Fr. Andrzej Augustyński – founder of SIEMACHA Association, CEO of DEMOS Foundation: Business becomes responsible when it is done by responsible people

Corporate social responsibility is a strategy involving business in the policy of sustainable development. What does the cooperation between the company and the association look like?

More and more often I have the impression that it is a marketing slogan. Just as words acquire meaning in the mouths of concrete people, business becomes responsible when it is done by responsible people. This is a quality that belongs only to individuals. Consequently, ethical judgments are made about people, not companies. Companies are considered “ethical” when they have ethical people working for them. With their departure, the ethos disappears. Of course something can be written down, enacted, declared, but in the end it will always be human choices. I like the etymology of the word “responsibility” because it suggests that being responsible means giving answers. And to do that, you need a moment of reflection. Meanwhile, it happens that we are eager to formulate an answer before we understand the question. The nature of social problems is very complicated. Responsibility therefore means first understanding what we are dealing with and then acting in accordance with the best interests of society, if only a few meters from the tip of our nose.

What are the biggest problems a charity organization faces in Poland? Is it difficult to run this kind of activity nowadays?

Complaining about the times would be simply stupid. We are living in the era of peace and relative prosperity so the only thing people can complain about is the need to be creative. While a soup kitchen or an orphanage used to be enough, today poverty has many facets. To put it in a nutshell, in the past poor children were skinny, today they are obese because they eat junk food sipped on carbonated water with sugar and dye. It’s obvious that it was easier to satisfy their hunger than to now change their eating habits by confronting the powerful promotional machine of the “fast food” industry. Helping others is difficult at any time, because on the one hand it requires above-average sensitivity, but on the other it consistently blunts that sensitivity. It is wrong to believe that the so-called “beneficiaries” will carry you from morning to night for what you do for them. It usually happens quite the opposite.

Where does your interest in charity come from?

Seriously, I do not know… I would like to add that when I hear exalted answers to such questions, I immediately suspect a lie. I am an only child and grew up in a loving, relatively wealthy family. I was never exposed to any pathologies. I had a plan to become a quantum physicist, but ultimately the need to change the world prevailed. Some powerful force, I’m convinced supernatural pushed me to act for the common good. During my studies, I accidentally ended up in one of Krakow’s orphanages and I felt that in this way I could fulfill myself as a citizen, a priest, a social activist, a researcher, an entrepreneur… This is how it actually happened!

How does the Church try to support NGOs? Is business similarly involved in providing assistance?

Again, I must appeal to the ethics of individuals rather than organizations. Church and business are phrases that are too general and too capacious. In each case I know of both examples of heroic attitudes and extreme callousness. Clearly, I am most fascinated by examples of synergy between business and the social sector. I experienced it while working for many years with e.g. Toyota Motor Poland, PKO Boniek Polski, or the companies Budimex and Oknoplast. They were headed by excellent managers, who were also extremely decent people. When it comes to the people of the Church, I would not have achieved anything without the protective umbrella over me provided by Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, whom I consider one of the most outstanding Polish hierarchs.

What is the condition of charity organizations in Poland? It would seem that we have a lot of non-profit organizations in Poland…

I am rather critical about Polish social organizations. Although there are many of them, they are small, weak and fragmented by nature. As a result, they are more often providers of emotions than of reliable knowledge. I like to refer to Aristotle, who believed that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, which means that we should strive to build integrated models, based on cooperation. Meanwhile, we are dealing with the phenomenon of dispersion of energy of many social activists, acting alone.

Business ethics is presented both in theory and in practice. In the Gospel there are rules which should be followed by every believer. What is the situation in charity organizations? There is a lot of talk about violation of ethical norms in promotional campaigns like: crooked sick children on billboards or drastic shots on posters.

It is a very complex problem. Polish Christianity is full of stereotype ideas, often spread by clergymen themselves, which have relatively little in common with the spirit of the Gospel. But let’s put it aside for another conversation. On the subject of charity itself, it is important to remember the difference between compassion and mercy. The former is a state of being emotionally moved by the deprivation, dysfunction, or misfortune of the person encountered, but only mercy is in the nature of the work we do when we decide to responsibly remedy a problem. Then we begin to look at the other not through the lens of who they are today, but who they MAY be in the future. This is like the dream of flying: higher, further, more…

What do you think about social campaigns organized by big companies? Do they really support people in need or are they organized only for PR purposes?

Only yesterday I heard how a certain politician, accompanied by ‘artificial intelligence’ announced liquidation of all orphanages in Poland in the next few years. It is not the first time I have heard similar nonsense thrown into the public space, but each time I get angry that we have not lived to see the times in Poland when the fate of 20 thousand children is discussed in a balanced and expert way, and not at party rallies. Seemingly innocent, although in some circles catchy slogans can cause great damage. I have had the opportunity to experience this with an organization that I have been involved with for nearly 30 years. In each of these cases the culprit has a name: “populism”. For another it has “greed.” I fear that this pandemic is far more dangerous than Covid-19.

Fr. Andrzej Augustyński

Polish Roman Catholic cleric and social entrepreneur. The initiator and the president of the board of the SIEMACHA Association, a public benefit organisation operating in the field of education, sports and therapy; President of the board of the DEMOS Foundation; member of the international organisation for social entrepreneurs Ashoka. Since 1986 he has collaborated with social organisations in Malta. He is a connoisseur of Maltese culture and its promoter. Since 1999 he has collaborated with the local government of Krakow as the coordinator of the Municipal Program for Juvenile Delinquency Prevention, the representative and social advisor of the President of Krakow in the field of Youth. A member of the Priesthood Council of the Archdiocese of Krakow 2001-2011. In 2000 he started the construction of the multifunctional children’s centre in Odporyszów with reverend Kazimierz Augustyński. The centre comprises: an orphanage, a day care facility, a holiday centre and a modern sports centre. Reverend Andrzej Augustyński received many awards i.a. the title of the Cracovian of the Year 2014 in the category “Society”. In 2014 he received the Grand Prix Amicus Hominum, Pro Publico Bono and the Medal of Merit for the Lesser Poland Voivodeship Palatinatus Poloniae Minoris Meriti. In 2012 he received the Medal of St. George of the “Tygodnik Powszechny” weekly. In 2009 he received the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta for his outstanding merits in his activities for the needy and for his achievements in his professional and social work. He wrote the books “Coca kocha colę” (Coca Loves Cola), “Czyja jest socjoterapia?” (Who Owns Sociotherapy?) and “Wędrowiec” (Wanderer). He initiated and published “Dziennikarstwo i polityka” (Jurnalism and Politics) and “Jan Wnęk. Między niebem a ziemią” (Jan Wnęk. Between the Sky and Earth).

Last Updated on October 15, 2021 by Anastazja Lach