NGO Leadership Program (Poland)

WDI works with the Weiser Center for Europe & Eurasia (WCEE) at U-M to offer NGO Leadership workshops to non-profit leaders from across central and southeastern Europe. The workshops cover strategic planning, resource mobilization, resilience and digital security to help NGOs run more effectively and sustainably. The fall 2024 NGO Leadership workshop will be held in October in Warsaw.

Amy Gillett


with Amy Gillett on NGO Leadership Workshop in Lublin

Since 2015, the William Davidson Institute (WDI) and its partners have provided NGO Leadership Workshops to nonprofit leaders from across Central and Southeastern Europe. In September, the eleventh such workshop was held in Lubin, Poland. In partnership with the University of Michigan’s Weiser Center for Europe & Eurasia (WCEE) and in cooperation with Warsaw-based partner FED (Fundacja Edukacja dla Demokracji) the workshop is designed to equip NGO leaders with the skills and networks to run their organizations more effectively and sustainably. 

September’s workshop was focused solely on Ukrainian organizations and attracted 24 humanitarian and nonprofit leaders. 

Q: What made this year’s event unique among the NGO Workshops WDI has helped organize thus far?

Amy Gillett: This was our eleventh NGO Leadership Workshop and the first specifically for Ukrainian NGOs. It was also the first time we held the event in Lublin, a city in Southern Poland close to the Ukrainian border. The attendees included 23 women and one man, and all are at the front lines of providing critical services for the war effort. Participants were able to travel to Lublin by bus or train, though it was an arduous journey for many due to the heavy lines at the border crossings.

It was particularly difficult for this group of participants to leave their organizations and their families. At the beginning of the workshop, we provided an opportunity for participants to express their fears and expectations for the week. This fostered an atmosphere where participants could communicate openly and feel supported. 

Another great aspect of this workshop was our diversity of trainers, bringing a variety of viewpoints and perspectives. Our trainers came from three countries: the USA, Poland and Ukraine. They represented both academics, NGO leaders and trained facilitators.

Q: What were the key focus areas for the workshop?

Amy Gillett: Our curriculum was geared toward addressing their most pressing needs, with training on conflict resolution, negotiations, dealing with people with PTSD, burnout prevention, and building resilience.

Among those teaching in the workshop was University of Michigan LSA professor Eric Fretz, who also served for 24 years in the U.S. Navy and was able to draw on his experiences in conflict zones including Iraq. Following the event, he posted this look back.

Every session included lots of interaction and hands-on activities – by the end of the workshop, the entire wall of the training room was covered with Post-it notes and colorful posters. And each instructor had their own approach to training, which helped keep the energy up throughout the four days.

Previous slide
Next slide

“This workshop gave me the confidence that I am a leader, that I have the strength and ability to continue to support women. I have to take care of my team, prevent burnout and conflicts, and lead ethical policies, then the world will be a better place.”

—NGO Leadership Workshop Participant

Q: How about the attendees? What types of organizations did these leaders represent?

Amy Gillett: Their NGOs focused on a range of activities, including: providing critical medical services, offering psychological assistance, defending human rights, preventing gender based violence, providing legal services, and preserving Ukrainian cultural heritage. 

Among the workshop participants was noted video blogger Anna Danylchuk, who along with running an NGO focused on preserving and promoting the cultural heritage of Ukraine, releases daily video dispatches on the war in Ukraine. In fact, she continued to broadcast from our workshop, using her hotel room as her studio.

Q: How can these leaders apply what they learned to the immediacy of what Ukrainian citizens are facing as a result of the Russian invasion and ongoing aggression?

Amy Gillett: This workshop offered practical skills for improving wellbeing, building resilience, preventing burnout and increasing emotional intelligence. Many participants spoke out about how useful these areas are given the current situation. The fighting spirit of the Ukrainians is very impressive — participants always speak of “when we win the war.” The week in Lublin was a chance for participants to recharge and renew their energy for this ongoing battle. As one participant commented to me at the closing dinner, “I’m in a good place emotionally and psychologically and that means I can do more to help others.”

The workshop also enhanced the participants’ confidence as leaders. This will help them guide their organizations through these very challenging times. As one participant expressed, the workshop gave her the strength and ability to continue in her organizational mission of supporting women. 

Many participants also found cooperation opportunities with each other. They are now embarking on new joint projects, combining resources and ideas to undertake high-impact work together.

Q: WDI is always seeking feedback for our projects, what have participants reported back?

Amy Gillett: Here are some notable quotes from participants:

“This workshop gave me the confidence that I am a leader, that I have the strength and ability to continue to support women. I have to take care of my team, prevent burnout and conflicts, and lead ethical policies, then the world will be a better place.”

“The workshop is really helpful and important for my personal development and beneficial to my organization. Lots of insights, practical instruments, brilliant speakers!”

“Ukrainian civil society has proven to be very brave, effective and productive. Invest in it and together we will win!”

The next workshop is planned for June 2024 in Košice, Slovakia and will again focus on Ukraine, with the NGO leaders coming from Ukraine and nearby countries. Learn more about upcoming and previous workshops here

Previous slide
Next slide


Photo: Participants at the NGO Leadership Workshop Warsaw during a session on Networking.

WDI’s most recent NGO Leadership Workshop welcomed nonprofits serving Ukrainian refugees—and shared life-changing tips on making a difference.

For decades, the William Davidson Institute (WDI) at the University of Michigan has held Ukraine close to its mission. When the Institute was founded more than 30 years ago, Eastern Europe was its very first geographical focus area — and for good reason. At the time, there was no guarantee that countries on the other side of the fallen Berlin Wall would embrace and deliver market-driven economies. Rather, there was concern that they would revert to government-planned economies. Those early WDI educational projects in Eastern Europe reflected the Institute’s core purpose: sharing the tools of commercial success with students, partners and other stakeholders to build both lasting economic and social prosperity.  

While the conditions in Ukraine and Eastern Europe have certainly changed over the course of three decades, WDI’s commitment to the region has remained strong — even stronger after Russia invaded Ukraine nearly one year ago.

WDI’s NGO Leadership Workshops are one example of this dedication. Run in partnership with the Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia (WCEE) at the University of Michigan, the workshops engage and guide nonprofit groups providing a variety of social services during times of struggle. The most recent workshop, which took place in October in Poland, showed just how crucial these sessions can be for participants.

With the destabilizing impact of war in the region, it is more important than ever to invest in civil society, explained Geneviève Zubrzycki, Director of the WCEE. And NGOs are key in that process.

“For NGOs working with Ukrainian refugees, there’s a level of urgency and human tragedy that we can’t ignore,” said Zubrzycki.

These biannual four-day workshops have been held in Slovakia and Poland since 2015. They bring together nonprofit leaders to network with one another, learn about topics close to their work, and connect with global experts. The sessions regularly cover planning and sustainability, NGO management, marketing strategies, advocacy and fundraising.

It’s powerful work that many of these managers would be unable to tackle on their own, but through the support of WCEE, they can come together without being saddled with the cost of tuition, room, or travel. Leaders can focus entirely on boosting their impact at home, and the coursework is built to do exactly that. “Each session raised important points that I will consider in my work with my team at our NGO,” said a Romanian participant, one of the 24 leaders who joined the workshop in Warsaw.

For NGOs working with Ukrainian refugees, there’s a level of urgency and human tragedy that we can’t ignore.

For NGOs working with Ukrainian refugees, there’s a level of urgency and human tragedy that we can’t ignore.

Shifting the Curriculum for the Times

The 2022 workshop in Warsaw was scheduled prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. War had fallen on communities across the country, and Ukrainians fled the violence with whatever they could carry, clinging to family members and ditching cars when they ran out of gas. According to the UN Refugee Agency, 6.3 million people from Ukraine have been recorded crossing international borders into neighboring countries including Poland and Moldova since the invasion. The effects have sent a wave of challenges through the continent.

As WDI planned the workshop in 2022, it was impossible to ignore the growing pressure placed on regional nonprofits. WDI and WCEE worked to adapt the program to meet the realities on the ground. 

“Dedicating the workshop to NGOs working with Ukrainian refugees made it possible for us to tailor sessions to their specific needs. It also created a safe space for them to discuss difficult topics,” said Zubrzycki.

WDI similarly shifted its curriculum to meet the needs of the many NGOs in the area serving Ukrainian refugees. Experts joined to share advice on maintaining digital security, planning strategically during crises, avoiding staff burnout, and working with people with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The entire workshop was driven by on-the-ground needs,” explains Amy Gillett, Vice President of Education at WDI. “It was developed with a design-thinking approach. We considered what the organizations’ immediate needs were and what they were grappling with, and then we created the curriculum around that, focusing on the most pressing needs.”

A Focus on Mental Health

Working for an NGO operating in a warzone carries “all of the stresses and drama of a normal workplace raised to 11, then add in the fact that everyone you’re working with has left everything they own, is stressed through the roof, and perhaps has lived through various war-related traumas,” explained Eric Fretz, a professional educator and coach focused on personal development, emotional intelligence, and resilience who teaches at the University of Michigan. Fretz led conversations at the workshop about post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma, emotional intelligence and mental strength.

He dug into the basics of trauma with participants and shared advice on managing their own stress, which he hopes will create a ripple effect. “Leaders can share this with their team, and then everyone on their team is much more able to take care of those that they encounter. It’s an upward lift.”

Previous slide
Next slide

Powerful Connections with Powerful Partners

Relationships are everything — in serving people, in building businesses, and in running nonprofits. “These groups need to know each other to be more effective,” Gillett said. “The connections that take place outside of the formal instruction are just as important as the skills that they’re learning in the classroom sessions. It’s during these informal conversations where resources and ideas are shared that are critical to their success.”

Participants at the NGO Leadership Workshop spent time together talking about their struggles, joys and plans. They shared tips over morning coffee for better reaching refugees and advice on soliciting global support for long-term aid while walking through Warsaw’s Old Town on a guided tour offered as part of the workshop. “We were left with so many brilliant acquaintances and friendships, and we have gathered priceless information,” said one participant from Georgia.

WDI has seen the bonds built during past workshops flourish after participants returned home — and the Institute is just as dedicated to continuing to support long-standing connections in Ukraine. Though it was forced to suspend a project that would have sent four University of Michigan MBA students to the Lviv Business School of Ukrainian Catholic University (LvBS), WDI President Paul Clyde recently spoke to the university’s Vice Rector Sophia Opatska about the role universities and students will play in country’s resistance and rebuilding.

Workshop participants, particularly ones from Ukraine, were grateful to learn alongside leaders from other countries who were working on the ground with them. David Estrada, Program Coordinator at WDI, said “They were thankful that we were able to provide a space for them and be around other people doing this same type of work.”

Two NGO Leadership Workshops are planned for 2023, in Bratislava, Slovakia and Warsaw, Poland. 

WDI works with the Weiser Center for Europe & Eurasia (WCEE) at U-M to offer NGO Leadership workshops to non-profit leaders from across central and southeastern Europe. The workshops cover strategic planning, resource mobilization, resilience and digital security to help NGOs run more effectively and sustainably.

This article traces the development of management education in Central and Eastern Europe over the past 30 years and provide recommendations for the future of management education in this part of the world. The authors, Danica Purg and Alenka Braček Lalić of IEDC-Bled School of Management, identify emerging business issues in Central and Eastern Europe and the resulting opportunities for institutions in the region to respond to these challenges with appropriate management and leadership development.

This article is part of the 25 Years of Market-Based Solutions article series released in honor of the William Davidson Institute’s 25th anniversary. Since its founding in 1992, the Education Initiative at the William Davidson Institute has helped management education institutions around the world develop their capacity. We look forward to continuing this work — and sharing key learnings — over the coming decades.

Jack Foreman was one of the first WDI summer interns, when in 1991, he spent three months near Gdansk, a port city on the Baltic coast of Poland. But when he frequently mentions how the internship helped get his “sea legs” in business, he isn’t talking about anything to do with the water.

Foreman said the ability to find your way around a foreign country without speaking the language “isn’t something you can teach someone.” Instead, he said, you learn by doing.

“When I first got to Poland, I was feeling really uncomfortable, very self-conscious going up to a vendor to ask for a drink,” he said. “But eventually you find your way around, you get your sea legs.”

Foreman’s career as a Connecticut-based information services and product development consultant has required a large amount of international travel. He credits his WDI internship with giving him an advantage over those who were uncomfortable in foreign cities.

“I don’t think I ever would have been able to have the capacity to know where to start or how to talk to people if I hadn’t spent two to three months in Poland,” Foreman said. “It was an invaluable experience.”

After Foreman received his bachelor’s degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, he headed to Ann Arbor for his MBA studies. After his first year, companies such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard made internship offers, but sitting in an office didn’t appeal to him.

“I wanted something entrepreneurial and exciting,” Foreman said.

He heard about the international internship opportunities at WDI and “I remember being very, very, very interested in it.” He had more than a dozen friends review his application and cover letter to make sure it was perfect. He landed the internship, but first attended a three-week class on all things business and culture in Poland before leaving for Gdansk.

Foreman worked for a prestigious, small consulting company that was founded by the then-prime minister. The firm fielded several partnership offers from global firms because it understood the local market, he recalled.

Two of Foreman’s projects centered on privatization, a growing practice because Poland was in the midst of a democratic and economic transition away from the centralized Soviet system. One was with the trucking industry and the other with the shipping validation industry. He said the trucking project was “compelling to see how this all evolved over time.” The shipping validation project itself was “uninteresting, but always interesting too because you got to meet with people and talk with them about their business.”

A third work project involved evaluating the local market for potato chips. There was no existing data so Foreman would take a Polish-speaking woman with him and interview people on the street. He also surveyed which local stores carried chips.

“Basically I had to create our own approach to market research,” Foreman said.

Those work experiences and occasional weekend afternoons drinking beer and talking with Poles in the park gave Foreman the experience and comfort to work in business internationally, something that has come in handy throughout his career.

He says he can remember his summer in Poland “like it was yesterday.

“It was probably the most profound experience in my life,” Foreman added. “It’s something I’ll always look back on.”

Note: This is one in an ongoing series of articles profiling past WDI student interns and their career paths. Additional profiles in the series may be found here.

Back to Top