Carolin Graetsch, a master’s student in nonprofit management at the Berlin School of Economics and Law who recently completed her thesis on intermediaries in the pro bono sector, spent 3 weeks with the Taproot Foundation in San Francisco. She also works for the BMW Foundation, and is working to make more pro bono happen on a global scale.
In the blog below, Carolin describes how she plans to carry her experience with Taproot forward to continue to support the growing global pro bono movement.
Raising global awareness
Looking back on my time with Taproot, I was excited to see how Taproot works to empower foreign pro bono intermediaries to provide stronger, more efficient, and impactful pro bono service to nonprofits. The work they do, in the United States and globally, goes beyond matching nonprofits and consultants, or managing pro bono engagements. One of the core efforts I saw was Taproot’s role in generating pro bono awareness.
In many countries, sectors, and industries, pro bono is still unknown. This gap creates a need for Taproot to spread the pro bono word, and support pro bono intermediaries all over the world delivering impactful projects. This is a core reality of global intermediaries and nonprofits that differs from the growing pro bono movement in America.
Taproot’s San Francisco Bay Area Executive Director Joel Bashevkin pointed out:
“I really get energized by working with so many organizations around the world to build pro bono as both a brand and an ethic. It’s an exciting challenge among so many diverse cultures and geographies.”
During my time in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to talk to several pro bono intermediaries from the United States and other countries, and I came across several big differences. While Taproot, Datakind, and the Harvard Business School Community Partner are all pro bono intermediaries located in the United States, they represent three very different organizational structures based on their size, target group, and internal structure. Nevertheless their experiences are similar. In the United States, volunteer and charity work are deeply rooted in the culture, and US governmental circumstances foster pro bono work.
However, in countries like Morocco, South Africa, Hungary, or Germany, voluntary work is not an inherent part of the culture due to governmental structures or the tax incentive system. In fact, in Greece, volunteering is forbidden by the government. While Greece is perhaps a drastic example, it nonetheless demonstrates how much preparatory work is required before a pro bono marketplace can thrive as it does in the United States. This requires strong publicity and awareness training as well as collaboration on the governmental level, including legal changes such as tax regulations which favor pro bono.
But there are opportunities to advance the sector around the world. Taproot has introduced the Global Pro Bono Network, a group of pro bono intermediaries from around the world created through the Taproot and BMW Foundation partnership. Born out of the Global Pro Bono Summit — an annual gathering of the pro bono leaders from across the globe organized by Taproot and BMW Foundation — this network continues to grow every year.
During my interviews with members of that Global Pro Bono Network, I learned of new partnerships that were underway and stories of Fellows from France, Hungary, or Scotland working together. This Network provides a platform for Fellows to exchange knowledge including lessons learned and best practices. In my opinion, this is the best way to grow the movement and spread the pro bono concept in order to support nonprofits in their daily work. And it’s exciting to see that happening.
Thank you to all of the Taproot staff for giving me such a warm welcome, for allowing me sit in on several meetings, and enthusiastically answering my questions.