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Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance
Responsible Business Insights<br />

Responsible Business Insights

Working towards a sustainable future

Pro bono and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs)

Pro Bono Director Tom Dunn explores the contribution that a SDG-framework can make to the development and impact of law firm pro bono practices and, more widely, to shaping the contribution that other businesses are making in their communities.

The United Nations SDGs were adopted by all 193 UN member states in 2015. The goals are intended to harness the energies of supra-national organisations, governments, the private sector, the third sector and other key civil society institutions globally towards addressing the barriers to sustainable development,  protecting the planet and securing peace and prosperity for all people by 2030. Since their adoption, further work has been done to identify an extensive series of targets under each goal, giving sharper focus to issues that need to be tackled.

The view of the pro bono practice at Clifford Chance, widely shared across the firm, is that the SDGs offer the best available basic framework for designing pro bono programmes and philanthropy and measuring their impact. This is partly because the engagement achieved by the UN in designing the goals was so extensive and impressive. The process was driven by an open working group from 70 countries, with access to the world's leading development experts, alongside which the world's largest ever consultation exercise was conducted, involving 11 thematic and 83 national consultations. Embedded in this degree of insight, consultation and expertise, we do not see any better framework for identifying the key drivers for the eradication of poverty, and prompting the design of effective pro bono strategies.

That said, it is no secret that the SDGs are open to criticism. They have little to say, for example, about the protection of fundamental freedoms, or about the challenges we face around diversity and inclusion. For this reason, as we develop our approach, we are building in additional KPIs aligned with strong progress around human rights and diversity, to ensure that these areas remain a core part of our practice: a SDG+ framework.

For us, it is the opportunity to collaborate around shared, credible and transparent objectives that the goals offer that we think is so exciting. More and more of our fee-paying clients are framing aspects of their business around the SDGs, and we are starting to find ways in which can work together with them. We have joined A4ID's ambitious SDG Legal Initiative, which is bringing together a large number of law firms and in-house counsel to explore the development of a co-ordinated approach to the SDGs across the legal profession domestically and internationally. We see this as having the potential, over time, to create at least a degree of co-ordination between law firms and in-house lawyers in framing the legal profession's contribution towards the SDG's powerful and transformative agenda.

We have recently completed a review of our pro bono practice, mapping the contributions that it and our Foundation are making towards the goals. We are now considering other goals we should, perhaps, focus on more, given our culture and expertise, and we plan to identify new NGO partners with that in mind. We are extending this mapping across more of our local office pro bono relationships. And in future we will consciously identify new and assess existing key pro bono relationships against their ability to contribute to the SDG agenda.

The SDG framework is energising many of our key pro bono client relationships, providing a much surer way to help us identify real alignment between our objectives and theirs. As the CEO of one of our global strategic pro bono NGO clients said:

"By linking to the Sustainable Development Goals Clifford Chance’s contribution becomes relevant to the global agenda, with your efforts aligned with the work of others, from front line NGO workers to the leadership of the United Nations, and everyone else in between. It talks to us about what you want to achieve in language which we understand."