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Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance
Responsible Business Insights<br />

Responsible Business Insights

Creating sustainable change

Creating sustainable change with Cornerstone

Our flagship Cornerstone initiative is already creating lasting, sustainable change in Rwanda. And there’s more in the pipeline.

Launched in 2019 with the aim of improving the lives of those in some of the poorest communities in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, our Cornerstone initiative has already had a significant impact.

The flagship programme sees us commit our legal and technical expertise alongside £1million per year over a five-year period to develop a series of projects in partnership with a range of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that will substantially improve wellbeing in the city and beyond. Our theory of change for the initiative focuses on how we can bring about transformative and longlasting change and establish scalable models for improved wellbeing that could be applied across Rwanda and, potentially, in other environments.

We worked hard at the start of the initiative to learn from people living in Kigali’s poorest communities about which issues have the most detrimental effect on their well-being. That approach, alongside our commitment to invest in these communities over a long period, are what make Cornerstone different to any other pro bono initiative we have seen and really excites is. At the same time, it is great to be able to offer people across our firm the chance to get involved and deliver the kind of meaningful impact we are in the privileged position to able to make as a responsible global business.

Although some of our work was hampered by the Covid-19 crisis over the last year, we have still made excellent progress, not least by supporting a number of our NGO partners to be able to continue to deliver their programmes during lockdown in Kigali. Our assessments show the projects we have finished have had a considerable impact on the ground.

Highlights of Cornerstone’s work over the last year include the successful completion of three major projects, all of which have had a positive effect on the lives of the people they were designed to help, alongside the development of six new projects.

Teenage pregnancy

Working with strategic global pro bono client Hope & Homes for Children, we delivered a project to help teenage mothers stay with their children and extended families in an emotionally stable environment. Teenage pregnancy is a significant driver of poverty and mental ill-health in Kigali and increases the risk of babies and young children being abandoned and taken into care.

This project worked directly with 150 teenage mothers in Kicukiro District, one of the city’s poorest communities, to equip them with the skills and confidence they need to be able to look after their children, including by providing counselling and psychosocial support. It created support groups so mothers could develop relationships with their peers and helped them gain access to assistance from the state, including vaccinations, birth control and birth registration.

The project exceeded most of its targets, including on training community volunteers to provide ongoing support to the mothers, a key component of the work that reflects Cornerstone’s focus on securing sustainable change.

Remote counselling

Each year, Rwanda marks the genocide of 1994 with a series of commemorative events, which in 2020 began after Rwanda had locked down in response to Covid-19, meaning survivors were unable to contact other people as they remembered what had happened.

For many, having to stay indoors and the increased presence of the military and the police on the streets brought back harrowing memories of what happened during the genocide.

We worked alongside Survivors Fund, a local NGO, to provide a toll-free telephone counselling service so survivors could continue to receive support during this period of isolation and through to the end of the year. More than 15,000 genocide survivors used the service, while 87% said it helped them. The project also gave survivors access to life skills training and small business loans.


Further demonstrating our commitment to sustainability, we partnered with the Rwandan Wildlife Conservation Association in a tree-planting programme to offset the impact of all our flights to and from Kigali for the duration of our Cornerstone initiative.

This involved planting 2000 indigenous trees in Rugezi Marsh, a protected wetland and Key Biodiversity Area on the outskirts of Kigali that is also home to many Grey Crowned Cranes.

A key part of the project was educating people and deepening their understanding of conservation issues, which we achieved by engaging 113 members of the local community and getting 145 members of two youth clubs involved in the planting. The trees will be monitored and cared for over the next two years to ensure they grow to be strong and healthy. 

Several more projects were launched over the last 12 months, including one with Women In Africa, an NGO that aims to teach coding to young women in Kigali so they are equipped with the skills needed for a future career in technology and another in partnership with the New York Academy of Sciences to improve Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) education in Kigali’s secondary schools.

Next steps

In the coming year, we will be developing new projects to tackle other key aspects of wellbeing, particularly in relation to food security and nutrition where there will be a chance for people in the firm to develop our thinking and design projects.

At the same time, we will be working hard with our NGO partners to help them strengthen their organisations. This is a key component in our strategy to create lasting, sustainable change in Kigali long after Cornerstone has concluded. This will involve working with them beyond individual projects to develop scalable delivery models and to expand their networks.

We are also hoping to offer opportunities for some of our clients to get involved in Cornerstone projects through our partners’ networks. For us, it’s not just about making money available; it’s about creating a lasting legacy that benefits some of the poorest communities in Kigali, broadens access to social justice and allows our people to share their knowledge and expertise where it is needed most.