Connecting the Dots: Designing the future of pro bono

A Canadian reflection on the 2014 Global Pro Bono Summit

By Andrea Wong, Co-Founder & President, Endeavour

The 2nd annual Global Pro Bono Summit was held in San Francisco from February 24 to 27, 2014, and was co-hosted by Taproot Foundation and BMW Foundation. The summit brought together leaders from across sectors who share the vision of making the talents of the business community accessible to organizations serving the collective good. At this year’s summit there were Global Pro Bono Fellows from 14 countries: Canada, China, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Slovakia, Singapore, South Korea, and the US. The four-day intimate, invitation-only gathering engaged fellows in discussions on a range of topics, from building corporate partnerships to integrating the pro bono ethic into the HR, design and IT professions.

My expectations for the 2nd Global Pro Bono Summit were high. As shared in my reflections last year, I returned from the inaugural Global Pro Bono Summit in New York City empowered with ideas, connections and support to grow Endeavour’s impact in new ways. Within a year of participating in the first summit, Endeavour was able to pilot the Done-in-a-Day pro bono model in Canada in partnership with Capital One, lead the celebration of Pro Bono Week in Canada, crowdfund to pilot a pro bono readiness and project scoping workshop, and engage in cross-sector discussions on advancing the pro bono movement in Canada.

I came back from the second summit again feeling privileged and energized to be among a group of pioneers and leaders of such an inspiring vision and movement. What I love about this summit are the fresh insights, new connections and forward momentum that help advance pro bono locally and globally. While the results of participating in the second summit will take time to emerge, I am beginning to connect the dots between building a field, a marketplace and a movement to realize our shared vision.

Field Building: Legitimizing and professionalizing the field of pro bono

While we as pro bono intermediaries speak proudly of a growing global pro bono movement, the field of pro bono is still in its infancy and many outside the pro bono world are unaware of Taproot Foundation, the leading architect and voice of the global pro bono movement. This makes our field building work both challenging and exciting. During the summit’s Intermediary Day, which brought together 35 US intermediaries and global fellows, Taproot released The State of Intermediary-Led Pro Bono, based on survey responses from 43 intermediaries around the world, including Endeavour. The report illustrates the diversity of the intermediaries as well as common challenges we all face regardless of where we operate. The findings also help to identify opportunities for intermediaries to work together to strengthen our field, including using standard metrics, working on pro bono readiness and scaling smart.

Creating a strong field, however, requires leadership and grassroots support not only from intermediaries but also from professionals who can be ambassadors for pro bono within their professions and organizations. To this end, BMW Foundation held the 17th Transatlantic Forum  simultaneously with the 2014 Global Pro Bono Summit to bring together pro bono fellows with design, HR and IT professionals to explore how the pro bono ethic can become an integral part of the professional identify. A personal story by Michael Gough, Vice-President of Experience Design at Adobe, and a visit to the Children’s Creativity Museum exhibit designed pro bono by Adobe employees spoke to the power of engaging the design profession in pro bono. A workshop facilitated by Amanda MacArthur, Vice-President of Global Pro Bono and Engagement at PYXERA, on “Making the Case for HR” also illustrated pro bono as a powerful talent development tool.

Taproot and BMW Foundation have taken the first important step in bringing together intermediaries and professionals from around the world to spark field-changing ideas. As pioneers, it is our responsibility to lead the change. I believe the Global Pro Bono Fellows have stepped up to this challenge, as we gathered together one last time on Day 4 of the summit, setting standards and developing a code of ethics emerged as a hot topic and acknowledged as key to legitimizing and professionalizing pro bono as a field. I’m happy to say that Endeavour has also taken the first step in engaging the HR profession to become an advocate for pro bono – a participant I met in the Transatlantic Forum is now a volunteer on an Endeavour pro bono engagement!

Market Building: Creating a large, accessible and professional pro bono marketplace

A common challenge in the non-profit sector is scaling what works. One of the key learnings from the first and second summits is that scaling pro bono and impact does not necessarily mean expanding an existing program or organization – it can come in many different forms that address different needs and resources. For example, while both Endeavour and Taproot started by offering six-month pro bono engagements, both organizations have since introduced one-day pro bono models that tackle bite-sized challenges or scope out projects for future pro bono engagements. Through new partnerships, Taproot has also been able to leverage online platforms, including LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace and Google Helpouts, to connect non-profits with pro bono consultants.

Taproot has achieved tremendous success in the US, with five offices across the country. However, instead of going global to scale pro bono and impact, it took a more pragmatic approach by partnering with BMW Foundation to foster and support a network of independent pro bono intermediaries like Endeavour already working in local communities around the world. During the summit, Taproot’s new President and CEO, Liz Hamburg, made an exciting announcement that in partnership with HP, Citi Foundation and Kresge Foundation, they are kicking off the development of a global online pro bono marketplace. The goal is to build a pro bono marketplace that, like philanthropy, is large, transparent, professional and accessible.

Recognizing that an online tool on its own is not enough to create a marketplace to increase access and scale the impact of pro bono, intermediaries are also focused on creating supply and demand. There must also be a market of pro bono intermediaries and a supply of pro bono consultants oriented to work with the non-profit sector along with demand by non-profit leaders who are prepared to engage effectively with pro bono consultants. Endeavour is excited to pilot a pro bono readiness and project scoping workshop this year to address the aspect of readiness, but to build the pro bono marketplace in Canada, we need to collaborate not only with Taproot but also to forge new partnerships in Canada.

Movement Building: Driving social change across countries and continents

The summit has the power to connect intermediaries from different countries to build a pro bono movement that spans across continents. This became evident during a morning session on Day 1 of the summit when the fellows were grouped by continent and tasked with developing a proposal for a potential corporate partner. The European intermediaries ended up plotting the formation of a coalition to collectively advance pro bono in Europe, and the Asian intermediaries banded together in a plan to approach a company as a pack. Unlike the Europeans and Asians, however, the Americans and Canadians focused on the assigned task at hand – the proposal contents. Certainly the North American group was benefiting from the discussion at hand so didn’t stray from the task, but like the Europeans and Asians, I would love to engage my peers in discussions on how we can take collective action to advance the pro bono movement in North America.

Interestingly, the collective approach by the intermediaries in Europe and Asia on Day 1 manifested itself again on Day 3 during the plenary where participants were invited to pitch pro bono commitments. Pledge boards were set up for Europe, Asia, Canada and the US. Pledges were made for a European Coalition and an Asia Pro Bono Forum. I’m pleased to say that the intermediaries from Canada did step up to make a collective pledge to tap into the global network to drive the pro bono movement in Canada, and immediately one of Taproot’s corporate partners in the US offered to connect us with its office in Canada.

The fact that the US and Canada were not represented as one North American continent during the plenary is perhaps a reflection of land mass, cultural differences, tradition, and the different stages that the US and Canada intermediaries are at. It is important to acknowledge that Canada and the US are different, but at the same time, we share many things in common – the English language, companies that operate in both markets, cultural similarities, the Canada-US border, and the need and desire for a pro bono marketplace, just to name a few. These commonalities provide great opportunities for Canada and the US to work more closely together. Acting with our neighbours, we can build a powerful pro bono movement and thriving pro bono marketplace not just in our own countries, but also across all of North America, Europe, Asia and the world!

Click here to view Endeavour’s 2014 Global Pro Bono Summit photo album.

Global Pro Bono Fellows at the 2014 Global Pro Bono Summit, San Francisco, February 24-27:

Global Pro Bono Fellows at the 2014 Global Pro Bono Summit, San Francisco, February 24-27:
Ashoka, Canada; Bridge, Singapore; Conjunct Consulting, Singapore; Endeavour, Canada; Empact, Singapore; Ghadan, Saudi Arabia; Huizeren, China; Inspiring Scotland, United Kingdom; National Volunteer Centre, Hungary; Passerelles & Compétences, France; Pontis, Slovakia; Proboneo, Germany; Pro Bono Lab, France; PYXERA Global, US; Service Grant, Japan; Social Entrepreneurs Agency, Portugal; Social Enterprise Support Network, South Korea; Spark, Canada; Stichting Laluz, The Netherlands; Taproot Foundation, US.

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