Speak to TFAS alumnus Jacek Spendel (AIPES 08, CSF 09) for even a moment and his passion for liberty and his motivation to serve as a bridge between his home nation of Poland and the United States are clear. From serving as president of a liberty-focused club as a student to creating a program for Eastern European youth to experience the American freedom movement firsthand, Spendel has dedicated most of his nearly boundless energy to creating lasting ties between the Polish and American liberty-movement communities. Ever since his first encounter with TFAS as a college student in 2008, his TFAS knowledge and contacts have been with him every step of his journey.
As a student at the University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland in 2005, Spendel became involved in the KoLiber association, a Polish nonpartisan youth group dedicated to classical liberal ideas, free-market economics and traditional values. Soon he was serving as the president of one of the association’s 25 chapters in Poland. The ideas of classical liberalism and free-market economics so inspired him, he knew he wanted to increase and deepen his involvement. So, he began searching for opportunities beyond Poland and stumbled upon the TFAS American Institute on Political and Economic Systems (AIPES) in Prague.
“AIPES was very international and exposed me to the freedom movement beyond Poland,” Spendel said. “What I encountered and saw in Prague was even better than I predicted or expected. We had an amazing crew. It was a very, very high-quality education and quite demanding, but that’s good. I learned things I did not learn in Poland that were connected to the American political system, like the Federalist Papers, the important Supreme Court cases – all the things that make the U.S. unique.”
Spendel was excited to find the program attracted students from all over. His classmates came from nearly 25 nations and Spendel was happy for the exposure to their cultures and viewpoints, inside and outside the classroom. He finished the program with friends from all over the world and a hunger for even more knowledge – which he would later feed with other TFAS programs.
In 2009, with work on his sociology master’s degree in Poland winding down, Spendel decided he wanted one more educational experience before he moved into his full-time career. He applied to the TFAS Capital Semester Fall program in Washington, D.C. Spendel knew the TFAS program was highly competitive, so he was gratified when his application was accepted and he was invited to join TFAS for a semester in D.C.
Capital Semester was a very deep, important and earth-shaking experience. I learned more in four months than I learned in five years of study in Poland. It was very demanding, but I had the feeling I was learning things that have importance.”
– Jacek Spendel (AIPES 08, CSF 09)
“TFAS is an extraordinary institution,” Spendel commented, “linking high-quality education with international outreach and truly necessary professional skills. So, I was very happy to get accepted. It was unexpected, so it was great news.”
“Capital Semester was a very deep, important and earth-shaking experience,” he continued. “I learned more in four months than I learned in five years of study in Poland. It was very demanding, but I had the feeling I was learning things that have importance.”
As in AIPES, Spendel found rigorous coursework, diverse and engaged classmates, bountiful networking opportunities and passionate professors, like Dr. Thomas Rustici – who remains one of his favorite teachers of all time. Spendel said, “I really admired the way he taught economics, his passion for it and his dedication to free-market values and freedom principles.”
As part of the program, TFAS secured an internship for Spendel in the public affairs department of the Eastman Kodak company, which often sent him to Capitol Hill for Senate and House hearings. His duty was to listen for discussion of policies that could affect the company, take notes and report back. The company gained valuable and timely information, and Spendel gained invaluable experience and networking opportunities.
Applying the Lessons of Liberty
At the end of Capital Semester, Spendel was ready to hit the ground running as a player in the freedom movement in Poland. He returned home and took a full-time job as a project manager at the Globalization Institute, a think tank in Poland. There, he rounded out the experiences he needed to eventually strike off on his own and found the nonprofit Freedom and Entrepreneurship Foundation (FEF). Established in 2012, FEF is dedicated to advancing free markets, individual liberty, limited government and entrepreneurship by cultivating liberty-oriented leaders. Spendel credits TFAS with some of the connections that allowed him to become successful in his career and launch his own nonprofit.
“The entire TFAS experience made me believe in myself more and gave me positive outcomes,” he emphasized.
At FEF, Spendel has been able to design programs like the Polish-American Leadership Academy, an online or in-person program to prepare young leaders for their future careers.
“It is a broad, structured program for young leaders who want to achieve success in their future life,” explained Spendel. “Whether it is in academia, the think tank work, political work or journalism, we are there to give them tools and knowledge that will help them to be better prepared and understand the ideas of liberty, free-market economics and the ethical grounds of these positions. We also teach the top tools, like speaking and negotiation abilities.”
So far, 11 classes have graduated through the FEF programs and there are 1,500 alumni of the online and in-person courses. Spendel is gratified that the alumni so far are very active and stay in touch with each other. Through the FEF, he has been able to offer the most promising alumni extra internship opportunities and seminars, to help them advance even faster in their career tracks.
Earlier this year, he was named chief operating officer of the Language of Liberty Institute, an Arizona-based nonprofit that organizes Liberty Camps in developing countries. In addition to his COO role, Spendel has also led the organization’s Liberty Camps in Poland since 2008 where European youth learn about freedom and the English language, preparing them for international education and career opportunities in the future.
The FEF has also moved into filmmaking, starting when Spendel and his team won the Freedom Forum’s 2013 “Think Tank Shark Tank” contest and received $25,000 to produce a film series. Drawing their inspiration from the reporting style of American television personality, libertarian pundit and TFAS award recipient, John Stossel, Spendel and his team created the 12-episode short film series “Freedom Under Fire,” exploring current liberty topics. They produced 10 episodes with the prize money, then successfully crowdfunded to produce two more.
Flush with the warm reception they received with “Freedom Under Fire,” Spendel and the FEF team produced a full-length film, “The Forgotten History of the Krakow School of Economics,” and are now raising funds for a film on the Austrian economist, Ludwig von Mises.
From Participant to Creator
While the launch and expansion of FEF have kept him very busy and provided constant avenues for challenging himself, Spendel has still found time to continue his own education and enrichment. He participated in the 2014 “Liberty from Locke to Hayek” Curriculum of Liberty Seminars program, which TFAS offered in Athens, Greece in partnership with Liberty Fund, Inc.
Then, since he was running a foundation with “entrepreneurship” in its title and talking so much about the importance of business, Spendel decided he needed to understand that topic more deeply – so he opened a pizzeria in his hometown.
“I didn’t have any entrepreneurship experiences,” he said, laughing, “so I decided to have one! I’m very glad to have had this experience. I know much more what it means to run a business now, so I can be more vocal when it comes to talking about taxes and regulations.”
After four successful years in business, with a brick-and-mortar restaurant and a food truck, too, Spendel was able to sell the business to focus on FEF. The restaurant remains open to this day. He is delighted the new owner kept the same recipe for the pizza – and even kept the name of the shop – so every time Spendel returns home, he can enjoy a slice of his own delicious pizza again.
Influenced by the educational track of Capital Semester, Spendel also started Ph.D. studies in political philosophy at Jagiellonian University. He was able to achieve the level of ABD, studying the American freedom and limited-government movement prior to WWI.
Now that he is again focusing on growing the FEF, Spendel is pouring his energy into a new initiative, Project Arizona. While interning at the Goldwater Institute early in his career and organizing a number of Liberty Camps with the Language of Liberty Institute more recently, Spendel grew inspired by the well-organized and thriving liberty movement he saw in Phoenix. The idea began growing in his mind to bring European students to Arizona to take advantage of all the opportunities the state provided.
I was inspired in a big way by TFAS in D.C. TFAS identifies necessary things. It gives young folks tools, knowledge and experience they can later implement in their lives and the lives of their communities, when they become successful.”
– Jacek Spendel (AIPES 08, CSF 09)
“I like what’s happening here,” Spendel said of Phoenix, where he now spends a good amount of time. “People migrate to Arizona because of the businesses growing here and there are freedoms in Arizona that aren’t enjoyed in other states. I wanted to share this experience and this institutional thread. We are bringing kids from many countries to inspire them with this powerful example of freedom in action.”
When designing the Project Arizona program, Spendel drew inspiration from the TFAS programs he attended and incorporated internships, educational programs and networking opportunities. In the classroom, the Project Arizona students study politics, history, economics and leadership. Outside, they intern at think tanks, law firms and private companies while enjoying plenty of opportunities to network.
“We put a big stress on networking. They meet a lot of business people, people from politics, from the think-tank world, the people who are key figures in Arizona, to see how they achieve what they achieved in their lives, so the students can see these powerful examples – and that makes a difference.”
“It’s like TFAS in Arizona,” Spendel said. “I was inspired in a big way by TFAS in D.C. TFAS identifies necessary things. It gives young folks tools, knowledge and experience they can later implement in their lives and the lives of their communities, when they become successful.”
In 2017, Project Arizona hosted and graduated its first six students, and Spendel is ready to build on that groundwork. Equipped with his TFAS education, diverse life experiences and his broad network all over the world, Spendel is leading the Freedom and Entrepreneurship Foundation with zeal, while continuing on his own TFAS Journey.
TFAS50 in Warsaw
During the full year of celebrations surrounding the TFAS 50th anniversary in 2017, Spendel heard that alumni all over the world were throwing parties to honor the occasion, bringing people together whose lives had been touched by TFAS. He was immediately interested and volunteered to host a party in Poland.
The “Celebrating 50 Years of TFAS” party in Warsaw took place in late November 2017. Spendel arranged to use the newly renovated KoLiber office in the city and invited the president of the association to make remarks at the gathering. Spendel also played the video of TFAS President Roger Ream’s speech at the 50th Anniversary Gala on Sept. 28, 2017 during the gathering. As with other anniversary celebrations, TFAS provided a box of goodies for the party – 50th anniversary commemorative cups and decorations – to liven up the scene. Fifteen alumni attended and enjoyed the evening’s food, drink, intellectual discussion and networking. Spendel said, “We definitely managed to mix both these ingredients: ideas and a good time.”
TFAS is striving to bring more Polish students to the U.S. and Prague for an education in liberty and free-market economics. The Rowny Paderewski Scholarship and the Lady Blanka Rosenstiel Scholarship Fund are two endowments working to make that possible. If you would like to help sustain and expand these scholarships at TFAS and provide future leaders of Poland with an unparalleled academic and professional experience, please visit our donation form and write “Rowny Paderewski Scholarship Fund” or “Lady Blanka Rosenstiel Scholarship Fund” in the “Designee” field.