Anna Machalica-Pultorak

Ashoka Fellow

Anna Machalica-Pułtorak zaprojektowała społeczne centra zatrudnienia, która skupiają się na młodych bezrobotnych w najbiedniejszych dzielnicach w Polsce i zapewnia im usługi reintegracji w gospodarce i społeczeństwie.

This description of Anna Machalica-Pultorak's work was prepared when Anna Machalica-Pultorak was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1999.


Anna Machalica-Pultorak has designed a community employment center that focuses on the young unemployed in Poland's most impoverished slums and provides them with services that reintegrate them into the economy and the community.

The New Idea

Anna Machalica-Pultorak understands unemployment as a problem that stretches beyond individual job skills and labor-market demand. It is an affliction that destroys communities and forces the young into crime and depression. She has therefore created an employment and community center that addresses the problem's many dimensions.
Her center combines job counseling and training with medical and psychological help, childcare, and community service projects. It provides employment for its clients through its own service initiatives, including a childcare program, a cleaning initiative, and a community publication. It also reaches out to young mothers, the young disabled, and others who are having the most difficulty in finding employment. Anna's unique combination of services has been recognized as a model, and is beginning to receive the support it will need to replicate broadly.

The Problem

Unemployment is especially acute in the states of Eastern and Central Europe, where the former communist regimes followed a policy of full employment, even if the jobs had little meaning, and provided all citizens with free social services. As a result, many Poles, particularly the poor, now lack the skills and the psychological supports to leave the old, dependent mentality and join the new Poland of free-market self-sufficiency. Poland's unemployment rate was 10 percent in 1977 and is rising, especially among the young. The national rate is 34.1 percent among young people (compared to 12.6 percent in Holland and 4.8 percent in Germany), and even higher in the cities. The Polish education system is not preparing the disadvantaged to enter the competitive economy. Many resort to crime, which has also been increasing, especially in the slums. Prostitution and drug abuse are likewise on the rise.

Innovative approaches to reduce unemployment have emerged recently, but they tend to focus on one dimension of the problem and have not produced lasting effects. Anna attacks the issue holistically, as a confluence of many factors, and pays careful attention to the psychological impacts. As she says, "remaining unemployed can cause personality disintegration."

The Strategy

Anna began her work in the most difficult area possible: the Praga district of Warsaw. With high unemployment among its population of 800,000, Praga has long been the center of Poland's criminal activity and social pathology. Anna registered her organization, the Open Door association, there in 1995 because she felt that improvements could be most clearly measured in the starkest of contexts. To begin with, Anna sought the support of the few businesses working in the district. A local Audi dealer contributed some property on the condition that she produce measurable results within a year.

Anna's youth center, established in 1997, offers clients an array of opportunities, including computer training, and uses a task-oriented approach that involves doing something concrete for the community. Clients are encouraged, after graduating from the program, to develop their own small businesses, and many have done this in Praga. Young people from high-risk groups, such as juvenile delinquents, dropouts, and children from troubled families, are offered special programs to engage them in constructive activity with their peers. They participate in sports programs and community service teams that build playgrounds. Some 30 percent of these young return to school, 50 percent find jobs, and 20 percent drop out. Almost fifty people benefited from these services in 1998 (compared with twenty-one in 1996).

Anna's job center offers four interdependent programs: (1) employment counseling and placement services, (2) Ceres, which provides specialized training for young mothers, (3) training and education for disabled youth, and (4) Our Street, a publication that will employ youth in its sales and distribution.

The employment services consist of legal, psychological, and educational counseling provided through the Open Door association. A first contact point for the chronically unemployed, the center attracts an average of 50 persons per day, whom it provides with counseling, training, and placement. It offered 312 counseling sessions in 1996, 1200 in 1997, and 1600 in 1998. The center found jobs for 33 percent of its clients; most of the remaining 67 percent still attend programs and are committed to doing what it takes to re-enter the economy.

Ceres enables young mothers to attend a training and educational program that addresses civil rights, family and labor issues, and women's empowerment. They are also offered medical help and psychological counseling. Their children are taken care of during the sessions, allowing them to participate fully.

Disabled youth are offered an intensive, three-month "activation" workshop. When they graduate, Anna employs them in facilitating the workshops and in the childcare facility for mothers. Forty-one disabled youth attended this program in 1998 (compared with eleven in 1996). The program has been especially successful in breaking down barriers between the disabled and the non-disabled by proving that the disabled can be productive contributors to her service programs.

Anna's community magazine, Our Street, is still in development. Anna is seeking seed money to begin it, and plans to ensure its sustainability by attracting funding from local businesses. The magazine will sponsor and organize street festivals focused on reclaiming the community's public spaces, and will employ local youth in its production and distribution.

In addition to these four independent programs, the job center sponsors a charity program that provides notebooks, pens, schoolbags, and other supplies to 800 children per year. Weekly parties organized by the program's participants and centered around special guests–Polish VIPs and role models–bring higher visibility to the program while offering success models to young clients.

Anna wants to expand her programs in several important dimensions. She plans to open a hostel for homeless youth, and to establish her project at Katowice, in the south of Poland, and Lodz, in the nation's middle. From these regional bases she will begin contracting her services and working with other groups to replicate the program. Representatives from seventeen Polish cities have expressed interest in taking up parts of her project. She has secured a grant from the National Labor Office to replicate her project.

The Open Door association has received seed funding from such organizations as AID and Soros, but has been searching for ways to fund the program locally. An experimental program that trained clients to make and sell clothing failed to yield substantial income. In 1999, Anna launched a for-profit cleaning venture operated by the Open Door association and staffed by its clients.

The Person

Anna Machalica-Pultorak and her three siblings inherited the "social virus" from their parents, especially their father. When scouting was restored in Poland after the 1956 revolution, Anna became one of the most active Girl Scout leaders in the country. In high school, she initiated a program for caring for the sick and elderly. In college, she created several organizations, including a community theater for children, a wilderness hiking group for at-risk youth, and a "neighbors club" to strengthen the bonds of community.

After the fall of Communism, she left her position as an academic researcher and entered government employment, working with the parliamentary commission on social policy. But politics proved as limiting to Anna as the academy, and she was unable to implement her own project, which she had devised as early as 1993. She left the government, furious at its unwillingness to support new solutions to rampant social ills, and has been busy implementing her own project.

Anna has won several awards and is broadly acknowledged as an emerging leader in her field. She has worked closely with government and citizen organizations, as well as with two other Ashoka Fellows. She also helped start the "No Borders" program–an agreement with Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic to produce a semi-weekly publication treating issues of regional concern.