Michal Smetanka

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2006


This profile was prepared when Michal Smetanka was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
The New Idea
Michal is introducing a new bottom-up approach to economic development in some of the most impoverished regions of Slovakia. In communities where traditional state-implemented policies and development projects have failed, Michal helps individuals to organize, act, and create change for themselves. Although a significant portion of Michal’s target population consists of the disenfranchised Roma minority people, he works with broader populations, breaking down strong ethnic divisions in the process. A facilitator, communicator, manager, and connector, Michal encourages local communities to start new organizations and enterprises and then connects these organizations with each other and with the resources they need. His flexible and evolving array of approaches has resulted in community-based initiatives uniquely appropriate for their local context. So far, Michal’s work has generated sustainable and easily replicable employment centers, community centers, village enterprises, and a pilot housing project. A trusted community member respected by local authorities, Michal uses his position as advisor to all these organizations to ensure they work together. In doing so, he helps them understand their role in a much broader movement for change, and creates a new pattern for economic development in the region.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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