Taproot Foundation has been driving the pro bono movement for 15 years and Prospera has been very fortunate to learn from the leaders and implement locally, in Norway, some of the models developed by Taproot.
Joel Bashevkin has spent a decade as Executive Director of Taproot Foundation in San Francisco Bay Area. For the last three years Joel has been Head of Global Pro Bono at Taproot committed to making the pro bono movement come together to strengthen our methodology and co-operation through the Global Pro Bono Network.
Recently he joined Aaron Hurst at Imperative, which is also interesting. But during the Global Pro Bono Summit in Lisbon 2017, Joel and I had a few interesting conversations about pro bono.
Here are the highlights:
How can pro bono serve as a tool to leverage your career?
—Many forms of volunteering will help support a professional’s career, especially through pro bono service. Among the top benefits are professional development, personal growth, career exploration, and community building.
Many professionals seek more professional growth than are provided by their employers. Too often professional advancement requires prior experience. By participating in pro bono efforts, the professional receives the most powerful form of development – experiential learning. They can grow professionally and then showcase their competencies for career steps. In a global study, 92% of hiring managers agree that volunteering improves employee’s broader skill sets and is an effective way to improve leadership skills.
Increasingly, soft skills are becoming the more valued development area rather than focusing on hard technical skills. Pro bono programs create opportunities to develop strong teamwork, listening, problem solving and cultural awareness. A professional who thrives in innovative environments will benefit from taking on pro bono projects that introduce them to new situations, customer insights, challenges and require the professional to adapt to meet the needs of the community. Candidates who have community experience are more likely to be hired than their counterparts, since hiring managers find that these are the most dedicated and focused employees.
Lastly the professional connects to the community in a deep and lasting way, strengthening a bond with that community, developing a pride in their profession and career path, becoming a happier, engaged and valued employee.
What do you think pro bono can achieve for local communities?
—Local communities thrive when citizens are actively engaged. In his book, Self Renewal, John Gardner writes about how a healthy community is in constant need of reinvestment and improvement. As the pace of life and competition for time and priorities increases, pro bono offers some unique options.
While the challenges facing our communities are becoming more complex we need more highly skilled and positively motivated people to work very efficiently to create social benefit. Pro bono works best when a clear problem has been well defined and calls for specific skills to resolve. The right professional who does this kind of work on a daily basis will more quickly and successfully resolve the problem than someone without those skills, connections or prior experience. In other words, a few hours from the right expert can be more valuable than months from a well intentioned, yet inexperienced person.
Pro bono has also been proven to be a path towards deeper dedication. It is easier to recruit someone who is very comfortable with their professional skills for a first community engagement. Through the pro bono activity they are often drawn deep into the community and will likely stay involved and become an incredibly knowledgeable champion even after the pro bono project wraps up.
What do you feel is the magic sause in pro bono?
- Professional pride. The most effective volunteers hold their professional ethic as their standard, which carries them along their career. Regardless of their type of work, they benefited from others and want to give back.
- Avid curiosity: both business and nonprofit professionals willingly dedicate themselves, their time and the resources of their organizations to work towards a common objective. Cross sector work means learning how to work together, exploring how to communicate, negotiate and explore, and solve – at the organizational, individual and societal levels. The open and the curious thrive and sustain themselves through often challenging moments. Learning goes both ways and should be practiced at all times.
- Solid project management: at the heart of pro bono is applying the right knowledge matched to the need. Every moment spent on solutions, given limited time, make pro bono the most successful. If the participants spend their time trying to figure out how to work together, the engagement likely won’t be a success. A clear scope of work, defined deliverables, timeline, roles for all parties help focus the energies in the right way.
- Decision making: In traditional consulting, the client sets the terms and the deliverables. With pro bono, both sides have expectations so a discussion at the outset can uncover what all parties want to gain from the experience.
- Impact: pro bono provides the most impactful form of community engagement. it is seen as the most powerful way to bring together experts from many fields dedicated to societal improvement. Participants who are motivated to make a real difference and understand their roles are ready to contribute and be fulfilled by the effort.
- And incredibly important is working with an experienced organizer, such as Prospera Stiftelsen. Participants need to be ready for pro bono and to invest in building the future solutions. Timing and readiness are extremely important and groups like Prospera know how to coach, select and prepare the professionals to work together. And their importance doesn’t end there. Matching, monitoring and evaluating are necessary since honest guidance and positive reinforcement is an ongoing need – best delivered by an organization experienced in these kinds of efforts. Their role can’t be overstated as they can make the difference between good intentions with bad outcomes to be great intentions and powerful, impactful results for all.