Armin Pialek is the first Fellow in a pilot joint venture between Taproot and the BMW Foundation. He is working to first bring pro bono to Germany, and then to replicate the model to engage Fellows to develop pro bono with Taproot and the BMW Foundation around the globe.
Pro bono as a driver of social change
Last week I talked about pro bono being a necessary and logical next step in driving social change in Germany. The same is true for many other countries around the world. In order to take that step it is essential to understand the specific cultural context. Simply copying best practices from the USA in another country is not likely to create the desired sustainable impact, but must be adapted to make them effective in different cultural contexts. Let me give you an example: Talking to the HR department of Hewlett-Packard (HP) Germany with its 10,000 employees there, I found out the HP Global Corporation encourages employees to do 4 hours of pro bono service per month during working hours. This policy has been a huge success in the US and German offices alike. In the broader German community, however, employees tended to be more hesitant than their counterparts in the US. They claimed the work load would stay the same even if they were given 4 hours of their time to help a nonprofit. So, the average 40 hour week would become a 44 hour week, causing the professional community to view the initiative as more of a burden than an opportunity. In addition, the German culture tends to encourage a rather strict separation between work and private life, and as a result many employees that are already engaged in their communities in some way do not feel that it’s appropriate for the company to get involved with these private engagements. BMW encountered similar challenges when building their corporate program. HP and BMW also mentioned that employees are more likely to volunteer on short-term assignments that have more of an “event” feel, at least to start with. Things like this must be considered when trying to replicate the success of pro bono service not only in Germany but worldwide.
These insights are key to building sustainable pro bono programs on the global level, and make me even more excited about the Taproot and BMW Foundation Global Pro Bono Fellowship Program . The program intends to enable existing pro bono intermediaries to grow sustainable and further increase their impact while also empowering new efforts in different countries to take hold. This program will kick-off during the Pro Bono Summit in late February next year.