Radoslaw Gawlik

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow since 2009

Bazując na doświadczeniach aktywisty jak i polityka, Radek zaprojektował międzysektorowy, żywy ruchu ekologiczny w Polsce. Jego innowacje obejmują wprowadzenie pierwszych ram ochrony środowiska do prawa i polityki w Polsce, które obejmują także pojęcie zrównoważonego rozwoju, które zostało zapisane w Konstytucji RP.

This description of Radoslaw Gawlik's work was prepared when Radoslaw Gawlik was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009 .


An engineer of Poland s environmental movement, Radoslaw (Radek) Gawlik has introduced multiple environmental laws, policies and programs that have helped to form and sustain a vibrant, cross-sector framework for environmental protection across Poland.

The New Idea

Since communist rule, a time when there was little concern for environmental protection among citizens or public authorities, Radek has remained forefront in engineering a vibrant, cross-sector environmental movement in Poland. A master organizer and strategic planner as both a citizen activist and politician, Radek has institutionalized significant legislative and policy changes as well as initiated multiple environmental protection programs. Having recognized that an effective environmental movement requires dialogue and cooperation between the citizen sector and government, Radek has set the path for cross-sector solutions and partnerships in Poland in response to environmental degradation.Among the pioneering environmental laws and programs introduced by Radek is the first definition of sustainable development incorporated into Polish law, a definition that drew heavily upon his experience working with environmental organizations. He also designed the first political body dedicated to cross-sector collaboration in the area of the environment, leading to the adoption of public-citizen partnerships in other fields of government work. A further innovation initiated and implemented by Radek is a unique system of independent legal structures to support ecological activities at the community level. The first system of its kind, the program has transformed the local incentives for preservation. The introduction of Ethics Cards for citizen organizations (COs) is yet another successful endeavor spearheaded by Radek. In each of these instances Radek identified an opportunity to foster cooperation between COs and governmental bodies in a manner that was previously unheard of in the area of environmental protection in post-communist Poland. Most recently, Radek has applied successfully his approach of cross-sector partnerships in another model endeavor on a regional scale that aims to develop the standards for the protection of the Baltic Sea. Radek is engaging environmental organizations, citizens, business entrepreneurs from fishing industries, and governments from multiple countries to implement the first long-term, regional strategy for the protection of the Baltic Sea and its sustainable development.

The Problem

In the early 1970s, during communist rule in Poland, there was no such thing as an independent and nonpartisan environmental organization. Although two environmental organizations were approved by the state The Ligue of Nature Protection and the Polish Ecological Clubtheir activities were highly influenced by government and only existed to provide credibility to public authorities. Without independent and functioning environmental organizations, there was a void of public debate to question the devastating environmental effects of state-owned industry and other social and economic communist policies at the time.

While the negative influence on the environment was visible to most educated people, the detrimental impact on health was little known in the public eye. It was only through the work of Solidarity activists in early 1990s that it became public knowledge that workers in the chemical industry had contracted serious diseases that caused permanent injuries to their health and even led to death. When the same problems transpired in the steel works and a number of other state-run facilities it became apparent that state-owned factories had been working without health regulations or industry restrictions. The lack of concern for the environment and for peoples health became even more evident with such proposals as the construction of nuclear power stations to support Polands military.

Although the new democratic order in Poland was increasingly marked by a demand on the part of citizens for transparent information about environmental protection, no comprehensive solution for environmental degradation existed. In particular, there was an absence of a long-term action plan or policy framework to guide Polish society. Radek recognized that a space for the development and implementation of good solutions would only arise through dialogue, the exchange of ideas among various interest groups, and cooperation across sectors. He took this opportunity to embark on a cohesive movement to direct the citizen and government sectors towards developing long-term environmental solutions and changes.

The Strategy

In order to create a vibrant and lasting environmental movement in Poland, Radek immediately saw value in bridging sectors that had not previously been bridged in Poland. An environmental activist for many years, Radek believed that open dialogue among various partners, including the communist government, was the only path to serious transformation. His experience in the mid 1980s with the opposition movement “Freedom and Peace” and Solidarity led to the mobilization of thousands of people, amounting to the first truly effective environmental demonstrations. At the time, many activists hid their identities for fear of imprisonment or harassment, Radek decided to work uncovered, recognizing the power of transparency and dialogue. The demonstrations he led, mobilizing over 5,000 people each, began the basis for a larger environmental movement.

Radek recognized that relentless grassroots activism was evermore powerful coupled with top-down policy changes. His appreciation for multiple drivers of change eventually led him toward the political realm, where he worked for 12 years as Member of Parliament and then as Vice Minister of Environmental Protection. Radek relied upon his activism experience and connections with environmental organizations to best use the legal avenues at hand, introducing the first cohesive set of environmental legislation into Polish law. The legal framework he put into place exists to this day as the basis of environmental law in Poland.

One of the less visible but highly impactful of these legal changes is the notion of sustainable development that has been written into the Polish Constitution. It provides a reference point for environmental organizations that are being neglected both at the community level as well as the national level. Another law introduced by Radek lends the basis for sustainable management of forestry resources that have been exploited heavily for military production. The law designed under Radek’s guidance has not only halted that practice but has also eliminated the possibility of lobby groups (i.e. the steel industry, furniture producers, or construction lobbies) garnering support for the cutting down of more trees for their needs. The law introduced long-term, sustainable management of wood resources and also increased the awareness of public officials that supervise the forests. Together with other environmental organizations, Radek led another major reform in the area of animal protection which regulates the issue of transport of animals (e.g. horses for slaughter or poultry for breeding). The law also applies heavy penalties toward those who torture domesticated and wild animals. However, the most important phrase in this law states that an animal is not a “thing.” The law has dramatically changed the attitude of the public toward animals and provides legal tools to animal rights protection organizations and to regular citizens. It has also helped to define “cruelty” toward animals and has helped to win the fight against lobbyists that represent the breeding industry.

The design and the execution of these laws would not have happened without Radek’s engagement with COs throughout the legislation process, particularly through recognizing their ability to provide insightful consultation, timely research, and a voice for local communities across Poland. As the first Minister to create the Declaration and Cooperation Program between the Ministry of Environment and COs, Radek set the example for public-citizen partnerships for other ministries of the government. Radek was also instrumental in creating a system of Ethics Cards that provide guidelines on responsible and transparent behavior for Polish environmental organizations.

However, Radek’s political career left him realistic about the limited resources of government and the short-term interests of politicians toward environmental protection. At the same time, his grassroots activism work left him aware of the power of citizens to affect change when equipped with the appropriate tools. Therefore, under his initiative, a unique system of independent legal structures to support ecological activities at the community level was tested and constructed. The system of National and Regional Environmental Funds (Wojewodzkie Fundusze Ochrony Srodowiska) acts as a “national environmental tax” or “penalty” for environmental pollution. For example, when a citizen pays for the transfer of water, the company that manages the water transfer then pays a fee to the Regional Environmental Fund. The collection of the funds is then redistributed to those who want to implement various environmental protection instruments, e.g. a system to purify the water. The system has dramatically halted the degradation of the natural environment and has enabled local municipalities to have decision-making power over the treatment of their local environments. From 1989 to 2008 the National Environmental Fund signed 14,000 agreements and distributed over US$6.7B. The cost of environmental investments that were co-financed with National and Regional Environmental Funds has been over US$24B.

As a result of his ability to foresee challenges in the environmental field and cultivate cross-sector partnerships, as of 2001 Radek has been leading his next innovation—an international program that aims at developing a long-term, regional strategy for protecting the resources of the Baltic Sea. As one of the most influential environmental organizations in Poland, the Ecological Association EKO-UNIA combines Radek’s grassroots and political experiences to create a truly regional and cross-sector environmental initiative. The association has set model programs and activities for others in the field. Radek has built successful international cross-sector coalitions of COs, municipalities and local governments, fisherman, companies, as well as housewives, from all Baltic countries that are working together to develop a joint strategy toward the protection and sustainable development of the Baltic Sea. The project was launched in 2007 and Radek has integrated fishermen, COs, scientists, and local municipalities in the Partnership for the Baltic Sea. A plan has been developed to implement the various activities for the protection of the sea: Media campaigns (radio and TV), International Cleaning of Baltic Sea, joint meetings and negotiations among various groups for protection of the Baltic resources, waste management, agreements toward defining the protected areas with economic development, and many more strategies. His unique work engages multiple countries and populations that are sharing access to the Baltic Sea is becoming a model example for other large water (oceans and seas) preservation efforts and sustainable development strategies for the management of natural resources with multiple types of stakeholders.

The Person

As a child Radek loved to fish; but he remembers being terrified by the polluted state of the water. The river in his hometown was unbearable to be around. He always wondered why the communist government did not care more about the environment. As a young adult, Radek s concern for the environment continued. Thanks to his brother who worked in West Germany, Radek had access to various publications that described the environmental destruction caused by the communist governments in Central Europe. The awareness he acquired from this literature and his studies in Czechoslovakia led him to publish articles in student newspapers to open the eyes of others. After returning to Poland in 1981 Radek became engaged in the Solidarity movement. He was active in publishing in underground media, mainly on environmental issues. His publications resulted in preventing the usage of poisonous asbestos as a heating layer for new apartments in Wroclaw, a major city in Poland. Beyond journalism, Radek was highly active in demonstrations, the first which was related to the poor working conditions and health measures at the Steelwork Siechnice. When the Solidarity movement pressured the communist government to reveal the so-called Black Book of Censorship, a book with information on how the various factories and industries across Poland negatively impacted the environment and people s health, Radek was already at the forefront of major protests and demonstrations across Poland. In Wroclaw, a city greatly affected by the chemical industry, he mobilized over 10,000 people to participate in monthly Black marches. In the mode of peaceful resistance he protested against the construction of a nuclear power station in Zarnowiec, which was successfully blocked. Radek was able to demonstrate that if the total cost of a Russian built nuclear power station were applied to energy saving on a national basis, the power station would not be needed.

Each of the demonstrations Radek helped to lead mobilized over 5,000 people and began the basis for a larger environmental movement to come. As Radek recalls, he was in favor of the idea of advocating for environmental protection with an open face, thereby bearing his own identity. This stance brought him face to face with some of his colleagues from the Solidarity movement who wanted to remain unknown and fight from the underground. At that time Radek realized that in order to truly mobilize people around particular issues the leaders needed to be visible, recognized by the public and in direct dialogue with opposition. The social movement that Radek mobilized, and the various environmental issues that he tackled during the demonstrations and protests, led to the organization of major environmental entities that continue their work today in Poland. They include the National Federation of Citizen Organizations, the Forum for Activation of Rural Areas, and the Polish Green Party.In 1989 Radek participated in the Round Table negotiations between opposition groups and the communist government in the field of environment protection. At that time he created the Ecological Forum within the Union of Freedom (the Solidarity party) that proposed a number of solutions that later on were implemented by the new government. In the first democratic election Radek was elected as a Member of Parliament and from 1997 to 2000 he held the position of Vice Minister for Environmental Protection. Radek led the creation and implementation of several critical legislative policies that have contributed significantly to environmental protection and the implementation of sustainable protection mechanisms in Poland. These policies include: the sustainable management of forestry resources (Polands general law on environment protection), the law on protection of animal rights, and the creation of independent regional funds to support environmental investments at the community level. In 2002, after twelve years of shaping policy and building awareness in the area of environmental protection, Radek returned to his rootsthe citizen sector where he continues to combine the perspective of the social environmentalist with policy change. From 2002-03 Radek has been leading the Federation of Environmental Associations Green Net, which is the first major platform for green organizations in Poland to develop and launch joint activities at the national level. Since 2004 Radek has also been central in shaping European Union policies for Poland with regards to agriculture and rural areas. Radek has most recently embarked on a project to protect the Baltic Sea, an initiative which extends beyond national borders to unite regional players representing various environmental fields. When asked about his dream he responds: I wish I could enter the Baltic Sea one day and feel as it was 30 years ago, when there was plenty of fish diving around my knees. This is impossible today.