Barka's 5-stage model

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Barka foundation - A five-stage model for social integration

The Barka Foundation applies a five-stage model to the integration of excluded people: from therapeutic communities it has developed a system of skills training, job creation and affordable housing that has spread across the country and abroad.

The Barka Foundation for Mutual Help was founded in 1989 in Poznań in western Poland in the midst of Poland’s transformation from a command to a market economy. It started as a therapeutic community in which people who had somehow failed to cope with the demands of modern society could live together and learn how to survive. The collapse of economic structures such as collective farms had left many by the wayside, and they had to learn how to build their own lives together.

In 1989, Barka opened its first community in the abandoned village school of Wladysławowo, 50 kilometres west of Poznan. This first community then consisted of 20 homeless people who lived with the founders, Tomasz and Barbara Sadowski, and their children. It became the springboard for a dynamic system of mutual aid: workshops and farms abandoned after the fall of communism have become refuges for communities.

When Poland joined the EU in May 2004, Barka gained the support of the European Social Fund’s EQUAL programme to set up three Social Economy Centres in Poznań, Kwilcz and Drezdenko. It has since gone on to use the mainstream ESF to support the growth of a veritable system for reintegration. This is based on an integrated system which works up through the hierarchy of human needs, from housing via education to work, all organised on a social co-operative model. Barka’s integration model has five stages: community -> skills -> jobs -> homes -> mainstreaming.


Hierarchy of human needs

The system grew up stage by stage. The first communities were based on the fact that living simply in the country, sharing resources, excluded people can relearn how to become useful members of the community, and find a productive role by growing food and tending livestock, without the pressure to compete to earn a living. Profitability was not the prime concern, as the cost of these communities was minimal, relying as they did on premises loaned by local authorities topped up by charitable donations. The experience spread, and by 1996 there were 11 communities.

The next stage in the development of the system came when the privatisation of collective farms led to unwanted housing units standing empty. Barka was able to take over two half-built blocks of flats in the village of Chudobczyce, and to renovate them by organising an international youth work-camp.

In 1993, the foundation bought a goat farm in the village of Marszewo. A group of Dutch visitors set up a foundation in the Netherlands to support the farm, and community members attended course in France to learn how to make cheese to meet EU standards. And so the communities started to become economically self-supporting. Meanwhile the Chudopzice farm specialised in rearing a rare breed of pigs.

In parallel, Barka used the success of its approach as the lever to lobby for legislative change, and a series of Polish acts of parliament has established a regulatory structure for the social economy: the laws on Social Employment (2003), Promotion of Employment and Labour Market Institutions (including note on social co-operatives) (2004), Financial Support for the Construction of Shelters and Social Housing (2004-2005), Public Benefit and Volunteering (2003) and Social Cooperatives (2006). Barka has grown onto a nationwide network of associations, foundations and social businesses, implementing a system based on self-help and solidarity rather than passive welfare. In the process, the foundation has become famous, the Sadowskis have spoken at the Global Economic Forum in Davos, and the model has spread to other countries.

By 2003 the Barka system had grown to comprise:

  • 20 local communities with 750 members
  • schools training 740 people each year
  • 150 employees
  • affordable housing for 200 people
  • 15 associations trained and supported across Poland
  • an impact on 5,000 people, of whom 1,800 have seen their lives changed

Nowadays Barka operates as a nationwide promotional organisation, and has spun off a series of initiatives not all of which operate under the Barka name. There are now around 100 partnerships, which have between them created some 40 Centres of Social Integration (CISs) and 50 social co-operatives. With a capacity of between 30 and 60 people per year, the CISs together train about 2,000 people each year. The 20 communities for homeless people house approximately 1,000 people. Barka has also grown into an international organisation. It started working with homeless Poles in London, and has now spawned offshoots in Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Canada and Africa.

To establish its first Centre of Social Integration, Barka partnered with the Kofoed School in Copenhagen. In 2005 it opened the Barka-Kofoed School in Poznań, in a new building financed by Grete Mikaelsen’s Foundation in Denmark and operated with funds from the Marshall’s office, Poznań City and the EU’s PHARE programme. The school offers training for excluded people in trades including building, carpentry, plumbing and welding, sewing, baking, cookery, cleaning and conservation, retail administration, the production of a street paper, security, childcare, elderly care, computing and entrepreneurship. The curriculum includes both vocational and general education, accompanied by workshops on motivation, social skills and work ethics. At any one time it trains around 200 people, and has a waiting list of 800. The average age of trainees is 45 and 60% are male. The school combines education with production, and makes products including rickshaws for cemeteries, flags. These activities are progressively floated off as independent social co-operatives. The school also organises sport and social events and hosts meetings of organisations interested in copying the model.

Building an integrated support system

The various Barka-inspired organisations make extensive use of the European Social Fund (ESF) to support their activities, which run the gamut of work integration from remedial education and vocational training to setting up new social enterprises and organising study visits to social enterprises abroad. At national level, the Barka foundation is one of the eight organisations delivering a major national development project called ZSWES – Zintegrowany system wsparcia ekonomii społecznej ('Integrated support system for the social economy'). Funded under action 1.2 ('Support for systems of social welfare and integration institutions') of the Human Capital Programme, it runs from 2009 till 2013. Barka’s part of the project, worth approximately €1m, involves carrying out a comparative analysis of local partnerships, preparing recommendations on how they should best be built, and disseminating this learning at conferences regionally and nationally. It also involves establishing the regional Wielkopolska Solidarity Economy Centre (Wielkopolskie Centrum Ekonomii Solidarności – WSEC) in Poznań, building 50 local partnerships and conducting study tours within Poland and abroad. WSEC celebrates its opening ceremony in grand style on 17 September 2013, with the ribbon being cut by Poland’s First Lady, Anna Komarowska.

Barka has certainly made good use of the ESF, but there are drawbacks. One problem of reliance on grant funding is that it can lead to short-termism and lack of sustainability. It can also deform the objects of a local partnership, because it may be tempted to focus too closely on the requirements of the project, and to forget the wider context. For this reason Barka much prefers to take an entrepreneurial approach. It promotes the setting up of broad local partnerships which can support themselves. The most crucial members of these are the local authorities (gmina or municipality and powiat or district), but they also other public sector bodies like the local employment office, social welfare office and schools. Alongside these are also local associations, church parishes and businesses. The involvement of businesses is vital both to the results for individuals and the sustainability of the partnership as a whole. Because during the training period, trainees engage in practical work, the proceeds of which contribute to the overheads of running the CIS. And at the end of the training period (normally a year), local businesses may employ some of the trainees. It is usually small and medium-sized companies which join the partnerships, although multi¬nationals such as Volkswagen and IKEA are also on board. Trainees also carry out work for public authorities, such as running canteens, maintaining green space, street cleaning and building repairs.

The work of creating a broad partnership at local level can be slow at first, but eventually awareness grows and attitudes change. There are also administrative hurdles that must be overcome, such as the tendency to measure success by the number of hours’ training delivered, rather than by the results for the trainees, and the regulations that allow grant aid to social co-operatives but not to the avocations that support their creation.


Barka Foundation for Mutual Help:
Integrated support system for the social economy:
Get up and Go:


Barbara Sadowska
Fundacja Pomocy Wzajemnej “Barka”
ul. Sw. Wincentego 6/9
61-003 Poznań
+48 61 872 0286