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Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance

Responsible Business Insights

Working towards a sustainable future

Adopting a theory of change to drive impact in pro bono and philanthropy

In the first of a series of blog articles about developing effective pro bono practices, Pro Bono Director Tom Dunn explores how to devise strategies for achieving impact in pro bono work.

The subsequent blogs will consider the potential of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to help shape pro bono programmes and examine partnership working as a key form of delivery in pro bono work.

The delivery of effective pro bono support and grant-funding to the communities around the world where Clifford Chance operates is central to the way we do business. We developed a strategic focus to this over ten years ago, when we identified widening access to justice, finance and education as the ways in which we want, and are best equipped, to make a positive contribution to peoples' lives in those communities. We have since added an environmental focus to our work.

In the last three years we have also aligned what we do with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) and now frame consideration and measurement of the impact we achieve in terms of which SDG goals and targets we contribute to (as we say, the subject of the next article in this series).

We have been fortunate to be able to work with ROLE UK to devise a systematic approach to maximising our impact, in particular by developing a theory of change. This required us to articulate and test what we expected to happen following the delivery of our support in order for the higher-level changes we hoped to see as a result to occur.

We knew a) we wanted those higher-level changes to be progress towards the achievement of the SDGs and b) that pro bono work, funding from the Clifford Chance Foundation, access to our networks, collaborating with our fee-paying clients and use of our facilities were the principal contributions that we could make.

As an overall point, and based on an audit of our key strategic pro bono relationships, we saw that we could achieve most by working in long-term partnerships with NGOs whose own missions relate directly to the achievement of the SDGs. Our key conclusion was that in order for our in-kind and financial investments to feed through into SDG impact, they need to have the effect of increasing the capacity of our NGO partners themselves to make that contribution.

From there, we identified what in particular we can bring to these relationships in order to  enhance NGOs' capacity in this way. We concluded that wide-ranging legal and technical support that NGOs are likely to find difficult to access elsewhere, strengthening their institutional capacity, collaborating with clients in our pro bono work to help grow the resources available to NGOs, and opening up our networks to our NGO clients, also with a view to building their capacity, are the key elements. 

In the work of our Foundation, we saw that by adopting a more flexible funding strategy than many of the bigger institutional funders, and offering pro bono support hand-in-hand with grants, we could help our NGO partners to resource the delivery of what may be key but otherwise difficult to fund aspects of their mission, perhaps because the impact is harder to measure, or likely to make itself felt over longer periods.

The centrality of partnership working to our theory of change positions us to work alongside a large number of our pro bono and fee-paying clients in our approach to SDG 17. We will be saying more about this later in the series, but conclude here with an example of our theory of change in action.

We have been working in partnership with Asylum Access, a San Francisco-based NGO that supports refugees and asylum seekers, both in securing refugee status and subsequently asserting their rights, since 2008. During that time, offices from across the Clifford Chance network have done a great deal of work for Asylum Access, in particular in relation to their growth and the development of their franchise model. Alongside that, our Foundation gave a major grant to support a doubling in the number of jurisdictions in which they operate.

In 2011 Asylum Access directly supported 3,600 refugees annually through their legal empowerment programs and advocated for policy changes that would go on to benefit over 1,000,000 people. Today, Asylum Access’s programs and partnerships reach over 60,000 with direct services annually, and their teams around the world are currently advocating for policy shifts that can impact a further 10,000,000 refugees in the years to come. Much of their work contributes to a number of SDGs, in particular 8.8, 16.3 and 16.6.