Barbara Sadowska is the President of the Barka Foundation in Poland and the driving force behind the Foundation, whose work ethic is interwoven with love, persistence, and a personal philosophy of faith in God. She says, “Doing good for your community, sticking close to each other as a family, and always offering a sense of personal, human touch are the main ingredients of dealing with challenges in your own work.”
Barbara has always felt a connection to those at the very bottom of human existence. Her lifelong ambition was to work as a missionary in a foreign country. In 1982, she received her master’s degree in psychology and began working in local psychiatric hospitals. She soon realized that traditional treatment for mental health issues, which relied on the administration of psychotropic drugs, did not have lastingly beneficial effects. In 1985, Barbara met Tomasz, who shared her experiences and her desire to create environments that would allow people to reach their full potential and rebuild their lives. She says, “We did not want people to become lifelong dependents on social benefits or clients of the social welfare system.”
Barka Mutual Help Foundation
Immediately following the fall of communism in Poland in 1989, Barbara and Tomasz Sadowski, a married couple with two daughters, made the decision to found the BARKA FOUNDATION FOR MUTUAL HELP and to move in with 30 people in need. Former prisoners, drug addicts, psychiatric patients, evicted family members, and lonely, destitute individuals were among these individuals. They all made their way to BARKA, the area where the first community was established within the walls of a dilapidated and abandoned former state school. Barbara states, “We formed a family with these strangers; we learned about them and they learned about us.” The community house was also located next to a farm, allowing the whole community to keep animals and cultivate blackcurrants, tomatoes, and mushrooms. Community members were helping neighbors, which earned them respect. The community took its first loan at enormous risk, in order to buy agricultural equipment, but we managed to pay it back. Everything worked based on a sense of community, solidarity, and reciprocity.
In 1998 the first BARKA SOCIAL INTEGRATION CENTRE was created in Poznan with a program for the long-term unemployed and vocational workshops. Based on this Centre, a model or blueprint was created to enable vulnerable adults to enter employment by upgrading their labor skills. The Polish government adopted a law that is based on the model developed by BARKA after realizing the enormous value of the model. This was ground-breaking work, and the new law made it possible for thousands of people to get training for jobs. The following program involved working with nearby businesses to create jobs in social enterprises and the open market.
For those who successfully completed the reintegration programs and began to become independent, the Barka Foundation constructed its first settlement of 32 houses in Poznan in 2003. The United States’ UN Habitat program gave it away.
Many Poles who went abroad to access better lives and job opportunities, sometimes failed to achieve this. They ended up on the streets of London and other Western European Capitals. In 2006, London local Borough Councils invited BARKA to support CEE homeless migrants on the London streets. Providing assistance to Eastern European citizens in Western Europe made BARKA gain worldwide recognition. Currently, BARKA’s branches are located in the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Iceland, Canada, Kenya, Kongo, and activities N. Macedonia.
In Macedonia, Barbara has been commissioned within Eptisa project by the European Union to work closely with the Macedonian government and local NGOs in order to introduce social economy law into national social policy within Macedonia, which aspires to join the EU.
Bringing Unprovided People into Mainstream of Society
BARKA developed unique methodologies for the successful rehabilitation of adults in difficult socio-economic situations through social entrepreneurship. Between 2003 and 2006, based on the BARKA pioneering projects, the formulation of four legal acts was carried out in partnership with Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Labour Prof J. Hausner and his Ministry. These laws provided regulations and guidelines for the government’s support for the creation of public-private-social partnerships for social inclusion, the establishment of Social/Professional Integration Centres (through which adults with low levels of employability could learn a vocation and regain employment), the creation of social cooperatives and Accessible Housing schemes. Prof. Jerzy Hausner, former Deputy Prime Minister of Poland said that the BARKA model was very interesting because it enhanced the active inclusion of people into the mainstream economy/society rather than the distribution of benefits.
Barbara faced a new challenge: to organize the dissemination of new laws and principles for preventing exclusion nationwide. This was done through the creation of local partnerships (local communities, local authorities, NGOs, and businesses). Presently, there are over 200 such partnerships and centers throughout Poland. Barbara began to share her Barka experiences on a global scale. BARKA gained international recognition for its assistance to Eastern European citizens in Western Europe.
Mutual Participation and Contribution for Society
At Barka Foundation, there is a culture of participation and contribution; all the decisions are undertaken by members of the board with the consultation of the representatives of workers and the community houses’ members. Barbara prefers the community approach over the directive approach, empowering the positive sides of the person rather than emphasizing the negative sides. She likes to delegate tasks to the workers and cooperators. Now she is working abroad, visiting Poland and Barka once a month, and everything is managed now by the young generation, among others, by her daughters. She asserts, “The inspirational role in Barka is played by those who overcame their social problems and shared their testimony with others in need. Some of them became workers of the Foundation, working mainly abroad in the branches of Barka, providing support to those who found themselves in difficulties living on the streets, etc.” She further adds that, thanks to Barka Leaders, the organization is always connected with the mission of supporting people to rebuild their lives and with the vision to develop this approach everywhere in the world.
Note on Leadership
As president of the Barka Foundation, Barbara is responsible for creating a vision of development for Barka for the next few decades. It is being implemented through community meetings, educational materials, and formational tools. The foundation calls it education for the development of staff members, members of the communities, but also private companies and representatives of local municipalities.
Today’s leaders are lacking in the development of a participatory and community approach rather than authorial management. Barbara discovers that employees are motivated not only by private profit but also by the greater good and shared values. It is creating the conditions in which people are motivated to overcome their limits; creating an atmosphere of cooperation rather than competition in which workers can feel like co-creators and co-owners of the social enterprise, who understand the whole picture and not only fragments; and using social skills to build a broader network of cooperation with other stakeholders. She believes that vision and risk-taking are more important than safe decisions because they will not result in real changes and development.