Gdynia Business Week: Leadership and Innovation Without Borders

Autor: Eva Orlowska

Gdynia Business Week 2009 participants with Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament

As the city of Seattle recognizes Gdynia Business Week as the “Best Single Project” in 2010, a team of international partners gears up for a second Business Olympics in Gdynia. (see Gdynia Business Week 2010)

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and Councilmember Sally Clark have recently presented Debra Markert, president of Seattle-Gdynia Sister City Association (SGSCA), the “Best Single Project” award for Gdynia Business Week 2009 and for its outstanding contributions in promoting understanding, friendship and goodwill with Gdynia, Poland. SGSCA will also receive the “Innovation: Youth & Education” award for the same project on July 31, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at 2010 Sister Cities International Annual Conference, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, US Department of State, US Department of Energy, Brookhaven National Laboratory and Americans for the Arts.

Gdynia Business Week (GBW) is an intensive leadership and innovation course in English for high school students, educators, business and civic leaders from Gdynia and beyond. The first GBW, organized in August 2009, was a huge success. Participants said it was a spark in Gdynia’s economic engine. Boeing CEE president hopes the program spreads across Poland. The city of Gdynia wants to offer it to Georgia, Ukraine and Russia. As Marek Belka, head of National Bank of Poland, told Seattleites earlier this year, competitive education and multidisciplinary structures are essential for small and medium enterprise growth in Poland. Even more importantly, GBW encourages positive attitudes towards business, as noted by Jerzy Buzek, president of the European Parliament, in his opening remarks during GBW last summer: “the highest level of culture needs money, and money comes from business…ethical business.”

Gdynia Business Week was brought to Gdynia by SGSCA, with the support of US Embassy Poland, Boeing CEE and Microsoft Poland. It was inspired by Washington Business Week (WBW), a program that reaches over 3000 Pacific Northwest students annually. WBW, founded by Washington State’s Chamber of Commerce, now in its 35th year, is managed by a non-profit Foundation for Private Enterprise Education and sponsored by over 500 contributors: local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), trade associations and corporate giants like Boeing, Microsoft, Costco, PACCAR, Weyerhaeuser, Wal-Mart and others.

In July 2009, approximately 100 students from 22 Gdynia’s high schools came together to participate in an event that, many said, transformed their lives. Divided into teams of small companies that included a Polish teacher, an American student and an American business advisor, students competed in marketing, production and finance challenges. Computer-simulated games and “Hunk of Junk” commercial presentations made business fun and creative.

“The program makes our people think in an American open way of doing business.” said Piotr Grodzki, GBW supporter and president of Speednet, a booming IT in Gdynia.

Mike Waske, former SGSCA president, who kicked off the program with a thunderous welcome, “Good Morning, Gdynia!” believes that the greatest value for the young entrepreneurs is the confidence they gain from interacting with experienced professionals. Last year’s panel of role models was impressive: EU Parliament President Jerzy Buzek, Gdynia Mayor Wojciech Szczurek, former US Ambassador to Poland Victor Ashe, Michal Jaworski from Microsoft and others.

“It was exhilarating to watch my team, at first the most introverted, gradually transform into a winner,” said Adam Strutynski, project manager for Seattle’s transit company who volunteered last year as a business advisor. “The whole process was an eye opener. I was surprised how eager the kids were to ask questions about my real life experiences. I’ve learned as much from them as they learned from me.”

The week of teambuilding, networking and critical thinking exercises concluded in a frenzy of stockbrokers’ presentations and a real trade show. Stephen Hyer, executive director of the Foundation for Private Enterprise Education said “the program gets results whether in Seattle or in Gdynia.” Accepting failure as part of the process prepares students for the next stage in their life, whether it is college or vocational school. Hyer recollected a young Gdynian’s comment: “It was the most amazing week of my life. Inside myself I found creativity I did not know I had.”

“Students said that they no longer felt self-conscious about speaking English,” remembered Janice Jaworski, a GBW manager. “And the Polish teachers initially skeptical, at the end grasped how the experiential teaching can be implemented in their classrooms.”

Gdynia Business Week drawing from WBW innovates its own path to success. It aims to engage local public, business and NGO leaders to develop their future workforce. Joanna Leman, manager of foreign relations for Gdynia mayor’s office, sees broad possibilities of investment in human potential in East European countries with less developed economies. With the help of GBW, its sister cities and other expanding networks, Gdynia could bring all the stakeholders together in a cross-border curriculum and market co-creation. “A partnership with our neighbors would prepare our youth for a truly multicultural and multinational world,” she envisioned, “and it would promote greater economic stability and cooperation in the region.”

Henryka Bochniarz, president of Boeing for Central and Eastern Europe, will be this year’s keynote speaker at the GBW taking place in August. While some American business advisors from last year plan to return, new Gdynia leaders are stepping up to mentor, judge, present and sponsor the curriculum as well.

Photo: Gail Ann
Seattle-Gdynia Sister City Association members: Allen Jaworski, Janice Jaworski, Debra Markert, Mike Waske with Seattle’s “Best Single Project” award

The benefit of the program does not end at graduation.  Students become part of an extensive GBW alumni network that can further boost them to success. Some will qualify for internships in the US at the Congressman Jim McDermott’s office or the King County Superior Court. Others will win scholarships for Advanced Business Week or vocational pathways like Healthcare, Aerospace, Marine, Process Technology and Construction conducted on college campuses across Washington State. Who knows how many will decide to pursue higher education in the United States or return as Fulbright professors in the future? Many may start their own cross-border ventures. Joanna Leman expects internships to be also available in Poland in the nearest future.

Zbigniew Bochniarz, a senior lecturer at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Affairs who has moved to Seattle in 2007 to broaden the university’s international outreach, is an example of Poland’s contribution to global knowledge.  He said “Interactive and international business training like GBW is a bottom-up approach to meeting the needs of would-be entrepreneurs. It creates vitality and social conditions that support progress. ” Also, a member of the Microeconomics of Competitiveness program at Harvard Business School, he’s been campaigning exhaustively in Poland to offer programs like GBW nationally.

Although in its second year, GBW builds on 30 years of cooperation between Seattle and Tri-City (Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot).  During the 1980s, the Solidarity Association in Seattle relentlessly supported the pro-democracy movement in Poland. The group aired TV shows “Let Poland be Poland” and “Friends of Solidarity,” smuggled funds, lobbied politicians and provided refuge to dissidents. In the early 1990s, Mike Waske, then a local AFL-CIO trade union leader, sponsored by the US Agency for International Development, directed labor law and election training in Poland.  In 1992, Polish Seattleites Tom Podl and Michal Friedrich launched the Seattle Polish Film Festival (SPFF).  The annual event has been a game changer in promoting Polish culture in Seattle for the last 18 years.

In 1993, SGSCA was formed to formally support SPFF. The relationship between the sister cities blossomed through ongoing film events, cultural and athletic exchanges, US scholarships and home-stays for Gdynia students, fundraisers for Gdynia’s hospitals, orphanages, schools and museums and knowledge-transfers for Gdynia’s police, road, water resource, disability and city finance departments. In 1995, Mike Waske led a delegation of business, civic and labor leaders on a historical delivery of a Boeing 767 jet to Polish Airlines LOT in Gdansk, with Lech and Danuta Walesa at the inaugural ceremony. In 2000, Cindy and Andy Okinczyc, SGSCA board members, donated 121 servers to the city of Gdynia.  In 2002, SGSCA attended Gdynia’s Union of the Baltic Cities Conference “Without Limits” and “Europe Prize” award ceremony. In 2005, it partnered with the Trade Development Alliance of Seattle to formalize future delegations and received “Solidarnosc” medal from the Polish Railwaymen Trade Union.

Looking into the future, Seattle and Gdynia are natural partners in knowledge-based economies. Both modern cities with well-educated workforce and clean technology are hotbeds for job growth and entrepreneurship. With leading universities, vibrant culture and beautiful settings both are magnets for talent, families and quality of life enthusiasts. Seattle’s large Russian, German and Scandinavian ethnic communities resemble Gdynia’s Baltic region neighborhood. There are lots of reasons for students, scientists or investors to engage in each other’s cities.

The port hubs offer mutual benefit in the transatlantic and transpacific connectivity. Gdynia is a bridge to EU, Eastern Europe and Russia and Seattle to Canada, Pacific Rim and Asia. Kazimierz Poznanski, professor of economics at the University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies, believes that Gdynia can build a greater prosperity for its citizens if it balances its multilateral relationships to its advantage.

Gdynia Business Week tapping into Seattle’s smart networks can help Gdynia meet its local and regional strategic goals. With a global mindset, GBW alumni can achieve the scale and scope to turn the Baltic Rim into a powerhouse of jobs, ideas and capital creation.