Every six months we will take a fixed percentage of our revenue, and offer the equivalent worth of services on a pro bono basis — this might translate into discounted, or completely free services for not-for-profit organisations, depending on the scale of the project or engagement.
To kick off this service we are starting small, offering the equivalent of 5% of our revenue as pro bono services. The plan is to slowly increase this percentage as we become familiar with pro bono work, and built a more nuanced understanding of how much we can manage.
We’re structuring it a little like a funding call; once every six months not-for-profit organisations will be invited to register their interest in our pro bono services — the registration period for the first round of our services is now open until midnight (GMT) on the 28th September — once the organisations register, and after a couple of rounds of reviewing, we will choose one organisation, or a select few to be the benefactors of our services.
In this post, we’re going to delve a little into our reasoning behind starting this service, covering not only why we want to do pro bono, but also why we think a futures approach has a unique type of relevance for not-for-profit organisations.
If you want to register interest or find out a little more about how it works, head to our site for a detailed breakdown.
A brief intro to Pro Bono
Before we start talking too much about ourselves, let’s take a jaunt back to the 1800’s and delve a little into the history and traditional context of pro bono work.
‘Pro Bono Publico’ is a latin phrase, meaning ‘for the public good,’ and represents the distribution of services for public use, free of charge or through reduced rates. The term and practice has usually been associated with those working in legal practices; indeed the most commonly cited example of the birth of pro bono is the Legal Aid Society of New York, which was founded in 1890 after the German Society of New York launched an organisation whose goal was to protect German immigrants from exploitation in the States. Some might trace this kind of thinking back even further — there are traces of it in the Magna Carta, a peace treaty drafted in 1215 between the public and the crown. It attempted to compensate for a feudalist society by proposing the rule of law and with it free access to justice; an essential move towards contemporary democracy.
Unlike volunteering, which is traditionally non-skill specific, pro bono work is a duty felt by professionals to provide skills to the public in circumstances where they are unaffordable. While it’s roots are heavily planted in the legal and healthcare industries, in recent decades pro bono services have become more commonplace amongst the creative industries — in particular within graphic design. Whether designers feel that pro bono is part of their professional responsibility, or engage with it for reasons of exposure, experience and increased ownership in the face of client-based work, the benefits can outweigh the lack of financial gain.
Andthen — balancing profit and impact
To discuss why we believe in pro bono service, it helps to understand our perspective on what a business is. We define a business as a group of people working together to achieve something, and in particular, we equate a ‘good business’ with the pursuit of ‘something’ that is more than just financial profit.
The ‘something’ we want to achieve at Andthen — our mission — is to encourage long-term, sustainable thinking within the innovation industry. While we are a for-profit organisation, our goal is to balance profit and impact, while understanding that the two factors influence each other.
However, the services we deliver are (for the moment) relatively niche, highly bespoke, and require a significant amount of time spent on R&D (i.e. R&D of methods and methodology) — with all that comes a high operating costs, and rates which are prohibitive for many.
Put simply, we often feel that those (often precarious organisations) who can’t afford our services have a great need for them. Foresight and futures work assumes a level of privilege; it is extremely difficult to justify thinking in longer term cycles when an organisation is in a precarious position in the present. When the major concern is about securing the next package of funding, it seems impossible to start thinking about the horizon, despite this being one of the very ways to safeguard an organisation and make pathways to a preferable situation. We feel that there is significant opportunity for deploying a futures approach to social entrepreneurship.
Futures for Social Entrepreneurship
The for-profit organisations that we work with tend to have internalised the attitude that thinking about the horizon is essential to their business. They are often founded with an aspiration at their core, and moving towards their aspiration depends on their ability to handle, or even leverage, change.
For instance, the traditional VC funded startup will have innovation coded into its DNA, and will have hope and aspirational thinking woven into its values.
In contrast, social enterprises, more often than not, are brought into being through something that has already occurred They are formed due to some trauma of the past; the heart of the organisation is characterised by a reaction to something.
Social entrepreneurship is almost always too late.
As practitioners of social enterprise, we hold the assumption that our responsibility is to exclusively act post-crisis in order to gradually chip away at a persistent problem, or to maintain a state of peace. The art of reaction is necessary, but the expectation of post-traumatic innovation as the singular starting point for an entire industry is limiting. What if social enterprise was also responsible for preemption? What if social entrepreneurs were also futurists?
— Matthew Manos, Toward a Preemptive Social Enterprise
We are by no means suggesting that reaction to the present state is unimportant, but simply arguing that a balance must be struck in social entrepreneurship between looking forward and looking back, of proactive and reactive action.
What’s in it for us?
While our pro bono services are offered at zero financial cost, we feel that there is potential for other forms of value exchange, and that it is important to be clear that Andthen will likely benefit through non-financial means. Pro bono offers significant scope for adding to our portfolio, building experience, and developing our network.
While these aren’t the driving reasons for our pro bono offering, we think it is helpful to be clear about the benefits for all parties in this form of engagement.