In 1961, during a speech John F. Kennedy proclaimed that by the decade’s end, the United States will land a man on the moon. And sure enough it happened on July 20, 1969. In his inaugural speech he said, ”Let’s….seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.”
With the current situation in the Middle East and around the world, such ideas are more important than ever. Before working on destructive nuclear weapons, Robert Oppenheimer was an astrophysicist. The great Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson, said that we stopped dreaming for greater achievements in science because we have no drive and no enemy to compete with. However, he may be wrong. Our biggest enemy, at the moment is ourselves with the problems of global warming, lack of food, over population and etc. There is a way out, it is with science and research. It was the vehicle that got Europe out of the dark ages, drove the industrial revolution and fueled the rise of Silicon Valley.
Earlier today, President Obama wrote an article in the Medium explaining why he is betting on America's entrepreneurs to fuel the new American economy. I am doing the same. As an American, I am quite certain that had President Obama bet $20 on this, he would be $20 richer in the future because entrepreneurship is in the American DNA.
However, in Poland it is another situation. As a teacher in a major Polish university, I get a first hand view of the future of Poland. There are somethings that gives me hope, however, sometimes I feel a bit scared of what is to come.
It has been 25 years since the Berlin Wall came tumbling down along with all of the former Warsaw Pact Communist governments. However, despite the current state of the Polish economy, the Stalin brain wash persist. Many articles state that Poland was the only nation in Europe to escape the recession with positive numbers. Technically, it is true. However, globalization means that no country lives in an economic bubble. the export and import market was still affected by the recession that was killing the rest of Europe. In Poland, many businesses made major cutbacks because of the "crisis".
The positive economic numbers are the result of many different factors that happen to play in Poland's favor. Poland wasn't on the hook for the financial problems of the Club Med countries who were using the Euro because Poland used their own independent currency, the Zloty. Strict banking regulations meant that Polish people and businesses couldn't borrow unless they had sufficient collateral. Because Poland were to host Euro 2012, a large amount of capital were made available to help them build major highways and stadiums. Because a large amount of the Polish economy is connected to construction, there were gains.
Envy of the West
Whenever I tell people that I live in Poland, people young and old would ask me, "Why Poland?" This meant that they still look down on their own country. Many Poles are still quite envious about the lifestyles of those in the West. Little do they realize that they are living just as well if not better than the traditional Western European nations. Beaches in Sopot is cleaner and nicer than beaches near Naples. Polish people play around with the latest smartphones and tablets. They drive BMWs and Mercedes. In their homes, they are watching "Games of Thrones" on big screen LCD Smart TVs. When I look on my Facebook timeline, I see my Polish friends on holidays in exotic locations like Thailand and Rio.
In the United States, the Millennials by the look of things are quite patriotic. Many of them profess the desire to start their own business. Many kids are entering school studying STEM and high tech subjects. Even the trust fund kids, based on a recent Morgan Stanley survey profess the desire to use thier inheritance in a socially acceptable manner. They would like to use their funds to help solve the big problems.
After communism fell and the country opened up. A flood of multinational corporations came into the country because of favorable tax conditions, brand new offices, and cheap labor. In the short term, this is good as it lowers the unemployment numbers and makes the politicians look good. However, in the long run, it is not so good. Just ask the people who live in Detroit. Countries like Romania and Bulgaria are becoming quite competitive.
The "ME" generation
As many young Poles entered the corporate work force, their economic stiuation got better. As a result, as they became parents, they wanted their kids to have better lives so they bought their kids toys, believing that material good would substitute time spent with their kids. Consequently, in Poland, they are going through a "ME" generation. This is leading to a number of social problems. These kids who are becoming young adults are at a loss. They are more materialistic and many lack ambition and direction.
Having experienced campus life in Harvard and Stanford as well as my own alma mater, I can say that during weekday nights, students are in the library and in their own dorm studying trying to keep up with the readings and homework assignments. The exterior of the quads are usually empty. However, as I walked through the dormitory yards of my Polish university, it is filled with students drinking beer and just hanging out. I have said this in another post, this just didn't feel right.
There is still hope. There has never been a better time to be a Polish university student. You have so many advantages given to you. You can study abroad under the Erasmus programs. in the US, studying abroad are only available to those who can afford it. However, the EU subsidizes much of the cost for their European students. Due to the lower ZUS payments, Polish companies are able to hire students to work part time. In this, the students are able to gain valuable on the job experience.
Unlike their American counterparts, Polish Universities are free, so they will not graduate with the burden of paying off a hefty student debt. However, I believe that Polish Universities should not be free. A nominal fee should be administered so the parents would put more pressure on their children to do well in school. Other remedies were proposed in another post. Polish students can travel virtually free and pay a massive reduced rate at many of the finest cultural institutions in Europe. The Polish economy is doing relatively well.
Polish startups like Estimote, Kontakt.io, UXPin, and Misbehave are gaing global recognition. VCs in Silicon Valley are starting to invest in Polish startups. Jakub Krzych, founder of Estimote, told me that Polish talent is pretty much on par with those of Silicon Valley. Many startups went abroad to get funded but are returning to Poland. Google is opening up another Campus in Warsaw, one of three in the whole world. Estimote just opened up a new place in Krakow. Intelclinic has a whole house in Warsaw. And if fashion is your thing, Showroom in Warsaw will help you get noticed. Gain your experience as a student and start your own company after leaving school. Multinational corporations will come and go but startups will truly help the local economy in the long run.
Poland cannot stay part of someone's supply chain, they need to be at either the beginning or the end of it. Other nations have globally recognized brands, Poland doesn't. We need one. As JFK said at the end of his inauguation speech," Ask not, what your country can do for you, but ask, what you can do for your country."
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