There is an abundance of social capital in local communities. When opportunities arise, local people can implement bold ideas and innovative solutions in topics such as the environment, driven by the belief that by working together they can make a difference and have a real impact on their lives. This is why a theme track “ACT LOCALLY AND ENVIRONMENTALLY” has been designed as part the “ACT LOCALLY” programme of the Polish American Freedom Foundation implemented by the Academy for the Development of Philanthropy in Poland. WWF Foundation is a partner in this initiative.

We know from the earlier experience in Programme that environmental issues can be imbedded in local community setting more sustainably and effectively by establishing local environmental networks, including NGOs, donors, local and municipal leaders, media and volunteers. Biodiversity protection, pollution prevention or climate change mitigation can best be done at the local level.

Moving beyond simple but much-needed clean-ups of parks, forests and riverbanks to more complex projects is no easy task. It requires extensive educational activities, financial support and the development of good practices illustrating different ways of effective social and environmental involvement of citizens at the local level.

Below is an overview of initiatives that also represent diverse approaches to civic engagement and are great examples of how such initiatives should be launched at a local level.

Local Ecosystems[1]

Animals and plants can only function in a specific environment (biotope), which we should protect, or – if it is destroyed or there is no suitable one – we can create. For example, the “Eco Island” project initiated by the inhabitants of the village of Rogowo in the Mazovia Province has installed an artificial island in a local pond. Its main task is to filter water in the pond to enable mud plants to grow in deep water and to create conditions for birds and other small animals to settle and develop.

Another example is the “Smooth Snake Protection” project carried out by the informal group “Coronella” from Łężce in the Lower Silesia Province. The project includes work on the snakes’ biotope and the creation of new habitats for them near the Młot canal, placing boulders on private plots near the watercourse, creating more rockeries with living branches, creating ponds for the breeding of frogs and creating habitats for blindworms (a delicacy for smooth snakes).
To safeguard this local ecosystem, the organisers plan to install two “frog/snake crossing” warning signs on a country road. Educational classes for approximately 100 pupils are planned to discuss the threats to and protection of amphibians and reptiles, including the smooth snake in Poland.

Eco = Education

Information and education campaigns are critical components of environmental projects. Strengthening environmental awareness and attitudes is often key in the involvement of local resources or volunteers in environmental projects. It is therefore not surprising that many local initiatives give a high priority to information and education activities. For example, the “Open Your Eyes to the Green” project implemented by “Kasjopejki”, a local women’s group in Skałągi, Opole Province, will first offer workshops on basic topics such as how to take care of the environment, why waste segregation makes sense, what we get from the nature etc. Then, workshop participants will use the new information during an “Open-Eye Expedition” that will encourage participants to observe the natural environment. The last part of the project is designed to involve community members in maintenance work in the local park, which has been deforested and destroyed by recent storms. The plan for new planting and the species of trees will be defined and closely supervised by the conservation officer.

In order to increase the reach of educational projects and achieve a snowball effect, it is essential that the project message should reach local opinion leaders. For example, the “Zero Waste and Vege Challenge in Chocianów”, a project run by the Apis Mellifera Foundation in Chocianów, Lower Silesia Province, will offer training-of-trainers sessions for local teachers and leaders. Topics will include zero waste, 3R[2] and the vegetarian diet. WWF will provide training materials, including a module on informed consumption.

Climate can be protected not only by encouraging responsible and reduced consumption but also by combining educational campaigns with specific initiatives in the local community. Two competitions will be announced, “Clean up – Plant – Oxygenate” and “Tree – Oxygen – Life”, to provide village councils and informal groups with tree seedlings, mainly oxytrees[3] and honey-producing trees.

Household Ecology

The ‘language of benefits; helps community members appreciate the concern for the environment and commit to change. Local projects which display this approach deserve to be supported.

For example, the “Mr. and Mrs. Environment with Youth Appeal” project carried out by the local people in the community of Gaszowice, Silesian Voivodship, will start with an upcycling workshop, where participants will learn how to recycle waste at home and give used objects a new life. The next workshop will be a ‘zero waste’ gardening workshop, which will show simple solutions for eliminating waste production in the garden. The third workshop will show how to create household chemical equivalents from readily available ingredients. Participants will learn how to make ‘homemade’ toothpaste, dishwashing liquid or glass spray, and how to remove stains easily and naturally.
A similar approach is represented by the “ECO Woman” project of the Changing Grójec Initiative, Mazovia Province. The project will offer training sessions and workshops on organic cosmetics and detergents. Another interesting project is “Be Eco-Friendly”, a workshop on sewing bags and zero waste bags implemented by the local public library in Krzyżanowice, Siesian Province. The project will include a series of meetings to discuss environmental topics and an online workshop teaching people to sew environmentally-friendly bags and pouches as replacements for plastic bags. The organisers want to raise the awareness of the local community of ways of reducing the production of household waste. In addition, the bags sewn by the workshop participants will be distributed in local shops to help improve the environmental awareness of consumers.

Public Space

To conclude this overview, we would like to acknowledge projects that seek to change public space and refer to environmentally-friendly solutions. Note the Mouse Tower Permaculture Garden project designed by the Local Arkona Animation Association. The project site is the area around the Mouse Tower (Mysia Wieża) nursery school in Byczyna, Opole Province. Project participants have cut down dead trees and planted fruit trees around the nursery. A permaculture garden[4] and a flower meadow (a nectar zone for insects) have been created in boxes. Edible flowers have been planted in concrete pots along the path leading to the nursery. In parallel, outdoor workshops for children have been held to explain the ‘green’ developments around the kindergarten. Workshop topics included “Garden Design and Maintenance”, “Why Trees are Important for Us”, “Useful Insects”.
The last workshop will help children build a house for insects. The “Green Corner – from Project to Effect” project proposed by “A Place Upon Słupianka” rural women’s group at Białkowo, Mazovia Province, has a similar character. The project will plant new vegetation in public spaces. Plants will be selected to attract insects so that they can collect nectar and pollinate flowers. Trees will be planted to provide shelter and nesting place for birds. Participants will explore the impact of their actions on the natural environment. Residents will be invited to participate in workshops to build houses for insects and nesting boxes for birds. The project initiators would like to make the participants aware of the need to take care of the environment we live in. Such attitudes should be developed at an early age so there will be activities for children, including outdoor games, riddles, crosswords and quizzes.

Citizen Participation

The ‘Zielony zakątek’ (Green Corner) project implemented by the Fałkowice Village Association is an example of involving community members in co-decision-making in projects focused on public space. The project converts parts of public space in the village of Falkowice, Opole Province,  into green places offering environmental and educational opportunities. A workshop for the local people will be held to teach basic design and maintenance of mini-squares and planting of environmentally valuable vegetation. A townhall meeting will then be held to decide on what kind of plants to buy and where exactly to plant them.

The “ACT LOCALLY” programme is implemented in 78 ACT LOCALLY Centres supporting an average of 900 projects annually across Poland. Some of them are environmental projects.

“ACT LOCALLY” is a programme of the Polish American Freedom Foundation implemented by the Academy for the Development of Philanthropy in Poland in collaboration with the network of 78 ACT LOCALLY Centres. Over 12,000 local projects have been supported under the programme for the past 21 years. They have involved over 4 million participants, including approximately 230,000 volunteers.

Written by: Paweł Łukasiak (Academy for the Development of Philanthropy in Poland), Stanisław Głąbski (Academy for the Development of Philanthropy in Poland) and Magdalena Brzeska (WWF)


[An “ecosystem” is a “biotope”, i.e. a non-living physical environment, and a “biocenosis”, which is the sum of populations of plant and animal organisms.
[2] The 3Rs principle, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, promotes environmentally sound lifestyles, consumption of goods and treatment of waste. Translated: the 3 U’s principle: Avoid buying unnecessary things, Reuse, Recycle.
[3]Oxytree trees are distinguished by their rapid growth and production of large amounts of oxygen.
[4]A permaculture garden is a natural garden in all its parts; its cultivation is linked to ecology and natural ways of green care.

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