The FINANCIAL — Ten companies operating in Georgia together with two business associations have united to form Georgia’s Pro Bono Network. The newly launched network includes sharing knowledge and expertise for sustainable results. The launch of Pro Bono services in Georgia is confirmation that Georgian businesses are moving to more strategic forms of philanthropy.
“Georgian companies are expressing quite high social responsibility. In comparison with their scale and opportunities, they spend quite big sums on social projects. However, the approaches and methods of companies’ social responsibilities are developing and improving with time. Companies have become more focused on sustainable and long-term results, rather than one-time assistance. Sharing knowledge and expertise is at the core of sustainable results. Accordingly, Georgian companies have established and joined this new – Pro Bono – initiative with big enthusiasm. The slogan of Pro Bono is ‘Business Leaders for Society’s Welfare’. Pro bono service means providing high quality professional services and expert assistance free of charge to the public benefit organizations working for social change and public good. This way companies are able to increase the value and magnitude of its support and have a “multiplier effect” through enabling public benefit organizations to be more effective at helping even more constituents and to expand their impact,” said Lela Khoperia, Program Coordinator at the Center for Strategic Research and Development of Georgia (CSRDG).
According to Khoperia, Pro Bono is part of social responsibility for companies. It involves investing in the public’s needs, however not with monetary sources but with the time and intellectual resources of their employees.
Pro Bono Network Georgia was officially launched at a special event on 15 October. The FINANCIAL was the general media partner of the event. In her interview, Khoperia discussed the development of the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activities of Georgian businesses, and explained how Pro Bono can transform society for the better.
Q. Companies’ Pro Bono activities are regularly changing. What is moving such changes, how do they determine their Pro Bono priorities?
A. The fields in which companies are offering their Pro Bono expert service to their beneficiaries are diversified. It might be in the form of marketing; human resource management; administrative; law; financial issues; management; strategic planning; market research; IT and others. Each company offers support based on the expertise of their work. As for priorities, companies are most frequently concentrated on supporting those civil organizations that are meeting their CSR priorities.
Q. CSRDG is an organizer of Pro Bono Network Georgia. What encouraged you to support this initiative?
A. CSRDG has been involved in developing CSR in Georgia for more than ten years. The Pro Bono network was planned in line with this programme. CSRDG has big experience of companies’ CSR programmes. We know their attitude and view in this field. At the same time, our company has more than 20 years of experience working in the civil sector. So, we are well aware of the difficulties and necessities of civil organizations. These are the main reasons for our new initiative. While cooperating with the Pro Bono Network in Georgia we established Pro Bono Services Mediation Initiative. It serves to bridge the gap between companies seeking opportunities to provide free expert help and those who need it, and provide professional guidance to pro bono projects. The initiative also includes the promotion of positive examples of Pro Bono services delivered by network member companies. We are also focused on supporting the establishment of Pro Bono practice in Georgia and enhancing awareness of this concept.
The supporters of the initiative are: BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt and international expert company Taproot Foundation. Supporting Pro Bono services is one of the main approaches for them in implementing civil programmes.
Q. By establishing the Pro Bono network in Georgia today, can we conclude that the CSR policy of the companies is developing quite successfully?
A. The situation needed to launch this project matured within the companies. Georgian businesses are ready to diversify their social work and approaches. They are ready to move to more strategic forms of philanthropy, like Pro Bono services.
Q. Pro Bono is definitely beneficial for society. At the same time, it meets the expectations of companies. Are these bilateral profits common in every market or does it vary by country? (In which case can Pro Bono fail to bring benefits for businesses?)
A. Each country has various needs. So the expectations of the public are different. However, Pro Bono services are bringing bilateral benefits, for society and companies, in every country. Proper planning of Pro Bono services is crucial for receiving positive results. A well-planned Pro Bono programme requires a lower budget and has high influence. The benefits of Pro Bono services to companies can be divided into three categories. The first is establishing a positive image of the company and improving public relations. The second is good management of human resources and internal corporate relations. The third is improvement of the professional skills of employees and abilities and innovations.
Q. Leading market players are always the flagmen of new initiatives, and not only in Georgia. What are your expectations in regard to involving small and medium sized enterprises in this network?
A. Member companies of our network are of different scales. Some companies employ more than 1,000, while others – less than 100. The size of the company is not crucial. Of course, companies with more staff members can deliver more Pro Bono hours. However, small and medium companies manage to deliver equally valuable service to their beneficiaries. Companies delivering Pro Bono services are quite often consulting firms or law companies. They are very often small ones but the service they deliver to beneficiaries is really important. So, it proves that the size of a company is not important. What is important is companies’ will to contribute to meeting the needs of society.
Q. What are your expectations of increasing the number of Pro Bono network members and which figure are you expecting for 2016?
A. The network has twelve founding members, ten companies and two business associations: ACT; Alliance Group Holding; Bank Republic Société Générale Group; MFO Credo; MFO Crystal; DLA Piper – Georgia; JPI Holding; TBC Bank; TBSC Consulting; WISSOL Group; the Association of Law Firms of Georgia; and, Georgian Microfinance Association.
Any company wishing to deliver Pro Bono services can join the network. We already have companies that want to join the network. However, expanding the network is not our goal. This is a totally new initiative for Georgia. So, at this stage the main goal is to build a mechanism which ensures proper planning and implementation of pro bono programs resulting in benefits to society and companies. Bringing more positive results to society will directly attract more companies to this network.
Q. How are you planning to expand the Pro Bono Network in Georgia’s regions?
A. The main share of Georgian businesses is concentrated in Tbilisi, so are the members of the network. However, the majority of them have chains in the regions. Accordingly they are ready to expand their Pro Bono services to civil organizations established in the regions. In addition, Georgia is not a very large country. So, bringing a regional representative to Tbilisi, or from Tbilisi to a region, is not difficult.