By Ben Knopf, Senior Consultant
When I first joined Taproot’s Advisory Services practice in 2014, more often than not when I met someone new and the subject of my career came up, I would inevitably invite looks of confusion – “wait… what do you do exactly?” Four years later, as I was sitting in a room on the other side of the world with corporate pro bono practitioners at the Global Pro Bono Summit in Mumbai, I was struck by how far the pro bono movement has come.
While some of the attendees at the Summit’s corporate session represented companies with no established pro bono program, the vast majority of participants were discussing how to increase the impact of their existing programs for their nonprofit beneficiaries and employees. While Taproot convened the session, the attendees spent the vast majority of the day gathering perspectives from direct beneficiaries of pro bono support – and from each other.
We had Pooja Taparia, CEO of Arpan, an NGO based in Mumbai that aims to prevent child sexual abuse in India, speak to the integral role pro bono support has played in shaping the strategic direction of her organization. She relayed the critical importance of assertive relationship-building–centered on mutual respect, honesty, and a willingness to learn–as the key ingredients to a successful partnership between pro bono consultants and NGOs.
And we also had practitioners from leading companies in the room share how they have been able to make the business case for pro bono to key internal stakeholders. These practitioners described the ways that their programs optimize for one or more pillars of the corporate pro bono business case. For instance, one attendee highlighted how the program she oversees fosters a strong culture by creating a more connected workplace across geographies, functional areas, and levels of seniority. The program also demonstrates the company’s commitment to social issues that align with employee values.
Throughout the day, the conversations revealed some common trends among corporate pro bono practitioners, whether they are based in India, the U.S., or elsewhere. These include the need for program design frameworks and guidance to help practitioners take a more strategic approach to program development and determine whether their programs are creating shared value. Participants also discussed the importance (and sometimes the difficulty) of establishing close partnerships between CSR and HR.
The corporate day session at the Summit underscored a genuine openness to engaging and sharing ideas among a like-minded, passionate network of practitioners. The beneficiaries of these companies’ programs–and the pro bono movement broadly–are all the better for it.
Ben Knopf is a Senior Consultant in Taproot’s Advisory Services practice. Ben comes to the Taproot Foundation with extensive research and advisory experience spanning the private and nonprofit sectors. He says he’ll know pro bono has finally “made it” when it becomes a major plotline on a non-legal TV show.