Štefan Straka

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2015


This profile was prepared when Štefan Straka was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2015.
The New Idea
Stefan identified two latent assets in rural Slovakia: idle people and idle land. Where others have seen these as problems, Stefan saw opportunity. Most of the poorest families in rural Slovakia are the historically nomadic Roma, who were subject to forced settlement policies under the communist regime of the mid-20th century. Because of their history, the sedentary and permanent activity of cultivating land was never an activity undertaken by or made available to this population. Stefan is changing this for the Roma as well as others who are marginalized to the periphery of society for various reasons. By linking idle human and land resources, he is building a new community-based identity for the poorest and most marginalized communities in the region while improving their food security and economic opportunity. Stefan brings together land owners (primarily the state and the church) with other public and private stakeholders to create opportunity for the Roma community and other marginalized people to use idle land for organic farming. By connecting these excluded communities to the land, he is creating in-kind income (food and energy) and development opportunities that ensure their self-sufficiency, enabling a sense of purpose and permanence, and breaking the cycle of exclusion and discrimination by shifting public perceptions of this population. Stefan’s model builds work ethic and long-term planning skills and opens up new opportunities for food security. The families he works with improve their nutritional status and find a new identity as farmers with connection to land and purpose. This creates new bonds between this population and their neighbors, who now see them as productive members of the community, thus breaking the cycle of exclusion and negative stereotyping. Stefan’s initiative has changed the minds of early skeptics and caught the attention of the government, the church, NGOs, and foundations, all of whom are now looking at his work as a best practice and working with him to replicate it.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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