The worst consequence of Poland’s 1989 transition to a market economy was the emergence of significant structural poverty and unemployment. In the past two decades, a policy of economic liberalization has been steadfastly pursued, resulting in periods of relatively high economic growth. However, the ensuing long-term unemployment has caused widespread social exclusion, particularly in rural areas. This exclusion is often compounded by skills deficiencies and social stigmas, and by disability or other physical constraints (long-term disease, addiction, etc.). Social isolation has proved to be a self-perpetuating cross-generational social problem and an increasingly important challenge in rural, underdeveloped local districts (gminas). Breaking the exclusion cycle cannot arise through strong economic performance alone; it also requires proactive policies from central and local governments working collaboratively with civil society organizations to stimulate social inclusion and build social capital at the community level.
The PARSP has piloted a new approach to working with socially marginalized and excluded people through social integration efforts at the municipality level. It has drawn together the local government and an innovative and creative coalition of public and civil society agencies acting in concert to improve social service delivery and access. The project addresses the problems behind social exclusion in the country’s underdeveloped, primarily rural gminas by enhancing the capacity of local governments to develop, cost, execute, and monitor social inclusion programs, and by providing grant financing for the delivery of priority services identified in local social inclusion strategies. The project also supports the reform of KRUS—Kasa Rolniczego Ubezpieczen ia Spolecznego (the Farmers Social Insurance Agency)—by promoting greater efficiency as well as administrative and IT enhancements to strengthen its overall capacity for better management and improved targeting.
Key project outcomes achieved during 2006–11 are:
- Fully 500 of the poorest and most marginalized gminas developed social inclusion strategies and 492 adopted them after broad consultations with service providers and local governments.
- Municipalities signed 10,623 contracts to provide improved educational services (including adult education and extracurricular activities), integration activities (including labor activation programs for disabled groups), culture and arts, legal assistance, anti-poverty programs (care services, aid to the homeless), housing policy assistance, social housing construction, psychological and domestic violence counseling and crisis intervention, transportation support, health care information (including family planning and help with addictions); and direct employment creation.
- The SIP reached 580,000 direct and 1,260,000 indirect beneficiaries. Direct beneficiaries included 230,000 children and youths, 74,000 seniors, 66,000 disadvantaged persons, 42,000 disabled persons, 19,000 dependent persons, 25,000 victims of violence, and 59,000 homemakers. 342,000 or 59 percent of direct beneficiaries were women. Eighty-eight conferences were held for local governments and service providers on best practice service innovations.
- In April 2011, 40 percent of excluded population groups in 500 gminas accessed at least one social inclusion service, compared to 11.3 percent in January 2006.
- Rural gmina capacity to absorb similar social inclusion-focused programs available under the 2007–2013 National Development Plan and to access European Union (EU) Cohesion Funds has been significantly enhanced as evidenced by the growing number of gminas which received external funds – 391 gimas in 2010 compared to 90 in 2006.
The total cost of the project was US$92.34 million. It was supported by an IBRD loan of €72.2 million (equivalent to US$88.8 million) and counterpart funding of US$3.54 million. The loan finance was allocated as follows: KRUS administrative reform, $33.27 million; social inclusion, $54.06 million; and national awareness, $2.18 million.
The Bank team worked closely with (i) the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy in Poland, which had responsibility for the overall policy agenda and ministerial oversight of the project and its management team; (ii) the KRUS Agency for the Farmers Social Insurance Agency and (iii) 500 local gminas and civil society organizations in the delivery of priority social services to targeted persons in the participating gminas.
Subsequent surveys indicate that in the majority of participating municipalities, social inclusion programs initiated within the SIP framework will be continued. Sustainability depends to a significant extent on an active civil society sector and access to channels of support through external funding, especially from EU Cohesion Funds. The PARSP invested in the direct capacity strengthening of local agents in resource management, strategic planning, and program delivery. This investment is being leveraged by municipalities in order to access external—and particularly EU—funding. The skills acquired during PARSP implementation have greatly enhanced the prospect that the project’s initiatives will continue.
In the village of Byszow, local businessman and runner Marek Bargiel started to organize competitions for the disabled after noticing their interest in his running. Now, disabled youth run races and train together. They have traveled to Warsaw and Krakow for races and have also visited museums and theaters. Instead of staying home out of sight, they have become part of village life, and in so doing, have changed people’s perceptions. “It is surprising how self-sufficient the disabled children can be. They don’t need much assistance and they get around very well on their own. This project has made them believe in themselves, but it also has made me believe I can do something good…,” says Bargiel.