First we dream, then we execute — the makers between Warsaw and Berlin
Maciej is a straightforward guy in his mid-twenties. He is the co-founder of a creative volunteer tech group called “Dreamers & Executors”. We talk via Skype; me in my Berlin apartment with a carefully prepared list of questions, him sipping a soft drink in a Warsaw coffee place between two meetings. After a short while I notice that I could have as well prepared nothing — the outspoken Maciej does the entire job and answers most of my questions without even hearing them. He paints a picture of a community that wants to grow together while using technology to solve problems they see around.
The young Pole doesn’t lose any time and has an unstoppable desire to act and to learn. Between finishing his data science studies and doing an internship and consulting jobs in this field, together with his friends Norbert, Kacper, Tomek and Michał he coordinates the group that now consists of about 15 people spread between Warsaw, Berlin and Krakow. “Dreamers & Executors” came together to “create, learn and grow”, as they describe themselves on their website. People who want to do creative, impactful stuff. And who actually do it.
The group was originally supposed to be a place for learning about entrepreneurship but the founders quickly noticed that they would much rather create something real and useful than analyze theoretical case studies. And so they started to brainstorm.
The Dreamers were founded in October 2015 in Warsaw and just in January 2016 the friends could celebrate their first break-through. The first project of the group — Notifier (an online tool for terror risk mitigation) — brought the crew lots of attention after the presentation of the prototype and attracted new like-minded people to join in. Even the “Meetup” HQ in NYC featured the group as one of the most productive and awesome meetups on their main Facebook page and the Warsaw Career Days showcased them as a great example of a well-targeted and purpose-driven group.
Within the first couple of months several projects were born reaching from a portal for exchange students (“Exchangebuddy”), via compilation of pricing lessons for startups to a planned series of workshops for local entrepreneurs in Tanzania. The aspirations are big but so is the enthusiasm and determination of the group. Currently the Dreamers are planning to focus on 3 big one-time projects for the year, starting with the Tanzanian one.
Cutting edge world-improvers
When I asked Maciej about the common denominator for the projects he sat silently for a moment and then he said: “We definitely want to do things that are cutting edge. It is the ambition to make projects that will get noticed and improve the environment with the help of the newest tech.” So… modern world-improvers? Maciej explains: “In a way, yes. Dreamers want to be an example of the rise of social capital in Poland. This is a topic long neglected in the country where the raising capitalism naturally laid the main focus on human capital.”
Besides developing applications and international programs, the group wants to create projects that will draw attention to a problem, propose a solution and have a direct impact on the local environment. Maciej is hopeful but realistic:
“We want to approach community homes and organize coding workshops. I don’t have any illusions that this will open some incredible career paths and they will change their attitude. But if 1 out of 20 people will start to think differently and develop interests in the direction of creativity, we did our job. So in this sense yeah, this is our direct way of changing the world.”
People with a drive to act
Dreaming is a start but it is not enough. The projects need to happen (remember the “executors” part in the name?) so there is a plan and there are offline and online meetings where the members talk about progress and assign tasks. But just as making big things together the dreamers’ aspire to be a hub where people can come with their own ideas and make them happen. “I think we are a pretty pioneer group in a sense that we offer weekly meetings where people will support you and your project, give you very honest feedback and so on. Kind of a mastermind group” — stresses Maciej.
Friendship spirit and a common attitude are crucial aspects of the group. That is why Maciej doesn’t see everybody joining in — it needs to be genuinely like-minded people attracted to the group through its projects instead of a big PR. The main purpose isn’t networking after all. “They should have an urge to act and a strong belief that they can make things happen. We don’t care for as many people as possible, we have the freedom of not being sponsored by any company, so the only agenda we have is our own; we care for people who want to build a community. This group will be a vehicle that will help us push projects further. — says Maciej — It can be hard to find like-minded people in conventional ways. Here everybody does the things that he or she is best at and we all spend time with people that we enjoy spending time with”. For him, it’s a lifetime project: “This group is not for a year, next 5 years or till I’m successful. For me, this group is forever. When I will be 30 or 40 or 80 I will always need a support group around me, people who think alike. “
Life goes beyond work
Despite of its informal, “after hours” character the crew wants to work in a professional fashion; KPIs, timelines and commitment are commonly used words. But if you think it’s all “work, work, work”, you are wrong. The Dreamers are a bunch who likes to have fun and spend time together; most recently the group went hiking in Polish Tatra mountains. It binds people together and creates a team spirit you can’t always induce via Slack (a communicator for workplaces the group is using).
Living in Berlin for a long time and being used to almost cross-generational engagement (and OK, being over thirty myself) I couldn’t help noticing that almost all group members are in their twenties. Why is that, I asked Maciej. “The age really doesn’t play any role so for example I can very well imagine some 40 years old joining us. But the experience in Poland showed us that very often when pitching a group like this to people around thirty it is hard for them to understand the concept of the group, the idea that life goes beyond work. In Warsaw there are many hackathons, networking and startup events — but they are mostly about “fast gains”. No gain, no action.“ But Maciej knows that this is changing and Dreamers want to be a driving force in this change.
The Tanzanian project built by the Warsaw- Berlin connection
Although the founders are in charge of some major decisions, usually everything else is decided collaboratively. And so in February 2016 the group felt like it’s time to expand beyond Polish borders: “We wanted to get more inspiration and perspective. Berlin was a natural choice and we just went ahead and opened the group on Meetup“.- recalls Maciej.
This is how Alexandru joined in. Together with two other Berlin based members he regularly takes part in weekly meetings via Skype or in person when a meetup takes place in the German capital.
I meet him in a café near the startup where he works. Alexandru is a 30 years old eloquent engineer and MBA graduate from Romania with strong opinions and clear entrepreneurial goals targeted at re-defining the education system that he considers faulty. His study trip to South Africa sparked his interest in creating easily replicable programs with cheap infrastructure. So yeah, definitely a “Dreamer material”.
Once he arrived in Berlin 6 months ago he came across the group and saw a match immediately. Especially when among the projects presented at the first Berlin meetup he saw the educational project in Tanzania. “I thought “I can’t believe it already exists”, I don’t need to create it. So I joined immediately” — he added. Now Alexandru co-organises the series of workshops on digitals skills for local entrepreneurs in Africa:
“We are not looking to get paid for it, to make profit, we would rather prefer to have a group of people in Tanzania who really see the value in it and would like to keep it alive after our workshops. Like a team on site that grows by themselves afterwards. Maybe even an incubator at some point where local people can make their ideas happen. Simply help them out to build something.”
The group wants to focus on the project in the coming months. There is a big trip planned and lots of logistics to take care of. Also financing the activities is a problem to solve. The dreamers want to partner with small and middle-sized companies who would like to contribute to the project, they also think about launching a Kickstarter campaign. That is a lot to execute but the prerequisites seem to be there.
Nothing can go wrong
At the end of my Skype conversation I asked Maciej what he wishes for. Here is what he said:
“I wish that the group was recognizable by people who like to act. That we do projects we can be proud of. I wish that in 25 years or later we can look back and say that this group was one of the best decisions in our lives. The potential is there, we just need to keep the genuine friendship spirit alive. If this will work, nothing can go wrong.”