Table Speech

“Pro Bono-The New Social Contribution”

April 20, 2011

Mr. Ikuma Saga
President, Service Grant Tokyo, Inc.

 The term “pro bono” has come to appear frequently in newspapers or on TV since last year. We look on 2010 as the “first year of pro bono” and try to engage ourselves in raising awareness of corporate workers on pro bono.

 “Pro Bono Publico” is a term derived from Latin, meaning “For Good Public”. Pro bono service, unlike traditional volunteerism, uses the specific skills of professionals to provide social and public services. For example, medical doctors can deliver pro bono service by utilizing their medical expertise in providing medical care to children around the world. Copywriters provide their expertise to make PR copy for non-profit organizations (NPOs) or make suggestions on their websites on a voluntary basis. Skilled professionals from many different fields engage in pro bono activities, including accountants, graphic designers or engineers. Pro bono combines the two elements: “providing good deeds for the society and utilizing one’s vocational skills.”

 Our company, Service Grant, has started to engage in pro bono since 2005. We organize meetings on weeknights or weekends, where corporate workers or free-lancers from different fields get together and discuss various activities.

 Service Grant has achieved the following projects: 1) renewal of the website of the farmers’ NPO, “Hatake no Kyoshitsu” dealing with agricultural education in the field, and added informative contents on their activities, which attracted wide-spread support, 2) setting up a website on DV (domestic violence) for the “Japan Female Shelter Net,” which gives support to victims of DV, 3) making a brochure summarizing the activities of “Center for Multicultural Information and Assistance,” which supports families and children with multicultural backgrounds, 4) updating the website of the NPO, “Support Net for Sick Children,” with detailed information on their activities of playing with hospitalized children. It attracted quick response and we were thanked both by the organization and supporters. Such examples prove that pro bono activities can provide a platform for disseminating information which eventually attracts wide-spread support.

 As for participants in our pro bono activities, the largest number is from the creative industry, such as marketing, advertisement or graphic industry. Others have a wide-ranging background, including consulting, system development, sales and planning. 70% of the participants are in their late 20s to early 40s. For 64% of them, pro bono was their first voluntary activity.

 Participants must meet the following three conditions for registration: 1) Spend 5 hours/week on pro bono activities, 2) The duration of one project is six months, and 3) Work in a team of 4-6 members from different fields and companies. As of April 19th, we have 787 skilled registrants and the number has been growing rapidly.

 We carried out a survey with the participants, to which 92% answered that they are willing to “participate once again.” Many commented that the activities made them “broaden their vision and develop themselves,” “change their views on social issues and NPOs” and “have the feeling of being useful to the society.” 78% stated that they “made a valuable experience useful for their daily business operation,” as they could further develop their skills, improve their work efficiency and find their new potentiality by networking with people from different industries.

 Now, let me look ahead to the future of pro bono activities. Service Grant has started some new initiatives lately, which are the joint projects with several companies. Traditional “social action programs by companies” can be classified into two types: 1) “volunteer activity” type with a large number of participants, such as street-cleaning or tree-planting, and 2) “Activity with fewer participants but larger contribution to NPOs’ capacity building,” such as assistance for marketing, formulation of business strategy and IT development, as well as serving as NPO chief directors. I believe future pro bono activities expect more and more corporate workers to get involved in the second type of activities, which assist the formulation or operation of an organization.

 Let me give you an example. Target, a company in the US, implemented a multilateral social action program through pro bono activities and constructed a local library. Target provided funds, supplied manpower for manual labor (painting or bookshelf assembly), and participated in voluntary activities requiring skills (design, construction, interior design etc.) as pro bono service.

 In Japan, NEC has been conducting “Business Support for Social Entrepreneurs” program. NEC Group employees form “business supporter teams” and give advices on IT skills to the young would-be entrepreneurs in solving various problems. I believe the “existing social program” would become more effective when combined with the “new pro bono initiative delivered by business supporters.”

 Before closing, let me share with you our “Appeal for Home-Stay” project. We coordinate between the victims and evacuees of the Great East Japan Earthquake and families willing to let them stay at their home over the medium to long-term. Thanks to the matching skills acquired through our pro bono activities, we already have the manual that connects earthquake victims and hosting families. We have as many as 4,300 host families ready. Now, we are collecting and filing information on them to be given to victims, as well as allocating volunteers to facilitate communication. We want to go beyond the conventional style of “providing accommodation only”, but combine with programs like “English Study Program in Tokyo” or “Medium-term Home-stay to Acquire Vocational Skills.” We are now getting ready to make due arrangements.