A jubilee meeting in Warsaw was scheduled for May 22. The event was to bring together nearly a thousand leaders of non-governmental organizations and other institutions involved in the Foundation’s activity, as well as alumni of the Lane Kirkland Scholarships Program coming from 11 countries of Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia.
The event had to be canceled due to the pandemic, with visits of foreign guests being postponed until the following year.
On the occasion of its jubilee, the Polish-American Freedom Foundation received letters of congratulations from Poland’s President Andrzej Duda and U.S. President Donald Trump. It was also honored with congratulatory letters from former Presidents of the Republic of Poland: Lech Wałęsa, Aleksander Kwaśniewski and Bronisław Komorowski, and former Presidents of the United States of America: Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
The Polish-American Freedom Foundation was established by the Polish-American Enterprise Fund, an institution created in 1990 following the passage of the Support for the East European Democracy Act by the U.S. Congress in 1989. Thanks to its effective investment policies, the Fund generated a significant surplus on top of the $240 million entrusted to it by the U.S. Government. In 2000, the Fund returned $120 million to the U.S. Treasury, while the remaining portion of the capital, together with the generated surplus, was transferred to the Polish-American Freedom Foundation. As a result, PAFF’s endowment reached $255 million.
The Foundation launched its operations in 2000 with a dual mission: to help consolidate the results of the Polish transformation and to share the Polish experience with other countries of Central and Eastern Europe. In Poland, the Foundation decided to focus on those groups and communities that were lagging behind the transformation process, especially in rural areas and small towns. As a result, two main issues have dominated the Foundation’s domestic activities. First, leveling the playing field in education, combined with raising the quality of education overall. Second, supporting local communities and encouraging their inhabitants to develop initiatives that enable them to unleash their full potential.
PAFF now pursues its goals through 18 programs implemented in three thematic areas: education, development of local communities, and sharing the Polish experience in transformation. From the outset the Foundation has shaped most of its programs to be long-term, and in a way they can mutually complement and strengthen each other. Particular attention was paid to ensuring the projects supported by the Foundation have potential for replication and that the initiatives undertaken can continue to develop after the termination of financial aid from PAFF. A special emphasis is placed on developing and networking local leaders. All the Foundation’s programs have undergone external evaluation efforts.
By the end of December 2019, the Foundation had disbursed $216 million for its activities and attracted approximately $200 million to these programs from other sources, making it possible to:
- finance 30,300 university scholarships for youngsters from disadvantaged families,
- train 110,000 teachers in modern teaching methods,
- carry out 16,300 local projects in small communities addressed to hundreds of thousands of individuals,
- implement 38,000 extracurricular educational projects at schools in villages and small cities involving more than 14,000 university student-volunteers who reached 380,000 children and teenagers,
- train 30,500 leaders and employees of NGOs to develop their skills and competencies,
- transform, in cooperation with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, almost 4,000 libraries in small communities into modern informational, educational, cultural, and civic activity centers, that involved training efforts for 10,000 librarians,
- host almost 14,000 people from Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and other countries from the East, who came to Poland to be acquainted with Polish experiences in transformation and integration with the West; the largest number of visitors being from Ukraine.
In 2016, in cooperation with the Columbia University Teachers College in New York, the Foundation led the way in establishing the School of Education of the Polish-American Freedom Foundation and the University of Warsaw. This innovative School of Education, based in Warsaw, offers the first full-time postgraduate studies in Poland to prepare participants for the teaching profession. The students combine the latest theory with day-to-day teaching practice at schools. At the same time, the School of Education provides in-service teacher professional development courses.
In April 2020, in response to the pandemic, the Foundation launched the “Relief Fund for Non-governmental Organizations and Civic Initiatives” for which it earmarked one million dollars. This Fund is primarily aimed at supporting organizations and groups involved in PAFF programs. Actions to counteract the effects of the crisis have also been taken within particular Foundation programs; the most extensive aid is being provided through the “Act Locally” Program with a budget exceeding a half million dollars.