Polish smart power in terms of NGOs activity and intersections between development aid and public diplomacy


Intersections and links between public diplomacy and development aid have so far seldom been a subject of scientific analysis. Development aid as a component of niche diplomacy in the case of medium-sized countries, such as Poland, was eventually noticed by researchers of public diplomacy, and considered in terms of a state’s power. This article presents the results of a study whose goals were to find out in which areas Polish development aid and public diplomacy had common points, what the NGOs’ participation in both fields was, and whether the participation of the non-governmental sector in the implementation of development aid could itself be treated as public diplomacy. Subsequently, the study aimed to establish to what extent those possible common points, supported by NGOs’ activities, could become a Polish specialty, a niche that could be used by Poland in building its smart power. I claimed that public diplomacy is a form of political communication, used in the implementation of foreign policy, in cooperation with non-state actors, and in two contexts: building the image of the state and building its relationships with the international community; Whereas I understand development aid as the entire activity of the donor’s government for supporting developing countries, including humanitarian aid. The aid initiatives are carried out with non-state entities involvement; and the global education as a part of development cooperation is included here too. Referring my study’s assumptions to the concept of J. Pamment concerning three levels of intersections between public diplomacy and development aid, I divided Polish activity into development, humanitarian, and voluntary projects; branding, marketing, promotional and global education activities, and finally the discourse on projects and communication activities. Both public diplomacy and development aid were considered in terms of power. However in the case of development aid, both soft and hard resources were noticed, whereas in public diplomacy—only the soft ones. It prompted me to analyse both areas in terms of smart power, which—according to J.S. Nye’s concept—is understood here as the combination of hard and soft resources. To achieve that I found the methods such as foreign policy analysis (documents content analysis, institutional analysis), case study, desk research, as well as participant observation, to be very useful. It turned out that many areas in which Poland, after joining the European Union in 2004, could build its international social relationships within its smart power have already been taken over by more developed countries. Nevertheless, the results of the study proved that between 2004 and 2012 a successful transformation and democracy promotion became components of Poland’s narrative as a country of smart democratic changes, and Polish NGOs’ significantly participated these processes. Additionally, as a result of my study I proposed the possibility of examining both areas based on NGOs’ activity in terms of Polish smart power, also in the future.

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  1. 1.

    The current multiannual development cooperation programme for 2021-2030 is entitled “Solidarity for development”.

  2. 2.

    Priority countries of Polish Aid between 2004–2012: Afghanistan, Georgia, Moldova, Angola (2004–2011), Iraq (2004–2007), Vietnam (2004–2006), Palestinian Authority (2005–2012), Ukraine (2006–2012), Belarus (2006–2012), Armenia (2011–2012), Azerbaijan (2011–2012), Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (2012), Tanzania (2007–2008, 2012) and only in 2012: Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenia, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda. The ODA in 2012 was 0.09% DNB—1423 million PLN, of which bilateral assistance was 363 million PLN.

  3. 3.

    Apart from the Eastern Partnership countries, Polish NGOs conducted aid projects in Africa (14%), Latin and South America (3%), the Middle East (4%), Asia (6%), Balkans (2%), and others countries (Russia, Kazakhstan)—3%.

  4. 4.

    Lech Wałęsa was a leader of Solidarity, a pro-democratic movement that led to the end of the communist rule in Poland; Walęsa was the first democratically elected president of Poland from 1900 to 1995, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was mainly known as “Courier from Warsaw”, the emissary of the Home Army and the Polish Government in Exile in London, the participant of the Warsaw upspring, and the head of the Polish Section of Radio Free Europe.


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Zalas-Kamińska, K. Polish smart power in terms of NGOs activity and intersections between development aid and public diplomacy. Place Brand Public Dipl (2021). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41254-021-00198-3

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  • Polish aid
  • Public diplomacy
  • Ngos
  • Democracy promotion
  • Successful transformation