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A Special Series for the 2015 Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship

Each year at the Skoll World Forum, nearly 1,000 of the world’s most influential social entrepreneurs, key thought leaders and strategic partners gather at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School to exchange ideas, solutions and information.

We asked a number of speakers to discuss the critical issues, challenges and opportunities underpinning their sessions in advance of the Forum to ground a richer debate both online and in Oxford.

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Pro Bono Can Help Fill Nonprofit Resource Gaps

Pro Bono Can Help Fill Nonprofit Resource Gaps

March 25, 2015 | 5081 views

“Stop the Funding: Social Sector is Fully Resourced.” Until we see this headline across international newsfeeds, social change organizations should consider this simple Latin phrase to help them move their missions forward — “pro bono.”

Post-revolutionary Egypt, fast-growing China, Slovakia, Hungary, Singapore, Canada, India, Germany, and the U.S. – each a different culture facing its own set of social challenges that NGOs and social entrepreneurs are driven to solve. If we can’t expect to see these organizations be fully-resourced financially, how can we expect them to thrive?

The increasing adoption of high-impact pro bono service around the globe is an innovative solution to this problem. “Pro bono publico” is a Latin term meaning, “for the public good.” Over the past 14 years, the Taproot Foundation has been working to broaden its application beyond legal services to other professional skills – marketing, finance, HR, IT, and more.

Despite limitless drive to improve their communities, social change organizations across the globe are starved for critical business resources. Taproot has been a leader in making these resources available to them.

In the 2014 State of the Sector Survey conducted by the (U.S.) Nonprofit Finance Fund, 80 percent of nonprofits reported an increased demand for their programs and services, but 56 percent were unable to meet the demands.

How can we better connect the dots between this shortage of resources, the wealth of skills in the private sector, and the demonstrated value of pro bono service?

Fundraising is top-of-mind for social entrepreneurs, but not many think about “resource raising”, which includes skilled volunteers filling critical resource gaps. If they do, they often fear that finding and managing skilled volunteers is too time consuming.

But skilled volunteers add tremendous value to an organization’s infrastructure. Not only do they bring their professional expertise, they often develop a passion for the organization and engage further as donors, advocates, board members, and even employees.

Take, for example, Lester Ng. Lester is a visual experience designer who, through Taproot, found Medic Mobile, an organization that uses mobile technology to improve health in underserved communities in 21 countries. Medic Mobile came to Taproot needing an annual report to help tell their story. Lester stepped up to join a team of professionals and help make it happen – all pro bono.

But it didn’t stop there. Having witnessed his work’s impact, Lester stayed on to help Medic Mobile redesign their website and just recently, joined as a full-time employee!

Lester says: “As a professional designer, working pro bono allowed me to connect with real-world challenges. What began as a well-defined project with Medic Mobile grew into an immersive relationship of mutual value in advancing their mission. I never lost sight of the impact my work could have in global health. Pro bono is not free work, it is priceless work.”

This is just one example of many worldwide. Recently, Taproot hosted the 2015 Global Pro Bono Summit in Berlin. This annual convening of pro bono leaders is organized in partnership with the BMW Foundation and, this year, local pro bono provider Pro Boneo. This year representatives from 23 countries attended.

It’s been exciting to see pro bono’s growth around the globe and the role that it’s playing in helping entrepreneurs transform lives. iVolunteer, a pro bono provider in India, has been working with the Godrej Group, a leading Indian conglomerate, to match their employees’ skills with projects supporting the urban poor in Mumbai and Bangalore. As one example, they’ve delivered a communication strategy to support Vision Rescue, an organization committed to rescuing children, trafficked victims, addicts, and the sick.

Some companies are sending employees abroad under “loaned employee” programs. SAP, for example, sends employees to places like Brazil, India, China, and South Africa to work with NGOs for four to six weeks. Meanwhile, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is selecting employees for three to six month projects focused on healthcare access and children’s health. Since its 2009 launch, GSK’s “PULSE” program has empowered 486 employees to serve in 61 countries.

These global efforts are inspiring. At Taproot, we continue to find new ways to power the connection between social change organizations and passionate business professionals.

With innovative new tools like our online platform Taproot+, events with partners like the Project Management Institute and corporate partners including American Express and Citi, and virtual pro bono consultations, we believe in the power of collaboration to drive social change.


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