Tarnow, Poland: Interviews

dorota wielgusDorota Wielgus


Dorota Wielgus is married and has two children. One of her sons is studying law at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and the other one attends high school in Tanow. Dorota’s husband works in energy and gas works in Warsaw while she is "doing her own thing" – which means managing her business, managing the household, and participating in various social initiatives. She likes to travel and does it whenever she can. She also enjoys skiing.

In February 2011, Dorota was recognized as one of the prominent citizens in the Tarnow, Malopolska region. A book by local author, Krzysztofa Bik-Jurkow entitled "Ordinary, Yet Uncommon Vol. III" presented profiles and interviews of several "ordinary" yet "uncommon" residents of the city; among them, Dorota was singled out as an individual who had a significant impact on the life of the city due to her business activities. This is how the author introduced Dorota: "The only woman in Malopolska region who is acting as a housing developer... A small-size woman engaged in a typically male-dominated line of business who is not afraid to take risks. She prepares investment plans with utmost precision. As director of the Agency to Support Housing Initiatives –AWIM-Tarnow, Dorota exemplifies the ability to listen to those for whom, and with whom she is building homes."


Among recipients of ‘ORDINARY, YET UNCOMMON’ awards of 2011, Wielgus was recognized as ‘the only woman in Malopolska region who operates a housing development business’ (2011).

Dorota: I joined CHF International’s training program in 1997. The local government of the city of Tarnow made contact with CHF and, attracted by its housing training program, organized a competition to find a leader to manage it. I took part in that competition and won.

Over the course of the program we were all asked to establish our own firms, so in December 1997, I registered the AWIM as a business with economic activity as its specified profile.

To date, I have constructed 387 housing units, including single-family homes and apartmemnts. In the first years leading the AWIM, I facilitated establishing two housing cooperatives (HCs): Nad Stawkiem and Oaza. With these two cooperatives we completed the following projects:

  • As HC Nad Stawkiem, in years 1997-2000: two multi-family buildings with 64 apartments;
  • As HC Oaza:
    • In years 1999-2000: two single-family homes (duplexes);
    • 2001-2002: a complex of multi-family buildings with 23 apartments and six single-family row houses;
    • 2003-2004: a multi-family building with 18 apartments.

Later, between 2001 and 2003, as manager of a multi-family investment project in the city of Krakow, I built 65 apartments.

And in 2004, after I re-registered AWIM as a partnership and commenced activities as a private developer, I completed the following projects:  

  • In two phases between 2004 and 2006: a multi-family building with 65 apartments;
  • 2006-2008: 17 single-family homes;
  • 2007-2011: in two phases, five multi-family buildings with 90 apartments;
  • 2010-2011: two buildings with eight apartments;
  • 2012-2014: four single family homes;
  • 2014-2016: one multi-family building with 23 apartments;
  • And at this time we are preparing for the construction of 14 single-family homes and one multi-family building with eight apartments.

All-together, many families benefitted. It is hard to say how many, exactly, but I think quite a few.

Multi-family housing residences are still the most popular type of development in Tarnow (2012).

Why do I think our projects and business succeeded? I did not really think about it too much but it is possible that my success was due to my entering a completely new branch of business, one I did not know. My motto has always been: follow through to a successful finish once you decide to do something. So I always try to accomplish a task with a success and in a positive manner.

Looking back at the 17 years which passed since the program’s closure in 2000, there are certain aspects of that program that proved the most useful. For me, personally, this program was extremely helpful because I was entering a new branch of business. I studied economy but decided to enter housing construction…  So this was a huge change for me, a jump into a different branch of business. I learned a lot from Americans. I see myself as a solid detail-oriented person, but CHF colleagues surprised me by their own solidity, strong work ethics and high expectations. Each training session was prepared to coincide with a particular stage of project development. After participating in a session, I came back from Warsaw to Tarnow to apply this theoretical knowledge in practice and over the next days I had to prepare a detailed report on what I did, why I did it, and how I was able to meet challenges I met.

Including 113 units built by cooperatives NAD STAWKIEM and OAZA, AWIM-Tarnow can boast of 387 new units (2017).

In the Polish context, there were lots of challenges. Organizing construction through a cooperative, in my view was a mistake. No one wants to work for free, without remuneration, but this was expected within the framework of a cooperative project. So, after the first project was finished, members quickly concluded that they could make money on this. They did not dissolve the cooperative, although often acted without following the rules. At that moment I withdrew. I helped to establish two cooperatives and this was it, as soon as I learned the true intention of the board and the oversight committee, I withdrew.

Today, I continue to build new houses and apartments in Tarnow, although lately I have also started to manage properties which I have built. I also completed studies required to become a real estate sales agent but I do not quite see a future for myself in that area.

You are asking about how was I, a woman, adjusting to and finding my way in the male-dominated profession. Well, there were a few "bumps" in the road. Generally, I have to be resistant to "sweet-talking" collaborators – they tend to tell me tall tales, pay compliments, etc. But this is really a "smoke-screen" to hide their own interests. I am not particularly vain so complements do not affect me. Work is work. I stand firmly with my feet on the ground. I am responsible for all of my team, for my family, for the Agency, and for each investment project. After all, clients pay and work hard to get an apartment, and their trust in AWIM-Tarnow cannot turn out to be misplaced. I think that high quality and rock-solid adherence to implementation procedures are key. Good reputation on the market also helps in developing your firm.