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Streamlining synergy in Eastern Europe: HLA, Save the Children and local humanitarian actors on response in Poland 

Rachel O’Brien, Director of the Humanitarian Leadership Academy, and Gareth Owen, Humanitarian Director at Save the Children UK, visited the country office of Save the Children Poland and the HLA’s Eastern Europe regional team.  

The HLA and Save the Children International Poland teams held joint workshop sessions to align and support synergies between our programming and to discuss the priorities and constructive solutions to the challenges we and other response actors face.   

Rachel O’Brien, Director of the Humanitarian Leadership Academy, says: 
“It was wonderful to spend time with the HLA Eastern Europe regional team, who are embedded into Save the Children Poland’s team. Different thinking is crucial in this time of change, and the HLA team’s drive to build alliances and networks, hold space for critical thinking and pilot different ways to respond is of both critical importance and very difficult to achieve. They are doing an exceptional job collaborating with other organisations, both local and international, to drive and support new initiatives where a need has been identified and where we can accelerate positive change.” 

As Poland is at the forefront of the new approaches in the humanitarian and, specifically, refugee crisis response, teams’ leaders reviewed current localisation activities, the vision and the strategy to increase our positive impact. During the joint sessions, teams also focused on catalysing positive changes in the cooperation between local and international actors.

Gareth Owen, Humanitarian Director at Save the Children UK, highlights: 
“It is not about ‘becoming activists’ but about responding to the critique that INGOs have lost the art of functioning with purposeful political astuteness in this dominant era of technocratic aid. I can fully agree with the ‘Crafting Poland Response Vision 2023 and Beyond’ by the Save the Children Poland Response Office that it is essential that we adopt a three-pronged approach to make the right transformation of the Response Office: agility, people, and alliances.”  

Bujar Hoxha, Save the Children Response Director for Poland, reflects:   
“I think, the HLA, with its Engine 2 approach, provides us with a platform to anticipate, especially in terms of the context, where we sit as Poland, so we can analyse and plan for the future. It has enormous potential not only to create new humanitarian leaders, but also to create a robust cohesion among the different civil society actors for what is coming ahead.”  

The HLA, Save the Children UK, and Save the Children International Poland working on aligning and supporting synergies between our programming.

To follow up on and continue strengthening relations with our local partners, Rachel, Gareth, and our regional team met actors across the Ukraine response in Poland. Various organisations, including small businesses, social entrepreneurs, civil society and non-profit organisations contributed to the humanitarian response in Poland, facing different limitations. Representatives from the Humanitarian Folkowisko Foundation, Ashoka, Migam.org, Towards Dialogues Foundation (W Strone Dialogu), Fluent, and the Association of Ukrainians in Poland, Przemysl Branch, attended the meeting. The participants shared their challenges and discussed what institutional and systemic support is needed and how to mitigate existing and potential struggles.

Kamila Wujec, Regional Lead, HLA Eastern Europe Regional Centre, emphasises: 
“The personal sharing of our purpose in conducting our daily work helped us to create a reflective space, connect and feel a sense of togetherness in the moment, and in the response as a whole. Nobody knows how long this conflict will take when people will be able to feel safe again. To continue the work despite fatigue and struggle and seeing so much suffering of the people affected by this conflict, organisations and their leaders need a sense of shared purpose, feeling the societal ties and bonding with each other.” 

Joanna Kucharczyk-Jurgielewicz, Eastern Partnership Manager, Strategy holder, Ashoka, says: 
“It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the scale of needs and wideness of the social challenges we face, both in Poland and the region. As social entrepreneurs, we need to do two things: take care of ourselves and each other and create and maintain safe networks. It’s easy to fall into the trap of ‘heropreneurship’, where one feels the most important and irreplaceable saviour. We need to analyse what are the root causes of the problems, choose a piece, and tackle it, recognising that there are other actors around who address other parts. Having this collaboration prevents burnout and increases the collective impact which is changing the world.” 

Meeting with the local humanitarian response actors, discussing what institutional and systemic support is needed and how to mitigate existing and potential struggles.

Visiting the Digital Learning Centre, our team got to meet a group of librarians who, with the support of Save the Children, have set up a learning programme to support Ukrainian children as they settle into studying in Poland. The Centre has significantly expanded the programme to include after-school care and access to reading, organising various workshops and offering space for refugees to share their traditional crafts. However, the librarians shared about the uncertainty children and their caregivers experience, which makes social and educational integration difficult. As many children struggle with being separated from their family members, who stayed in Ukraine, the support and positive impact provided by the librarians of the Digital Learning Centres is truly invaluable. 

Gareth Owen, Humanitarian Director at the Save the Children UK, shares:   
“This group of courageous Polish women not only offer extra-curricular activities for Polish and Ukrainian children. They are the ones who created a safe space where the children are able to share their fears and hopes. History would remember these women, and the children’s memories of this library, set in a place of extraordinary historical resistance, would be happy ones.” 

Digital Learning Centre, librarians share experiences and insights from their work with children from Ukraine.

The Ukraine crisis response in Poland proves that the active involvement of and cooperation with the local actors, respecting and learning from their deep knowledge of the context and experience on the ground, is vital for effective and impactful action. The HLA and Save the Children champion localisation, aligning our work with the Engine 2 approach, which strives for a transformational response. 

Learn more about the HLA’s activities in Eastern Europe

Visit the Eastern Europe Regional Centre page: Eastern Europe – Humanitarian Leadership Academy .


localisation Eastern Europe Ukraine Response Poland

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