SEAL members’ experience exchange trip to Olsztyn, Poland

June 7, 2024

From May 20 to 24, an experience exchange trip took place in the city of Olsztyn in the northern region of Poland, bringing together representatives from three countries: Social Entrepreneurship Association of Latvia, social entrepreneurship association in Poland WAMA-COOP, and social enterprise in Slovenia KNOF. Three LSUA members participated in the trip, representing social enterprises from Latvia: Jānis Broks from the day center “Oasis of Life”, Agnese Gaidelione from the green lifestyle store “Pour,” and Ilze Saulāja from the Support and Development Center “TOGETHER”.

This trip was organized as part of the Erasmus+ project “Think globally, act locally – international partnership for effective social entrepreneurship education” and during these days, we visited:

  • The day center for seniors and people with mental or physical disabilities “We are Together”;
  • Food Bank;
  • The natural food brand “Mazurskie Słoiki”;
  • And the social cooperative café “Tradition”.

Olsztynek is a home to a famous ethnographic park that is popular in all Poland, and as the Poles themselves say, every student has gone there on a school trip at least once. In this ethnographic park, nestled among wide meadows and ancient houses, operates the social cooperative “Negocjator,” whose brand “Mazurskie Słoiki” grows natural plants within the park’s territory to create unique products that are in demand among regional restaurants.

The cooperative brings together many local home producers to collectively supply the necessary quantity of products to restaurants. We were given a wonderful opportunity to participate in a tasting and to purchase their special products – various locally made items such as jams, juices and syrups. Particularly noteworthy is the syrup made from rose petals, which, when mixed with water and a slice of lemon, makes an excellent summer lemonade.

Continuing with the theme of food and sustainability, which is one of the main focal points of the project, WAMA-COOP also introduced us to representatives from the food bank. This is an excellent example of how barracks and stables, so necessary during wartime but abandoned in the post-war years, can be transformed to meet modern needs.

Founded in 2000, the “Olsztyn Food Bank” is a non-profit organization with a mission to reduce the amount of food waste. The food acquired by the bank is donated to organizations that support people from at-risk groups. The organization conducts various food education events, such as cooking masterclasses with a chef, in which we also participated.

Each country worked in a group to prepare modern versions of traditional Polish dishes with the help of the chef. As the pots clinked and the smiles grew wider, we observed that this unique experience greatly resonated with our members.

In the “Food Bank” building, not only are cooking masterclasses held, but there are also modern co-working spaces for young entrepreneurs on the second floor. Meanwhile, on the first floor, the “Food Bank” representatives themselves work diligently at their computers, writing new projects and generating ideas.

In the city of Górowo Iławeckie, there is a social cooperative, the canteen “Tradition.” The second floor of the building houses a kindergarten, where the young students also have their daily meals. Social enterprise cooperatives in Poland are an important organizational form, meaning that several enterprises come together, collectively creating ideas and attracting funding. The WAMA-COOP association also participates in the cooperative formation process, providing funding to social entrepreneurs. “Tradition” is one such example.

The most emotional part of this trip was undoubtedly the visit to the day center for seniors and people with mental and physical illnesses, “We are Together.” In this day center, various activities take place every day, similar to a school schedule, where participants learn essential life skills, express their creativity, and enjoy their time in good company. The seniors’ genuine emotions upon seeing us were touching. Even though we spoke different languages, the language barrier in such situations is not felt, and the warmth and genuine joy are understood without the help of a translator.

The day center is free for it’s clients, and it also offers the possibility to stay overnight if needed. Daily, the center hosts various workshops where instructors teach how to cook, use a computer, create various items and souvenirs using handicraft techniques, and other skills. The most surprising feature was the television and radio studio, where, under the guidance of a journalist, the center’s residents prepare radio news and television segments that have been broadcasted on public media and are now available online. Additionally, the day center conducts professional themed photoshoots where residents dress up as characters from movies and fairy tales.

During the exchange trip, we not only visited various social enterprises but also met with local municipalities. The mayor of Olsztynek actively collaborates with the social entrepreneurship association WAMA-COOP and focuses on youth engagement and development opportunities. Meanwhile, small towns like Górowo Iławeckie join international networks with small towns from other countries to gain additional funding for improving the city’s and residents’ quality of life. Both visits demonstrated that the personalities of the people working in the municipality are a crucial factor in the development of the entire municipality, including the social entrepreneurship sector.

SEAL members after the trip acknowledged that they gained valuable insights and contacts, as well as the firsthand experience of good practices, which will be beneficial for the future development of their own businesses. Additionally, it provided extra motivation and energy for future endeavors.

Here are some quotes from the entrepreneurs themselves, translated in english:

“Thankful for the experience and excellent organization, as well as for introducing us to other entrepreneurs. We are taken care of and enjoying the process.”

I feel overwhelmed and pampered like a queen. My mind is finally free from work and daily routines, but ideas… ideas flow abundantly and I can barely keep up with jotting them down. Deeply grateful for this opportunity.

We observed that potential collaborations among entrepreneurs were discussed, with one member gaining motivation to enroll in an English language course and others creating social media profiles for their businesses and discussing marketing and financial strategies. Members acknowledged that this journey was also necessary for their mental well-being – to understand that they are not alone in facing challenges in running and maintaining their businesses. Often, mutual psychological support is the most crucial.

The trip also showed that Poles have generous hearts. Just as generous as the portions of their food 🙂 In the fall, it will be our turn to show hospitality to our project partners from Poland and Slovenia. This was the first on-site visit of the project. Since last year, we had only “met” each other through emails and video calls. In the fall, the second meeting of all three countries is planned – this time in Riga, and next year – in Slovenia. The goal of the trips is for social entrepreneurs from all three countries to gain new insights, knowledge, and contacts, as well as to adopt best practices for the future development of their own businesses.



This trip took place within the framework of the “Think globally, act locally – international partnership for effective social entrepreneurship education” project, co-funded by the European Union’s Erasmus+ program.