Reflections from the Points of Light Global Gathering in Warsaw

Feb 14, 2024

Urgency, resiliency, harmony, compassion, and remembrance are just a few of the words to describe the Global Summit on Social Impact, and the 2024 Points of Light Global Network Gathering, held in Warsaw, Poland. The theme of the summit was One World, One Response. This was an important theme for a unique and challenging time in the world. We talked about polarization and how volunteering, civic engagement and service not only help a challenging situation at hand but can bridge divides in a common pact of humanity.

Our Points of Light Global Network co-host for these two convenings was our Polish network affiliate Stowarzyszenie Centrum Wolontariatu (Volunteer Center Association) under the direction of their amazing president, Agnieszka Lissowska-Lewkowicz. Centrum Wolontariatu celebrated its 30th anniversary last year and they focus on training volunteers and supporting businesses in being truly socially responsible while fostering cross-sector partnerships. I am eternally grateful to Agnieszka (pronounced Ag-nesh-ka) for coaching me on the pronunciations of names of the people that I needed to both introduce and interact.

It is just over a four-hour drive from Warsaw to the main Polish-Ukrainian Border Crossing Budomierz-Hruszów. The war in Ukraine, now going on for two years, was central to many of our discussions. We started the summit with a fireside chat with our Points of Light Board Chair, Neil Bush, in conversation with U.S. Ambassador to Poland Mark Brzezinski. Two sons of important U.S. officials, one a president and the other a national security advisor, discussing the current situation with Ukraine and also speaking of their fathers’ significant roles in both freedom for Poland and the collapse of communism. An example of two men across the isle who not only worked together for a common goal but in admiration of each other.

The panel I moderated continued the discussion of geopolitics, and polarization, with a focus on Ukraine and an emphasis on collaboration. Our panelist consisted of representatives from two companies – Provident, a Polish financial services firm, and UPS, the global logistics behemoth – an NGO dedicated to helping refugees, and the Polish Minister of Civil Society. Employee volunteering was central in the aftermath of the infusion of Ukrainian refugees, in fact it is estimated that half of all Poles were volunteering or helping in some way. Many took the refugees into their homes, helped financially, provided needed services, and schools for the children. Provident created a home for single moms from Ukraine and provided not only housing but also food, clothing, and many services. This was staffed by volunteers and Provident has now turned it into a separate NGO. It should be noted that that Minister Agnieszka Buczyńska was herself was a Volunteer Center leader in Gdańsk.

A discussion between Points of Light Global Network members

I was able to be with our Points of Light Global Network affiliates for two of their three day meeting. There are 145 NGOs from 39 countries in the Global Network. We had representatives from 25 countries with us spanning the globe from Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, France, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Mexico, Philippines, Romania to the United States. While cultures, political systems, geography, and demographics range widely, the group shares a common belief that through volunteering and civic engagement we can make positive change in the world for those who need it most. Much of the time was in discussion both as a network and in small groups discussing successes, changes, opportunities and best practices. Scale is critical and looking through different lenses to see how something is done differently helps to spark innovation.

At one lunch Points of Light’s President & CEO Jennifer Sirangelo and I sat down with our two Global Network members, Olga Moloko and Luba Margolina, from Ukraine. The mission statement of their organization, the East Europe Foundation, states their work succinctly: We are changing our country and want to see it be modern and innovative, attractive to investors, and comfortable to live in. A country where the government is accountable, effective and responsible, and the people have opportunities to actualize their potential. I have learned over the last two years how resilient the Ukrainian people are. In the early days it was about relief, and while still important, they have moved forward as a country while at war. For instance, Olga is leading an effort to build bomb shelters at schools. Students are not allowed to attend in-person school without a bomb shelter, so they rose to the occasion and are building them. They are addressing current needs for a longer-term war while at the same time planning for rebuilding and the long-term future. So inspiring as they persevere against great odds.

I mentioned the word remembrance. It was not lost on me the significance of being in Warsaw in this turbulent world that at times reminds me of the Polish people’s experience in the last century. My first trip to Poland many years ago was to Gdańsk. This port city is known not only for the start of World War II and it’s subsequent annexation by the Nazis, but also for the start of the fall of the Soviet Union with Lech Walesa leading the charge at Solidarity. It is what happened during WWII in Poland what we must never forget. We visited the Monument for Ghetto Heroes. The monument marks the area where Polish Jews were forced to locate, and then where many were taken to camps such as Auschwitz. Just prior to WWII, 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland, more than any other country in Europe. At the end of the war, approximately 380,000 Polish Jews remained alive. The rise of authoritarianism, polarization, and increasing antisemitism in our world today are all important reasons to look back into the not-too-distant past as we must prevent history from repeating itself.

Jeff Hoffman
Board Member, Points of Light

Jeff Hoffman is a long time Points of Light Board Member, a retired executive of The Walt Disney Company and currently leads the Corporate Citizenship Institute of The Conference Board.