Instead they focus on social marketing based on proximity, personal contact and trust;
    • Finance is often a combination of private finance, public funding and voluntary contributions of money or time. Managing this mix also requires specific skills.
    • Finally, social enterprises require special reporting, monitoring and evaluation techniques that take account of the social as well as the economic objectives.
Social enterprises have used European funds, such as Equal or ESF to provide training and to upgrade the skills of target groups and managers. But ESF rules are conceived for training and are not flexible enough to adapt to different methodologies, such as guidance, coaching, peer-to-peer learning, start-up support, etc.
  • Access to finance: social enterprises face major difficulties in access to finance. Banks are not often willing to lend money to organisations unable to provide certain kind of guarantees. Public authorities should support investment in commonly-owned equity as well as guarantees, loans and grants. Structural funds can be in interesting mean to set up microcredit/venture capital schemes, maybe in partnerships with private/social ethical investors. Private sponsors can also provide useful resources but they often rely upon partners’ credibility. Local authorities have a specific role to play as “brokers” between local and national actors.
  • Know why: the main aim of social economy is to change the mind of people and to transfer values. “Know-why” is often more important than know-how. Technical skills are important but they have to be complemented by trust, mutual respect, confidence and passion.


Interview with Eva Sadowska on Social Innovation Europe: