Paula Bruszewska

Co-Founder and CEO, Beyond Theory

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Paula and her Beyond Theory movement catalyzes high school students all across Poland to care, imagine and then design and implement solutions to social problems – so far serving over 26 million Poles. Once they do, they are and know they are the changemakers a world of change needs. Paula is also helping Polish schools recognize and support changemaking as a key educational outcome. 



Paula is facilitating the emergence of the “everyone a changemaker” society in Poland by helping young people experience their power to lead change and create a better society for all. She and her Beyond Theory movement (BT) challenge and enable teens ages 14 to 18 to imagine, design, and run their own social change ventures. And then to help other teens also have this life-changing experience.

Almost all the world’s great entrepreneurs -- business and social -- today had their first dream, team, and change impact in their early teens. Always a huge advantage, getting this superpower now essential for all. A world defined by change requires it. Paula is bringing this essential for a good life to all.

Changemaking is like bicycling. The only way to learn it is to do it. Through several very powerful approaches, Paula is quickly shifting Poland from the historical pattern where teen changemaking was extremely rare to just the opposite, which is what an everything-changing and -connected world requires.

Her most powerful tool is the teens who respond to her challenge and in fact become changemakers. They are role models. They recruit a team, which is pulled into that venture’s changemaking very directly. And each young changemaker-and-team is marketing its -- and the idea of being powerful now -- work to their peers. Even a handful of such changemakers in a school, backed by their teams and clients, are, to their peers, a super powerful, persuasive force. Moreover, these early adopters open up the youth culture's patterns and blast away bureaucratic barriers.

Paula crowd
Paula and her team use a narrative compelling not only to the young people but to their parents and teachers. Creating real change for the good is a critical learning experience, one that helps a young person to develop the abilities today’s world requires.
Photo Credit: Paula Bruzewska 

Moreover, before Paula strongly encourages her venturers to help other students and teams launch their dreams and ventures. What could be more powerful in terms of growing the changemaking superpower among these missionaries as well as among those they challenge and support?

Paula also is pressing to get the broader society -- including university and missions policies and school curricula -- to understand just how critical changemaking skills are and to encourage them systematically.

It’s hard to overstate the impact when a young person first experiences seeing a need, imagining a solution, building a team, and changing their world (school, neighborhood, etc.). Such teens experience the natural high and gratification of using their power to contribute in a permanent, ongoing way to the common good. In suc- ceeding, they recognize that they have and are develop- ing the abilities and skills required to be full contributors in life. This includes conscious empathy, agency, confidence, and a host of supportive skills such as cooperation, critical thinking, and management.

Tracking the progress of their projects and associated learning goals, they come to understand what it means for their own growth and development and recast their own ideas of success. In other words, they come to rec- ognize themselves as changemakers.

In the 2021-2022 school year, some 12,000 young people stepped up to be BT changemakers, designing and implementing thousands of impactful social projects. One example is “Campaign Grandparents” which showcases small, local companies that support seniors on social media, attracting 100,000 followers to them. Another addresses “period poverty” or lack of access to menstrual products. Within a few years, its creators spun it off as an independent citizen sector organization called “Akcja Menstruacja” (“Menstruation Action”), which supplies free sanitary supplies for students at 600 schools and counting. Other examples of BT projects include promoting healthy eating habits, fighting digital exclusion, and connecting Ukrainian peers seeking refuge in Poland.

Instead of seeing such activity as extracurricular, BT works with schools and educational administrators to integrate them and help facilitate student projects, so that the skills and accomplishments of changemaking are measured and rewarded -- helping pull the schools to adopt new metrics for new criteria for success beyond academics. 

Paula is also bringing the high leverage of the universities and the government to bear. For example, BT persuaded respected Silesian Technical University to shift admission criteria, conferring an advantage on applicants who are certified BT alumni. She also helped move the Polish Ministry of Education to formally recommend that all Polish high schools add practical management skills to their curriculum. Paula aims to integrate Beyond Theory into all high schools in Poland so that “every teenager identifies as a changemaker.”


National surveys of Polish young people show deeply concerning trends in their mental health and their sense of agency and autonomy. Almost 60% say they don’t believe they can have any influence on national affairs. 43% of adolescents report feeling “fed up” or overwhelmed by problems. More than a third say they’re lonely. One in seven children reports feeling dissatisfied with their life to a degree that threatens their mental health. In large cities, the problem is even more pronounced: Half of urban youth surveyed said they couldn’t “accept themselves” as they are. Adolescents and children from families with lower financial status report even worse disruptions in their mental well-being.

Young Poles do not vote in high numbers, but they do care deeply about the world, and when challenged, have demonstrated their ability to act. For example, in 2020 they turned out en masse to protest tightening abortion laws. But despite their desire to contribute to society and make change, they often lack the confidence or know-how to act on it. They may not recognize opportunities, or they may struggle with the barriers to entry: Finding courage, a sense of permission, knowing how to start. Young people do have the power to change the world, yet in Poland, most don’t recognize themselves as changemakers.

The education system has been part of the problem. Polish schools focus on imparting academic information, not building core competencies. The vast majority of students receive general education but no specific preparation for a particular field or profession. As a result, when they graduate from high school, they often have trouble finding the right course of study or of cultivating marketable skills. The main purpose of Polish high schools is to prepare students to pass the standardized “maturity exam” and go on to university. High schools are ranked according to those exam scores. Acquiring and repeating a skill is their idea of success, while creativity, collaboration, or personal initiative aren’t even tested.

Similarly, societal attitudes about what constitutes success generally don’t include social impact or changemaking. According to a 2022 survey, in addition to high income, Poles overwhelmingly define success in professional life as having a stable job (79%) and obtaining prestige and recognition (74%).

"Beyond Theory [was] met with fears that [it]could only become a big-city initiative. Time has shown that this is not the case, and the forces of small and large cities are more or less evenly distributed – about 40 percent of the participants come from towns with less than 100,000 inhabitants.”

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Paula launched Beyond Theory with two of her former schoolmates in 2014. Their idea was to give teenagers a formation and an experience of success they didn’t get in school: The life-changing experience of being a changemaker; the recognition of their own power to contribute; the knowledge they have what it takes to succeed in an “everyone a changemaker” world.

It’s a direct challenge to the old “good school/good job” definition of success. BT unleashes young people’s creativity, energy, values, optimism, and power. It gives them an active stake in society by equipping them with tools to address social problems they care about and to contribute to the common good.

The experience starts on BT’s online platform which incorporates gaming elements. Users diagnose social problems and come up with solutions. The platform guides them through the stages of creating and implementing a project, from identifying social needs to approaching businesses and other partners. Depending on their needs and interests, they can elect to develop specific skills in marketing, technology, project management, launching a start-up, and more.

Users get support from BT alumni who have already completed their own projects.  They act as mentors and advisers, sharing their experiences of how they solved problems, acquired partners, or handled project financing. It’s a very different learning environment from school. Instead of downloading academic information and giving tests on it, teachers certified by BT help young people build skills such as teamwork and problem-solving. Working with mentors, teen participants feel they’re part of a team doing something important and practical, not theoretical.

BT participants go through the essential steps of changemaking: They perceive a social problem and come up with an idea for a solution; i.e., they have a “dream,” build a team, and turn it into a new reality that changes things in some ongoing and verifiable way. Completed projects must reach an appropriate number of beneficiaries (the number varies according to the nature of the project). Each year ends with an “Olympiad,” where participants share their experiences and celebrate their successes, and schools and projects are awarded rankings and prizes.

Paula Speaking
Paula has launched a “Beyond Theory High School Ranking,” to highlight secondary schools that support students in developing these forward-looking competencies.
Photo Credit: Paula Bruzewska 



Photo Credit: Paula Bruzewska

"Each of the students’ projects is already dynamically starting its activities and organizing its own events, in which they have the full support of the director of their high school and their teachers. The Beyond Theory Olympiad is an excellent way to develop social and leadership skills among young people. Each project has a chance to win a prize and distinction in this prestigious event.”

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At last year’s Olympiad, the largest Polish language news website and the country’s second-largest private TV network both broadcast from the event. Individual BT participants and projects are often covered in local media and online.

Those who complete a BT project are also recognized with an international certificate in project management from the Project Management Institute. Business leaders confirm they see experience in managing social projects as a major asset for job candidates. The major Polish job recruitment website, which has some 6.5 million users, highly values such skills and is a significant BT ally. But beyond building marketable job skills, the participating BT project helps young people identify their passion and assemble the tools to pursue it.

"The Beyond Theory school ranking classifies schools not according to their final exam results, but on the basis of real achievements and the schools’ commitment to supporting the development of students shaping the competences of the future - the so-called 4K, i.e., critical thinking, creativity, communication, and cooperation. As the organizers of the ranking emphasize, these skills are necessary to build the mental well-being and agency of young people.”

Since BT started in 2014, it has allowed over 76,000 participants to experience changemaking firsthand and identify themselves as changemakers. Collectively, their projects have addressed hundreds of social issues and reached over 26 million beneficiaries. BT participants stay engaged after completing their projects: 90% vote in local and national elections; 13% have gone on to lead or co-lead an organization; another 15% are considering launching one. In the 2020 edition of Forbes Poland’s “25 Under 25,” 11 of the honorees were BT alumni.

Paula believes it’s essential to integrate BT into schools so that educators adopt the mindset that changemaking is a key educational outcome and has cultivated a network of schoolteachers who support this.

BT organizes workshops to help teachers strengthen their competencies in areas key to changemaking such as motivation, feedback, and collaborating and communicating effectively. Experts specialized in these areas are tapped to provide additional support as needed.

Teachers who complete the workshops are awarded a Beyond Theory Certificate attesting to their qualifications.

To further promote changemaking in secondary schools, Paula launched the Beyond Theory High School Ranking, an alternative to conventional rankings based on standardized test results. Instead, BT’s ranking reflects a school’s rate of participation in BT programs and the quality of student projects. A high BT ranking lets schools that value and foster changemaking stand out, including to prospective students and their parents.

"Thanks to Paula, 70,000 Polish teenagers already got on the fast track through the implementation of their own real social-action projects and then successfully entered world-class universities, started businesses and NGOs.”


Paula recently partnered with the Ministry of Education to develop a meaningful secondary school curriculum for Business and Management, a subject new to high schools, just launched this year. It incorporates elements of changemaking, including real-world projects conducted by teams of students, with the results of their teamwork counted as part of their exam grade. For teachers, it’s an utterly different way of working from traditional instruction. To help them adapt, BT offers teacher trainings, a toolbox, and an online continuing education program. Paula’s goal is for BT to transform all 8,000 high schools across Poland by 2030.

Post-secondary education is the next horizon. All parents want good jobs for their kids, and most believe it’s essential for them to get into a good university to land a good job and find a secure place in life. To this traditional narrative, Paula and her team offer a compelling alternative that works for young people, parents, and teachers alike: Creating real change for the common good is an essential learning experience because it helps young people develop the changemaking abilities required for navigating today’s everything-changing world.

Paula partners with higher education institutions to put this narrative into practice. For example, she worked with Silesian Technical University, which has an enrollment of 20,000 students, to change its admission criteria so that prospective students who have completed a BT project get a 20 percent boost as their applications are considered. The Rector of the University is also a leader of the Conference of Rectors of Academic Schools in Poland, which is in conversation with Paula about adopting changemaking as a criterion for admission nationwide.

Even as it continues to spread across the country, Paula believes BT will also spread beyond Poland. She and her husband, BT co-founder Marcin Bruszewski ran a small but successful pilot program in South Africa which indicates that there is strong potential for scaling BT internationally.

Photo Credit: Paula Bruzewska


Photo Credit: Paula Bruzewska


Paula grew up in a small city in northeast Poland. Her mother, a physician, encouraged her to explore and find a mission of her own. Paula joined a scouting team led by a Catholic priest who cheered on kids’ efforts to be in service to others. At age eight she undertook her first social project: Organizing sports tournaments with her peers.

At age 13, she moved with her family to the capital, Warsaw, and attended Bednarska, an alternative, libertarian school. There, she experienced how schools could operate differently, support children’s interests, and give them room to imagine and to lead.

"Four years after they had started helping students attend Bednarska and create their own social ventures, Paula, Marcin, and Rafal had more applications coming in than some universities. They decided to devote themselves to working with these Polish youth full-time and co-founded Beyond Theory."

At university, Paula met fellow students Rafał Flis and (her now-husband) Marcin Bruszewski. Together the three raised funds for other children to attend Bednarska and started working with them part-time on social projects After university, Paula wanted the experience of working for the United Nations, so she moved to Switzerland to study for her master’s at Universität St. Gallen. While there she attended UN Open Day and was invited to the World Bank in Washington to present a social project for Nigeria.

However, the experience convinced her the milieu of prestigious international organizations was not for her. So she went to India and she helped start a grassroots initiative for backyard vegetable gardens. She continued to raise money for it on her return to Switzerland. But it dawned on her that rather than bring exogenous social projects to Nigeria or India, she could use her changemaking skills to solve social problems in her native Poland.

From September 2023, a new subject, Business and Management, has appeared in Polish secondary schools, which poses many challenges to both teachers and students. As part of the core curriculum, students will be tasked with completing a team project. However, research commissioned by the Beyond Theory Foundation shows that over 72 percent teachers perceive the new way of teaching the subject, i.e. project management and team projects, as the greatest challenge. Thanks to the activities of Beyond Theory, teachers throughout Po- land have access to a special “toolbox,” a compendium of knowledge about the new subject. And the Foundation has been teaching young people the competences of the future for 10 years, which will be part of the project.

"An application connecting computer gamers, a social campaign to prevent suicidal thoughts among young people, and an art auction for animals at a shelter: these are just some of the social projects a record-breaking almost 6.5 thousand people completed this school year as part of the Beyond Theory Olympiad. Their activities reached nearly 9 million people."

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