Pro Bono Lab & Proboneo Interview
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Antoine Colonna d’Istria
Co-Founder , Pro Bono Lab
Founder & CEO , Proboneo
- F. Tóth András
Volunteering in Hungary (ÖKA)
First, can you tell me about your professional background? How did you end up working to improve pro bono practices and advance the pro bono movement?
Claudia Schluckebier, Founder & CEO (Proboneo): So, actually I’m a chemist and I started professional career as a business consultancy but I very soon discovered that I’d like to work between social and economic. This dates back to my childhood when I was engaged with youth and I learnt all about civil engagement and how to support community and when I found out that a career opportunity for me to work in this intersection I decided to change from business consultancy to a foundation where I was doing grant making work. I learnt that a social organisation doing really great work often have much less resources than business consultancy or companies we were consulting, which I found unfair. I thought, how can we combine these two things? Thankfully, I also learned that people who engaged were so much happier, had an enriching work experience and they wanted to do it again so I decided to found the pro bono matchmaking organisation for Germany.
Antoine Colonna d’Istria, Co-Founder, (Pro Bono Lab). So for me, I studied business in HEC Paris. As a student, I was interested in using my skills for the social good. Together with Yoann Kassi-Vivier, we discovered that engagement in the non-profit sector is a very effective way to learn and develop our skills. Then we saw that this need of engagement and more purpose at work was not just our need but it was growing in the whole population. We saw that in the US it had given birth to the pro bono movement. We decided to go to the US in 2011 to study how pro bono was developing. We brought the ideas and models back to France and we found sponsors to build these models. And that’s how we are here today.
Why do you think pro bono is a good tool. What is the evidence that it’s actually working out for the organisations?
C: As a social organisation, you usually don’t have a business model which allows you to earn money and then reinvest into the organisation. In addition to that, founders and donors ask for very low overhead weights, which means giving everything to the target group you are working with and so you really have much smaller resources to advance the backbone of your organisation. With pro bono services, people are engaged using their professional skills for free and you can just get the same professional knowledge and resources as for profit companies. It’s a win-win situation because the people who engaged also get a lot of personnel enrichment and gains for themselves so they get pride in their work. They remember why they originally started their career, they learn leadership, they learn some skills in the new environment and then going back to work which helps them to fasten their careers and get the link between what’s happening inside their company and what’s happening outside.
A: Why I think pro bono is a real social innovation because it’s one answer for three social needs at the same time. It’s a win-win-win. First, it’s good for the non-profit sector in a context of reduced financial support from the states and government institutions. This need is growing because they need financial support. The second is a need for engagement toward the individuals – it’s not just a need for the engagement. It’s a need for more effective engagements where they feel the need to use their professional skills in their engagement, statistics have proven. The third is the need from businesses: pro bono creates business value, particularly for corporations. Non-profits bring the engagements, individuals bring the skills, and businesses develop satisfaction of their employees. It’s the same solution we can answer for these three needs for non-profits, individuals and corporations. That’s what makes it an appropriate tool because it has a great leverage. One action can solve three problems.
Can you explain to business leaders in Hungary what can be this business value that you’ve just mentioned?
A: It must be internal Human Resources. As pro bono use employees in a different context it helps them to gain feedback on their skills, discover the value of their skills in a new sector, and to discover a new stakeholder. It particularly develops the ability to have good relationships with customers, different types of clients and the ability to have a strategic vision because you are concerned with an organisation on a global level. It’s also a good tool, of course, for marketing for corporations because it can help to have deeper relationships with your stakeholders and engage them with meaningful projects. It also has an impact on your brands as a part of CSR activities.
What about the other side? Are the organisations really ready for this in Germany and in France?
C: For social organisations, it depends on the kind of organisations you are working with. Do they know about the term pro bono? In Germany, it’s not a very common thing. We are introducing it so people get to know what it is and how to use it. For those organisations who are in service for some years now and trying to professionalise, it is a really, really good tool. They start picking it up and adding one project to the other to professionalise their organisation and they really take advantage of that. As a matchmaker, we are taking care that organisations are aware of what it means to work with people outside their organisation. Do they have enough resources? Do they have project managers? Do they have the ability to implement the solutions? Do they have additional resources that are needed to implement resources, moneywise for example? Are they open enough to develop, do they have an impact in this world trying for?
What about France?
A: First, we’ve seen a great progress in the last year in terms of mind-sets. We have studies that prove there is more confidence to work in the non-profit sector by the corporate world. Just a few years before, we observed partnerships in France. It showed that confidence is growing between the two sectors compared to the previous years. But there are still difficulties. From the non-profit side, they have difficulties to define the priorities of their needs. I can confirm what Claudia said. Also, they have difficulties to know what they can expect concretely in terms of support from the different partners and especially, corporate partners. Let’s say there is progress to make and the need to develop. If you try a corporation you, the partners must be very willing to share goals and not to make the other partners follow their goal without taking the other partners goals into a contact. I’m not sure if it’s clear but there is a need of develop culture of cooperation and respect autonomy on both sides. It’s a tool and ability to cooperate for both: defending ones interest and understanding the other’s interest.
Connect to this question: don’t you think that pro bono will be mainly a tool for bigger and more advanced organisations now and even in the future?
C: No, I actually think that pro bono without calling it, is already a tool for all the small and medium size enterprises here in Germany. We have a very long tradition of volunteering in engagements and almost every small social organisation, start-up, non-profit organisation has a lawyer helping them get legal documents ready, helping decide the logo and so on. This happens on an as needed basis. Now it’s time to start moving this to the next level where even the big companies can adopt the principles and engage as a civilian of society.
Antoine, would you like to add something to that?
A: Yes. Our situation is totally the reverse on this. Pro bono is developing more and more for the small sectors rather than the big ones for many reasons. The first is that it already exists and is quite developed for the big structures where they have accepted the partners and everybody would like to work with Red Cross, Doctors Without Frontiers so they already have this. The other reason is that the engagement is really dynamic and comes in close proximity to local needs. It’s also more tangible, more visible and has direct impact for the volunteer when they work for a small organisation than working for a very big establishment. It’s more visible and closer to what they do. Lastly it uncovers needs from what we see as the great non-profit’s resource. Their needs are easier to address by markets and existing partnerships so the need is more on the smaller organisation side.
You mentioned different formats – what about the so called ‘informal’ pro bono? How big is that in Germany and in France? Do you have informal pro bono engagements or just simply consider it human nature where people naturally help? Claudia mentioned the lawyers who are helping small organisations. Do you consider this in any way to be the so called informal’ pro bono?
C: We estimated that informal pro bono in Germany is as high as the money flowing from foundations and social investors to the social sector. And we estimated in the coming years that informal and formal pro bono will outweigh the money flowing into the sector from foundations and social investors. This is usually the first thing from an organisation we look for. Antoine, are there any observations about the informal side of pro bono in France?
A: We do not have figures based on evidence for this, right now. We could estimate there to be around 10-15 percent of the French population participating in pro bono engagements each year. But these are just estimations. In order to clarify these figures, we first need to clarify the definition and scope of pro bono in France. For this we have a project, The Conduct Panoramic Study in 2016. It aims to get evidence and figures on the parts of both formal and informal pro bono in France.
What about the participation of corporations you mentioned? The bigger ones that already have their structure in place. How do you describe the level of involvement of corporations in Germany and in France? If we can understand this, we can get a better picture for Hungary.
C: With the CSR wave in the last ten years, most of them have some kind of volunteering experience. They usually started with non-skilled volunteering to learn and to build on what is already happening. Then they can start thinking of how to engage their employees’ skills in pro bono. Usually for big companies, it takes years to really get pro bono into the structure of their DNA. What is coming for the US and UK are great examples. In Europe, and especially in Germany, it takes some years to get these pro bono programs to fully come alive and speak to the potential that it has.
Just to understand the scale – Would you say the largest German companies already do something in this area or are most of them are just thinking about how to understand the situation? Maybe could you – not necessarily with figures – explain with estimates or feedback?
C: It’s really differs from sector to sector. For example in the law firms, all the big American law firms are actively doing large number of pro bono hours every year. In other sectors, like production, they aren’t doing any pro bono yet and are not even thinking about it or anything in between. What about France?
A: The biggest challenge for us is to convince the management in the corporate sector. To convince them to give their own free, gifted time, during working hours, if it’s possible. Once the corporations are convinced about the value they are getting they usually build their budget on a quarterly or annual basis, not more. For us, it’s complicated to renew these engagements more than a year.
Can you give us some estimates on the size of the pro bono movement in France? How many corporations are doing pro bono? Or are most of them just thinking about this? Are they close to doing or pro bono or are they far from it? Just to get a feeling about the size and involvement in France. You don’t have to give figures or exact percentages but I would say in the case of Hungary, most of them are just thinking about it. However, the law and advertisement industries are more advanced but the rest are just trying to figure out what to do.
A: We know that it’s developing for sure. We are now close to having 25% of corporations that are engaged in philanthropy and CSR that have pro bono programs. We know the force of for-profits that are engaged with pro bono. We don’t know how many people are involved this years but last year we conducted a study with 51 corporations where, in total, 9000 employees were involved pro bono programs. We have less information on small enterprises however we know it is big locally, we just don’t know how much.
You mentioned already the challenges. I would like to come back to this because Claudia has already mentioned this sometimes takes years to incorporate pro bono into the life of companies. What are the main challenges for corporations to engage in pro bono in Germany?
C: The main challenges are for them to understand the business value and identifying goals on want they actually want to achieve with a pro bono program. This could be HR, could be CSR, could be communications, could be innovation. Could be all of them while finding a program that really fits to their company and to then focus on one step after the other to have it implement. Another challenge is when corporation do not try enough during the pro bono engagement to make sure that it gets into the DNA of your company and your employees. They need to take it seriously and not just like it’s another initiative of the company that we should do. Instead, this is something that we as a company would like to do all together and we want to benefit a social organisations that gets our pro bono skills and not just use it for new HR development.
Antoine, would you like to add something to the challenges part?
A: Just one thing. The difference in language and perception of time between the non-profit world, the intermediary organisations and corporate partners. Taking account the terms of language and perception of time that are different between sectors.
In the previous discussion, we talked about the involvement of companies, the role of the state, the situation specifically in Western Europe and the existing welfare state models as well. I want to resurface this part of the discussion with the question: What are the differences between the US and the German-France realities. Do you see huge differences? Maybe you can also give a little bit of social background, as well. Obviously, I know that people who will read this article knows quite a bit about the differences but if you look at this from a pro bono/CSR perspective I think there can be quite a few things that the readers are not necessarily fully aware of. Especially the changes that we were also tackling in our previous discussion about the behaviour of companies changing quite a lot. That was my understanding from your explanations in Germany and in France.
C: We will try. For Germany, I always say that we are pretty lucky with our social welfare system because it tackles a lot of questions and challenges that society has and it’s usually much more fair than pure a philanthropic system. For example, when I look to a legal pro bono and other jurisdiction system, even private people (depending on law firms) in general pick which of their cases are pro bono. Where as in Germany, we have the legal aid system that takes care of everyone in need. Which makes sure that everyone gets the legal help that he or she needs. We are now just adding pro bono to fields where this is not covered or where it is our responsibility to find social organisations who could not afford to buy those services or where we think it is better to invest the money that they have in their work with their target group and not into the very high hourly priced legal service. Solutions are in favour for our society. This is where lines are thin between our traditional understanding of the welfare system. Those different players will only be successful if they work together.
Therefore, in this way you also say that the signs of pro bono will probably never be the same in Germany than in the US, which is actually a good news.
C: Yes because if you look at what other countries, pro bono is a standard part of the system for many-many years and what other countries are thriving for. At the end, if you have good social innovation, the end goal is to fix the system and make standards for the system.
Well, great so what about France? Are there any differences compared to Germany?
A: To Germany or to the US?
Well, to Germany and to the US. I mean in this regard the involvement of companies their role in social issues, predictions and experiences from the past years. How this is changing? I had many discussions years back, especially with people from France, and some of them were simply refusing any kind of corporate support because they said that it’s a state function or for ethical reasons they are not doing it. I don’t have this feeling anymore when I’m hearing things from France so I think there are quite big changes.
A: Well, there are big changes. Thing are changing in France. The historical background is very different from the US background in term of the role of the state, that’s for sure. I mean the culture: French do not accept the idea that the state has to reduce its flow in social and everyday life. We think that we have a strong state and we want to keep it strong enough. I think it’s not going to change. It’s closer to Germany. But it’s even stronger than in Germany because we have a much centralised state. It’s not a federal state so decisions are centralised. What gets us closer to the US is that financial things are developing in France. Just 4-5 years ago there were almost no individuals or private foundations. But the numbers tripled in the last few years and the logic of giving back is really entering the mind-set. So that is something that might change. Of course there were a lot of concerns of corporate involvement. I know it is pragmatism because we need these corporate involvements. So many non-profits cannot to get subsidized or funded anymore. The only place in the society where they can get more founding is the corporate sector. This is because individual generosity is growing every year but not very fast. The traditional Anglo-Saxon conception is that if you are in every person’s interest, it’s going to sum up. The sum up of individual interest makes the general interest. So what you need to do as an individual is to differentiate your own interest to make it grow the most because it creates general interest. That’s the Anglo-Saxon conception. The French conception is not about sum. The general interest is the interest of the community in itself and it can be pretty different from the personal interest. Therefore, it must be an institution like the State who is really in charge. It’s important that there are no individual projects or private projects (except non-profit world) that can pretend to have different general interests.
A: Last thing and it’s very important. It’s the approach of the job market. In the US, if you lose your job, you just get a new one. It’s quite easy to find another one. In France if you lose your job, you lose your social status, you lose your face. Not just your job but who you are. The relationship between people and their job is much more symbolic. It’s more pragmatic in the US. It’s all about how much money do you make. In France it’s more about what is the social group you belong to in a certain job. I think it’s stronger than in the US.
And it has any relation to pro bono?
A: Pro bono is implementing your ethics with your professional skills. It is ethics at work. Pro bono has the link for ethics at work. There is a bigger separation between work and ethics in the US. Whereas in France, your ethics your social image is directly linked to the work you make. Applying the ethic at work is more a necessity in France. That’s why we are having fiscal reductions in France. In US, pro bono is out of working time hours, but in France we have a law that allows it to happen during working hours.
So, there is also a financial benefit in a way for the corporation, as well.
A: Yes. There is a tax reduction for companies for each employees if you do pro bono during the working hours. Yes. That’s interesting.
A: Everything is linked here. There is a 60% percent reduction of the cost of the employees for the time spend on pro bono. This means when a corporation gives employees time to the non-profit the state is still taking 60%. Therefore the state is in charge. It is a general program, a general interest type action. The state will cover 60% of the cost so this is a major part of the general interest action as a stakeholder.
So the state has a very serious role. Do you see other roles well in France and afterwards Germany, as well where the state can play in developing pro bono?
C: I mean, you’ve already mentioned a lot.
A: I have one that is important to me and it’s happening in France right now. The state can push the culture of cooperation and support it. They can ask the players to cooperate and work together. That I think is a very important part that the state can play to both incentivize us, and open our data, tools, practices and information. They can incentivize in creating meeting places and market places for the players who cooperate to provide the framework for the cooperation of the players. That’s what we do in France in the program: “La France s’engage” (France is Engaging) http://lafrancesengage.fr/ launched by the president. There are a hundred non-profits and we have received 50 million € in funding for the next 3 years. Part of this foundation is used for the intermediaries that will help these non-profits in subsidizing their projects. There are 4 intermediaries around the table and the state made us cooperate.
C: In addition with governments and state. For example, implementation in the reporting guideline, how bookkeeping is done, finding new ways to value these kinds of engagement if is not calculated only in euros or dollars all in order to help make it a new standard.
A: The government can recognise that pro bono is a professional training practice like development and makes it eligible for the corporations’ spending in trainings and developments. It’s a very regulated and huge market and if pro bono actions became eligible at this market, you can use your credits for trainings and you will have a huge block of credits.
About the new trends in Germany and in France – Do have something that’s coming or it’s already here and it’s new in terms of pro bono? Or is there something that you haven’t experienced before?
C: I would say that we are still at an experimental stage where everything is very new and we see that there is a shift from doing first pilot projects with short engagements where people can just try it out to having an impact on a larger scale and how it could be implemented in our business proceeds. This is good news for the non-profit world because they need more long term support and not only one workshop or things like that. At the end, it must be a combination of these different things in order to satisfy the different needs.
Antoine, you’d like to add something for the trends?
A: I have quite a similar answer. We are still at an experimental level. I think there is a great need for articulation of the different answers to the need because there are already a lot of answers and that’s why we need access and articulation of the different solutions. There are lot of experimental, micro volunteering, online volunteering and emergency volunteering. What is one important advice that you would give to corporate and NGO leaders in Hungary who will read this article? Maybe which mistake to avoid?
C: Most important one is that if you are unsure or don’t know where to start: work with an intermediary, who is an expert in what to do, how to do it, which organisations to approach to make it a corporation on high level. At the beginning, focusing on a quality program. Pro bono is lot about quality.
A: Yeah. I agree. I would say pro bono is a key resource for the development of non-profits and social organisation. It’s a sustainable resource. Maybe more sustainable than financial support and sometimes it is more vital. If I have one operational advice I would say: the board members should play a role in providing resources to the non-profit and if I were a corporate leader I would have several board members to take care of launching and managing the pro bono activity internally. Which means: clarifying the needs, finding the resources to answer the needs. The board has a great role to play. Pro bono is a huge possibility and the board should get it.
Excellent. And last question: one inspiring story that makes you feel happy in pro bono development field?
C: Two years ago we worked with an organisation that belongs to the network of Parliament Watch here in Germany. We matched a moderator for their first team weekend. Now this moderator is part of our board and really helped to put forward our strategy and develop other pro bono methods. This is a perfect pro bono person we were looking for and the organisation taking advantages of it.
A: There is a non-profit called Caudia that helps disabled people. We helped them with professionals and students from Polytechnic which is the greatest engineering school in France. They designed software to help in decision making by prioritizing the answers giving to disabled people in terms of services because they have several/different needs and sometimes we need to answer them in a right order. They made this prioritising software and this tool is going to be funded by social landlords. They can use it for their own purpose to give priority and access to housing for some people. It’s a technical solution and it can be applied for various social issues. To me it reviles the complexity of the social problems because usually social problems have 7-10 different dimensions at the same time. There is a need for coordinating the answers and finding ways to make decisions efficiently and based on evidence. These complex problems are met more and more by every non-profit. And that is where pro bono can help bring expertise to resolve complex problems.
Interview and writing by F. Tóth András