GECP received the prestigious Corporate Catalyst Award from the Piłsudski Institute. This event inspired us to talk about cooperation between our nations and Polish-American history.
Joanna Apelska, General Electric Company Polska: How did the fate of Polish and American nations intertwined over the centuries?
Iwona Korga, President of The Józef Piłsudski Institute of America: Although our countries are 4000 miles apart, our nations have a very colorful history together. Our faiths were often interlaced. The United States were founded at the same time that Poland lost its independence. In the 18th century, many Polish heroes emigrated to the USA, including Tadeusz Kościuszko or Kazimierz Pułaski, to fight for the independence of the United States. These were the people, who transferred the main ideas and pillars of Polish Constitution of May 3rd to American soil. They realized it by fighting for the freedom of another country that was set on similar principles. Historically speaking, America repaid us for this effort in 1918, when Poland needed help during World War I. President Wilson, thanks to the efforts of Ignacy Paderewski, supported the Polish cause. Although the support was long overdue, when it came, its power was immense. Similar situation took place during World War II, when the Americans joined the Allied forces in Europe.
The historical examples of such cooperation are impressive, but does these relations translate into modern day?
Nowadays, we have many examples of, I would dare say, fraternal relations between Poles and Americans. We can observe such cooperation every day. In New York we have a tragic story of a young soldier, Michael Ollis. As we all know, Poland supported the US in the war in Iraq. To this day, many Polish soldiers take part in military missions in the Middle East. During one of the missions Michael Ollis, an American soldier, volunteer from New York, was killed rescuing a Polish soldier, corporal Karol Cierpica. Ollis shielded his friend with his own chest when terrorists invaded the Polish-American base. This story is extremely sad, but it shows how tragedy can bring two nations together. After the heroic death of their son, Michael’s parents became very involved in the life of Polonia in America. They are always present during the celebration of Polish Independence Day, they established a charity fund honoring their son and organize a run that funds training for military dogs that support soldiers during the missions. In turn Corporal Cierpica named his son after Michael Ollis to honor this friend. We have a lot of heartwarming stories about Polish-American relations. Last year during meetings in Washington, I heard about several cases of extreme bravery, when American soldiers saved the lives of their colleagues from Poland and vice versa.
All these stories have military context, where people operate in completely different conditions. Can such fraternal relations be observed in other fields?
Most definitely. We have a very strong Polish community in the USA. Americans know Polish culture, wonderful cuisine and customs. In the last 30 years, when cooperation between universities strengthened and there are more and more scholarship programs, Poland has become an obligatory country to visit in Europe. Virtually every university that the Pilsudski Institute cooperates with organizes student trips to Poland. If there is a program about Central and Eastern Europe, their history, and business relations, students go to Europe and visit Poland. People who have visited Poland discover not only its beauty, but also wonderful people and the amazing potential that this country has to offer, especially when it comes to business.
Individual interpersonal contacts will give us a greater chance to achieve something great together. The visa waver will only deepen this relationship.
The main goal of Piłsudski Institute is historical education and preservation of Poland’s national heritage in the United States. Where did the idea for the Corporate Catalyst award for American companies come from?
This award is an opportunity for us to show to American business the potential of cooperation between our countries, to talk about brotherhood and what can come of it. Good business relations and responsible business perfectly stimulate the development of society also in areas other than economic. Good business models generate programs for youth, scholarships and internships. As in the case of GECP – your scholarship program, created with the support of the Polish-Slavic Federal Credit Union together with President Andrzej Duda, is an amazing opportunity for many young Americans to get to know Poland. Your EDC engineering center, in turn, is a unique organization that allows talented Polish engineers to work here on a global scale. You create experts who drive innovation around the world. This is the wonderful effect of synergy that arises in companies like yours. It’s good to talk show how much can we gain when we work together.