Seeking the Next Gear for a Country with 30 Years of Continuous Growth

Guest blog written by Jacek Kotrasinski 

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in July 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

Photo of Warsaw, Poland, by Jacek Kotrasiński 

Being from Poland, a country that recorded the unprecedented last 30 years of continuous economic growth, I came to the LEG Program to find out how to “Lead the Economic Growth” further. 

I have lived in exceptional times in Poland over the last 40 years. I witnessed the collapse of communism in 1989 and the country’s transformation into the market economy based on the neoliberal model. Then I experienced Poland’s economic growth and integration with the Western political and economic structures – the NATO and the European Union (EU) in the 2000s. And recently, after the 30 years of continuous growth, I can observe the extension of the social market economy and take part in the quest for becoming a high-income, innovation-based developed country, just like the most advanced economies of the EU and the West. 

Taking part in that history line also significantly influenced my career path. Being driven by the sense of public mission to help Poland’s socio-economic development, in the 2000s I became a civil servant. In my capacity as the Head of Unit for Strategic Management at Poland’s Ministry of Development, I worked on Poland’s most significant development strategies and investment programs. And now I am a non-profit leader and an independent expert further focused on fostering social and economic development of territories. 

The growth problem that I have been concerned about, and pursued during the LEG Program journey, was how Poland can sustain its growth towards the innovation-driven, developed economy. 

Over the last years, Poland has been one of the leaders in growth in Europe. Since the early 1990s, the Polish GDP has been constantly growing, being on the 2nd-longest growth line in the OECD, and having not suffered a recession even during the previous financial and economic crisis. After Poland joined the EU, between 2004-2019, the Polish GDP per head grew almost twice, and almost tripled since 1990. In the last few years, the Polish GDP growth rate was one of the highest in the EU, reaching over 5% annual rise in 2018. However, due to the COVID-19 crisis, the GDP for 2020 is forecasted to decline: according to the European Commission and the IMF by over -4% (still, the lowest decline in the EU), and according to the Polish government by over -3%. 

The problem matters because, based on the international and domestic statistics, Poland’s economy is upper-middle-income, and on the edge between being efficiency-driven and innovation-driven. According to the World Economic Forum, in 2018 Poland was ranked the 37th out of 140 countries studied in terms of global competitiveness and had the economy in transition to innovation-driven. And in London’s FTSE and German Stoxx indices in 2018 Poland was just upgraded from the “emerging market” to the “developed market” status. It is needless to say that the innovation-driven economies are world’s development leaders, have the highest social and economic advancement, offer “good jobs”, allow for wealth creation and accumulation, and provide the highest living standards for citizens. 

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