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2013 Global Pro Bono Summit: Taking pro bono to the next level in Canada June 6th, 2013


Written by Andrea Wong
President, Endeavour Volunteer Consulting for Non-Profits (Endeavour)
Global Pro Bono Fellow

Back in February of this year I had the honour of representing Endeavour and Canada in the first-ever Global Pro Bono Summit in New York City. Co-hosted by Taproot Foundation and BMW Foundation, the four-day summit was an invitation-only annual convening bringing together pro bono leaders – both non-profit intermediaries and corporations – to connect and collaborate to advance the global pro bono movement.

As a Global Pro Bono Fellow, what did I take away from the summit? New connections, great ideas, and inspiration. I returned home energized and motivated by the people I met, the things I learned, and the opportunities I saw. At the end of the summit, all participants received a sketch of ourselves (by Taproot CEO/artist, Aaron Hurst), recognizing each of us as a Pro Bono Pioneer. Being recognized as a pioneer is empowering. It also comes with a sense of duty and commitment to create change, which often doesn’t happen without its own challenges.

Since the summit, I’ve been busy engaging in conversations with new contacts and building on new ideas. I’m delighted to share some highlights (on Facebook), and to reflect on what I’ve taken away from the Global Pro Bono Summit and what it means for Endeavour in Canada.

Building a movement

To achieve large-scale change and impact through pro bono and skills-based volunteerism, we need to change the way professionals and businesses think and act. Pro bono has long been associated with the legal profession, but that’s changing. Taproot Foundation and BMW Foundation, along with corporate leaders and a Billion+Change, are pioneering a movement – instilling the pro bono ethic in business professionals and mobilizing billions of dollars in pro bono service. More than 200 companies in the U.S. have pledged to provide pro bono programs in the Billion+Change White House campaign. Corporate leaders, like American Express, HP and Deloitte, to name a few, have partnered with Taproot Foundation to formally engage employees in volunteering by sharing their professional skills with non-profit organizations. The architecture and design profession in the U.S. is delivering an estimated $42 million in pro bono services annually through the 1% program, which challenges architecture and design firms nationwide to pledge a minimum of 1% of their time to pro bono service.

The pro bono movement spans the globe, with companies like Accenture, HP and Société Générale partnering with Pro Bono Lab in France, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs and Panasonic working with Service Grant Japan, and IBM, Intel and PricewaterhouseCoopers partnering with Huizeren in China. In Canada, Endeavour is collaborating with leading multinational pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca, to engage employees in volunteer consulting with the company’s charitable partners. While pro bono in Canada has yet to reach the height of what it is in the U.S. or overseas, it is clear from the hundreds of professionals that have volunteered and applied to volunteer with Endeavour that there is a growing demand among Canadian employees for skills-based volunteer opportunities. Instead of painting walls and planting trees, imagine how much professionals can contribute by helping a non-profit with strategic planning or a marketing strategy to increase their impact in the community.

Endeavour is part of an emerging global pro bono movement that is gaining strength in the U.S. and abroad. How do we bring the movement to Canada? To start, we have been engaging in conversations with corporate leaders who have expressed interest in bringing pro bono to their Canadian employees. These companies are already doing pro bono in the U.S. and recognize the business value of pro bono. These conversations are an exciting step forward in taking pro bono to the next level in Canada.

Adapting different models

The Global Pro Bono Summit gave exposure to the different models through which professionals are engaging in pro bono around the world. One particularly interesting model with potential to engage groups of professionals here in Canada is the “marathon” model. Similar to Endeavour’s non-profit case competition, the marathon model is an intense, short-term (e.g. one day) pro bono engagement. It provides professionals and companies with a taste of pro bono without the time-intensive commitment of a six-month consulting engagement, while still delivering benefits to the non-profit. In France, Pro Bono Lab has successfully held dozens of marathons with leading companies, and has recently expanded to engage business school students in pro bono projects with professionals through Campus Pro Bono. In the U.S. CreateAThon has been successfully holding marathons since 1998, with marketing, advertising and public relations firms providing pro bono services during a 24-hour creative blitz. Taproot has also done marathons with companies like American ExpressCitiDeloitte and HP.

Another effective model used by pro bono intermediaries from around the world is matchmaking. Although the matchmaking intermediary doesn’t usually get involved in project management, its potential to scale impact is much greater as a result of focusing its resources on matchmaking. For example, Catchafire in the U.S., an online matchmaker for non-profits and skilled volunteers, had 10,000 volunteers and 2,500 organizations signed up within its first three years. Public Architecture also provides online matchmaking, with more than 1000 architecture and design firms across the U.S. having already pledged their time through the 1% program.

There are other proven pro bono models used by corporate leaders. If we want to engage more companies and their employees in a pro bono movement in Canada, we need to explore and experiment with different models of engagement, while leveraging existing processes and local expertise. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but there’s also no need to reinvent the wheel. Global Pro Bono Fellows and pro bono leaders from the U.S. have developed models with proven success that can be adopted and adapted to our specific context. Whichever model is used, the most important thing to keep in mind is that in the end it must be able to deliver impact to the non-profit and the community it serves.

Acting locally, collaborating globally

It is encouraging and exciting to know that we are not alone in our mission to strengthen our communities by making the skills of professionals accessible to non-profit organizations. We are part of an emerging global pro bono movement. Perhaps the most significant impact of the Global Pro Bono Summit is that it has created a global network and platform for Pro Bono Fellows, pro bono intermediaries and corporate leaders around the world to connect and collaborate to advance our shared mission in our own communities. Since the summit, I’ve connected with the Global Pro Bono Fellows, Taproot Foundation, U.S. pro bono intermediaries and corporate leaders to continue our conversations, learning, sharing and collaborations. I look forward to reconvening at the 2014 Global Pro Bono Summit in San Francisco to spark new ideas and collaborations, and to keep the momentum going.

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