The Power to Change Societies for the Better

Learnings from the 5th Global Pro Bono Summit


20 Mar 2017 | Derk Norde | Pro bono and Engagement

Last week, a group of over 100 people from five continents could be seen happily strolling the picturesque streets and ancient buildings of Lisbon, Portugal. They were pro bono intermediaries and interested affiliates from all over the world, who had come together for the 5th Global Pro Bono Summit.

The Summit is a yearly event of the Global Pro Bono Network, which was started five years ago by the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt, the Taproot Foundation, and a handful of pro bono intermediaries, who recognized the potential for skill-based volunteering as a powerful change agent. They decided to get together and start sharing best practices to accelerate the growth and impact of the pro bono movement together.

My first Global Pro Bono Summit

Although it was my first time at the Summit and I came mostly to listen and learn, the crowd felt very familiar. It was eye-opening to compare stories and practices with other pro bono evangelists from all over the world, and I sensed a geeky type of satisfaction in sharing common language with like-minded representatives from Germany, India or China. I imagine this is how people must feel at those Global Star Trek Conventions!

Having so many passionate people together, many new professional and personal relationships were formed that will undoubtedly extend beyond this summit. Here are my 6 takeaways from the 5th Global Pro Bono Summit:

  • Pro bono as a tool for change is just getting started. As diverse as we are, we all share a common mission that is based on the power of transformation we’ve witnessed through pro bono engagements – the individual transformation of the lives of those who donate their time and skills, and of those who are on the receiving end. In growing the movement and incorporating pro bono in our organizations in a more systemic way, we believe in the power to change societies for the better, whether it’s in the non-profit, business or political arenas.

  • Shared challenges deserve shared solutions. Many pro bono intermediaries face very similar processes and challenges. This is reassuring in one way, but also begs the question of how we can best join forces and resources if many of those challenges lead to convergent solutions. As the network exists to connect, mobilize and equip each other, there are many best practices to share that eventually will benefit all, increasing the overall pro bono pie and quality of our services.

  • “Pick your rabbit hole.” There are many different ways to determine which causes to support, how to best match people to organizations, and how to keep track of it all. There is no single one best way, but the most important is to start doing something and then keep improving on it. For example, some organizations run timely campaigns by rallying multi-sectoral stakeholders around a common cause (e.g., youth unemployment or cleaning up the oceans), while other organizations pick a specific sector for a longer period of time and offer more specialized types of support. Both can work well!

  • Building effective partnerships is hard. Partnerships come in every shape and form, and it’s a term that’s very loosely used. However, developing a partnership to its full potential requires a sustained mutual value creation. This is not easy, especially if your counterpart is far away, has a different (corporate) culture and other solutions for the same problem. A Global Summit is a great starting point to dive beyond the surface of partnership development and really get to know each other. Taking the time to explore each other’s differences and similarities drives real insight and creates opportunities for better, more lasting partnerships.

  • Networks thrive on trust. For a network to function optimally, its members need to both contribute and benefit from it. That means, it needs a governance model that optimizes for (democratic) participation and initiative, provides the right checks and balances, and is also able to make decisions. Collective ownership is hard, and the first step is trust and open communication between its members. As a young global network, we can learn from how other successful networks operate and also look into online collaboration tools that enable effective communication, provide models for P2P decision-making, and more.

  • Internet technology is indispensable for pro bono intermediaries in the 21st century. By keeping up to date with the latest tech developments and sharing best practices, we can all be more effective in operating at scale. An overview of existing solutions and their customizability and availability would help many network members to make more informed decisions about when and how to invest in their technology and platforms.