Firms learn from pro bono event

Firms, non-profits and other groups get tips on skills-based volunteerism

Companies here recently had the opportunity to learn about best practices in pro bono work - from people across some 25 countries in six continents.

The Global Pro Bono Summit, organised annually since 2013, was held for the first time in Asia last week, at different venues across Singapore.

Participants included companies whose staff offer skills-based volunteerism, non-profit organisations (NPOs) and groups that match skilled volunteers with NPOs.

Over four days, they learnt how companies volunteered skills in areas including business development, design, IT and marketing to NPOs and social enterprises.

They also exchanged tips on how to encourage staff of companies to be involved, how to get NPOs to be receptive to skills-based help, and how best to match the two types of organisations to address social issues together.

They went for site visits as well, to charities and social enterprises such as Bizlink and Bettr Barista, which help people with disabilities and marginalised women respectively, to get an insight into pro bono projects which benefited them.

This year's event was jointly organised by the Taproot Foundation based in the United States and Germany-based BMW Foundation, and hosted by local non-profit consultancy Conjunct Consulting. All the groups promote pro bono work.

Conjunct Consulting president Samantha Lee told The Straits Times: "It's very exciting for us at Conjunct to help bring the event to Singapore, where there's an overwhelming number of people interested in doing pro bono work."

Going by search results from professional networking website LinkedIn, nearly 40,000 people here are interested in skills-based volunteering, though there are just around 2,000 charities here, she said.

Taproot Foundation president Liz Hamburg added: "It's fascinating to listen to the peer-to-peer sharing at the summit and hear how different countries approach skilled volunteering, taking all cultural and regional differences into account."

About half of the 100-plus attendees were from offices in Singapore. One of them was Mr Alex Collins, corporate social responsibility communications lead (Asia) at pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.

He said: "One key learning point has been the diversity of pro bono programmes taking place across the sector... It shows that no matter what level of time, resource or manpower your corporation has to dedicate to pro bono activities, you can achieve a desirable outcome in a relatively short space of time."

Ms Susan Clear, regional head for Asia at Macquarie Group Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the investment bank which has an office here, added: "One thing is clear - buy-in, commitment and agreement from (both companies and non-profits) help ensure a positive experience and create rewarding opportunities for our employees, while helping a non-profit overcome significant challenges."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2016, with the headline 'Firms learn from pro bono event'. Print Edition | Subscribe