Pro Bono in Canada

SiG Note: This article was originally published on the Toronto+Acumen blog.  It has been cross-posted with permission from the author. 

October 23-29 was Global Pro Bono Week! The week is a global campaign that celebrates the thousands of professionals who volunteer their skills and professional expertise to support non-profits all around the world. The global pro bono movement has long been ignited and attracts new international partners every year.

Source: http://www.probonoweek.org/

What exactly is Pro Bono?

As defined by the Taproot Foundation (a global expert in pro bono), pro bono is “using a volunteer’s core professional skills to provide free professional expertise to organizations serving the public good’.

Pro bono is a subset of skilled volunteering that gives non-profits access to business and legal skills and experience as needed, , such as developing and implementing new business strategies or improving organizational infrastructure.

For example, volunteering  one’s management consulting experience to increase donations for a food bank would be a pro bono service. Volunteering at a local food bank’s kitchen to collect or distribute food would be what the Taproot Foundation describes as hands-on volunteerism.

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Source: Taproot Foundation

What is being done around the world?

In 2015, there were 50 events hosted in 19 countries by 27 organizations during Global Pro Bono Week. Examples of events include seminars, information sessions, pro bono ‘speed dating’ and pro bono ‘marathons’ (similar in structure to tech hackathons).

Examples of events from this year’s Global Pro Bono Week include:

France – Intercompany Pro Bono Marathon, hosted by Pro Bono Lab

Pro Bono Lab organised a large Pro Bono Marathon, teaming employees from 10 companies to support 10 non-profit organisations with capacity building services (such as consultancy in finance, strategy, management, marketing, communication, law or web).

India – Online tools to Work smarter – get your answers now!

This session highlighted online tools that help non-profits optimize their time and resources. The session focused on free tools for project management –  tools that help create and capture data/reports and present them in a creative manner.

Canada – Canadian Pro Bono Tweet Up

On Monday, October 24th, there was a virtual discussion of pro bono giving in Canada with corporate and social profit leaders from across the country.

Check out more tweets from this national conversation here!

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Why should you get involved?

It is becoming abundantly clear that pro bono work benefits all involved. For professional service companies, there are endless reports depicting the value that pro bono opportunities have on attracting, retaining and engaging talented workforces (especially millennials), as well as enhancing brand and public relations. The following report details a strong business case for pro bono services, as well as case studies). Moreover:

 

Pro bono can also be immensely useful for developing  business innovations. Innovation has been described as “the application of knowledge in a novel way”. As pro bono engagements are an opportunity for employees to apply their skills in a different environment, it can be thought of as a catalyst for innovative thinking.

“Our fellows not only provide value for society at large, but also gain global perspectives, new ideas, and skill sets that ultimately inform business innovation.” – Robert L. Mallett. Previously President of the Pfizer Foundation.

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Source: Business Value of Pro Bono Source: Taproot Foundation

What is next?

Many leading Canadian organizations are convening together to spark a pro bono movement that can grow and scale throughout Canada. While there a strong volunteerism culture in Canada, there still exists an immense opportunity to deliver high-quality, high-impact pro bono services to social change organizations.

“Volunteering continues to be fundamental to Canadian society with more than 13 million volunteers contributing more than 2.1 billion volunteer hours annually (equivalent to 1.1 million jobs).” – Statscan

There are a plethora of ways one can develop and engage with the pro bono marketplace in Canada. One can work with their organizational leaders in implementing a company wide pro bono program, work individually on pro bono engagements, or help with advocacy efforts.

Within Toronto, Endeavour is a fantastic resource for those wishing to engage in pro bono projects. We also encourage you to visit Taproot’s website to learn more about pro bono. We are also seeking champions to help grow the pro bono movement and marketplace on a national scale (contributing to a variety of initiatives, including needs assessment, corporate & non-profit engagement, awareness building).

If you are interested in this, please feel free to contact Allyson Hewitt (‎Senior Fellow, Social Innovation – ‎MaRS Discovery District), at ahewitt@marsdd.com. You can also follow her on twitter @AllysonHewitt and #ProBonoCDN for more updates on Canadian pro bono.

Empathy – a key element for systems change

Several weeks ago, I joined SiG@MaRS as a summer intern. It’s been an enthralling ride, being ingrained in a radical environment that serves as a catalyst for both whole systems change and monumental social innovation.

I recently had the opportunity to attend a workshop on Deepening Community for Collective Impact, presented by Paul Born– President of the Tamarack Institute and a senior Ashoka fellow.

At first, I wasn’t quite clear on how attempts at deepening community fit into the efficacious and potent world of systems change. It is abundantly clear that creating resilient, inclusive communities is a necessity in our global conversations…as fear is running rampart in our society, dictating our political and economic landscapes. However, I was still uncertain how these two topics fit together.

To me, community has a loose definition, that strikes a different image for everyone. Some define their community as a weekly hockey game with co-workers, while for others it is group of Ugandan farmers partnered together in microfinance loans, and some may derive their sense of community from gang associations. Paul does not believe that a common definition is effective for community, as the experience of engaging with communities is highly contextual, individualized and richly diverse. That said, there is a word that epitomizes any community…which is belonging.

“Community has the power to change everything. No amount of innovation, individual brilliance, or money can transform our broken society as effectively and sustainably as building community.”

– John Kania, Managing Director, FSG; founder of the Collective Impact Movement.

As the day progressed, we shared our stories and aspirations for what a strong community can be, and what it can bring. An appreciation was emerging as we were understanding the radical systematic shifts that could arise from not only creating, but deepening community.

community

Source: Pixabay

Creating community is about building inclusivity. It’s about hearing the voiceless, and ensuring that they are understood. The conversation can’t be monopolized by the strongest or most visible; everyone needs a chance to be heard. A community becomes truly resilient and innovative when it recognizes, understands and embraces the diversity and vulnerability of its population.

“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”

– Jane Addams, Author; Nobel Peace Prize winner (1931)

Some may simplify deepening community to the golden rule of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. In grand discussions of systems change and policy innovations, some may believe deepening community doesn’t belong in the same dialogue. If such is the case, perhaps we need to recognize a key outcome of deepening community is empathy. Can’t empathy be thought of as the fuel for the zealous efforts that change makers relentlessly exert when cultivating substantial policy changes and massive cross sector partnerships? Empathy gives us that deep understanding of the world beyond our peripherals, and enables and motivates us to build something better, together.

“The role empathy plays in our lives has only grown more important. In fact, in this time of economic hardship, political instability, and rapid technological change, empathy is the one quality we most need if we’re going to survive and flourish in the twenty-first century.”

– Arianna Huffington, Co-founder, the Huffington Post

Of course, empathy is not new to the toolkit of social change. Radical, transformative social change calls for collaborative action – which inherently requires empathy. Empathy as a tool has its own restrictions; it should not be our moral guide, but rather used to guide us towards respect and understanding. It enables us to engage one another with multiple truths, and move through our biases to combat complex issues together.

ashokaThe importance of empathy has been identified long ago and cultivating it has been a major endeavour – lead by the likes of Roots of Empathy Founder, Mary Gordon, and Ashoka.

Empathy fostered through deepening community can lead us to that inflection point, where faceless statistics become our neighbours, community members…and ultimately the very people who motivate and inspire us. Empathy is a choice we make to extend ourselves, and to understand the world at large.

“We need the skill of applied empathy – the ability to understand what other people are feeling and to guide one’s actions in response – to succeed in teams, to solve problems to lead effectively, to drive change.”

– Ashoka

Learning to strengthen and create resilient communities is an integral part of our systems thinking discussion – especially with the prevalence of fear in our current world. Deepening communities enables us all to be advocates of change, and to understand our vulnerable populations. It shows us that we all have a role to play in community; sometimes as leaders, sometimes as followers, and always as someone who belongs.