This profile was prepared when Dagmara Bienkowska was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998.
The New Idea
Dagmara Bienkowska believes that participatory engagement, rather than top-down economic planning, will turn post-communist communities around. She says that in order to reach out to Poland's historically passive communities and encourage them to take initiative on their own behalf, it is necessary first to discover some primary historical and traditional sources of value which involve cooperation and group work and can galvanize the whole community's support. Therefore, she revitalizes dormant local rituals and traditions to foster powerful, lasting community participation in development activities. For instance, she organized the restoration of old and forgotten local food markets, which changed an underdeveloped rural region into a vigorous trade center. Her vision of community development thus begins with the strengthening of frayed social bonds, and develops into initiatives that privilege the process over the final result. As part of her strategy, local groups assume responsibility for implementation of the ideas they generate.