De-coding skills-based pro-bono

September 15, 2017 | Amrit Rai

By the middle of this century, India is expected to emerge as the world's third-largest1 economy, and the enactment of the 2013 CSR law brought India on the cusp of accelerated corporate social change.

With the law, it became imperative that companies do their part to help build an engaged nation, and take responsibility for their social actions or lack thereof. The caveats of the law, however, came with liberal connotations with the 'spend or explain' clause. The CSR Law effective since April 2014 states that; every company shall spend two percent of their average net profits of the preceding three financial years, in CSR activities as mentioned in Schedule VII of the act, if during any financial year, they fulfil the following criteria:

a net worth of Rs. 500 crore or more Or a turnover of Rs. 1000 crore or more Or a net profit of Rs. 5 crore or more.


The rubrics allowed many truant actors to get off lightly. A recent report2 released in 2017 shows that 26 percent of CSR budgets of 305 companies remained unspent in 2015-16 – amounting to Rs. 1.84 billion. One of the top three explanations given for unspent CSR amounts is that most corporations have yet to 'identify their thrust areas/projects'.

Meanwhile, globally 2015 was the year ear-marked for the completion of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs3). One of the biggest visible gaps was that statistics were mapped against 1990 figures, which were perhaps not representative of the actual change between 2000 and 2015.

Furthermore, India ranked 135th in the 2013 UN Human Development Index. The 2011-12 Rangarajan4 report had the purchasing power parity averaged at $0.61, while the Tendulkar report cited $0.46 per day for both rural and urban populations on the basis of 'poverty line basket5' indicators. The report revealed that a quarter of Indians remained beneath the poverty line. In absolute numbers, this translated to nearly 300 million people.

The UN, however, defined individuals beneath the poverty line as those unable to spend $1.25 a day on basic food and necessities. Using this parameter, over 700 million Indians would be beneath the poverty line. Subsequently, the UN raised the minimum purchasing power for people across the globe to $1.906.


Accelerating What Works through a Collaborative Approach

These grim statistics highlight the need for accelerating targeted interventions, in order to achieve an upward growth trajectory. To do so, it is increasingly important to collaborate for innovative interventions, to negotiate cultural diversity and to initiative positive disruptions.

Among the methodologies of such participative action is pro-bono – planned, strategic and skilled volunteerism. Individuals work on long-term assignments with a mission driven organization – a local NGO, a social enterprise, or a government agency, for example – on a project such as a new marketing plan, a technology database, or a strategic roadmap at no cost to the organization that would otherwise be inaccessible.

This setting often leads to the cross pollination of ideas, thoughts and 'borderless' engagements are a reality. Purposeful engagement across different sectors - namely private, public and social - result in improved collaborative thought. This perpetuates goal-oriented action in which all partners and collaborators commit to bringing about the change they envision in order to create a better served community. Passionate, committed and cooperative thinking that leverages skills based pro-bono catalyse what’s possible.

Interactive and engaged collaborations also stimulate the right mind-set, allow for proper problem definitions and promote healthy partnerships. With a focus on engagement, collaborative partnerships are markedly different from traditional development practices which are more transactional and provide less social return on investment.

At PYXERA Global we define ‘engagement as to do along with someone or something’, whereas traditional development often take the position of doing something to someone or something’. These are distinctly different, with the former having more of an equal relationship than the latter. Purposeful partnerships can only happen when all partners have mutual respect for one another and are open to compromise in order to break deadlocked conversations.


What is the Difference between Corporate Volunteerism and Pro-Bono?

The most common response one encounters from corporates is 'Yes, we engage in pro-bono', which refers to traditional corporate volunteerism, rather than strategic skills based pro-bono which creates shared value. This raises a question - how is skills based pro-bono different from commonly understood corporate volunteerism?

Over the past twenty-five years, PYXERA Global has partnered with dozens of companies on pro-bono initiatives, including IBM and its Corporative Service Corps, SAP and its Social Sabbatical, and many others:

  Corporate volunteerism includes any kind of volunteerism done by an individual desiring to contribute, in some way, towards the well-being of others or the planet. This pursues the basic concept of philanthropy and underpins initiatives for the next enhancement, which is more skills-focused and lends unique expertise to well-thought through engagements.

 Skills-based pro-bono, refers to a purposeful engagement via collaborative partnerships between public, private and/or social sectors for the benefit of the underserved communities. The main aim behind skills-based pro-bono is to deliver measurable impacts, employing an individual’s unique skill-set to achieve pre-defined goals. Skills-based pro-bono is interactive and encourages definitive and mutually agreed-upon goals, spurs behavioral change and innovative thinking, and creates gen-next leaders through this immersive experience.

There is a marked difference in these two approaches. Corporate volunteerism can be an act of ‘giving back’ to society in terms of time and in-kind. It can be teaching an academic subject, painting the walls of a community, or building a home in a village for underserved communities. This lends one's time and good intent, but not one's expertise.

Skills-based pro-bono is investing one’s expert skill-sets with the aim of enhancing the work of mission driven organizations and providing them with access to competencies they would otherwise not have acquired.

For the corporate teams, lending expertise translates into positive impact, fuelled by a passion to make a meaningful contribution to changing the lives of many local underserved communities.

This experience drives diverse and innovative solutions, and cultivates intellectual comprehension of complex and unique challenges. It produces emotional understanding that leads to world-class leaders with the ability to think out-of-the-box.


Today’s Volunteers Are Tomorrow’s Leaders

At PYXERA Global we advocate the principle of ‘today’s volunteers are tomorrow’s leaders’. The participating team of volunteers have the capability to influence decisions on behalf of their organizations, and in future will be piloting the cause of positive social change. In addition, the benefits of engaging in purposeful skills-based pro-bono activities multiply reputation, enhance brand reputation and enforce positive work cultures, and directly yields economic gains as well.

In a Stanford Social Innovation Review 20137, Amanda MacArthur and Alicia Bonner Ness of PYXERA Global, presented valuable insights on how, “corporations dedicated to social good pay-offs, help retain members of the millennial generations, especially those who value the opportunity to make a difference more than any other benefit”.

There have been many discussions and debates on the benefits of volunteerism, and one of the most deserving mentions, according to the Center for Talent Innovation, is that “the way such programs develop leadership talent within the volunteers themselves, as also the impact they yield for their non-profit beneficiaries8.” To quote Josh Bersin - an expert on talent development - “building a corps of employees who are successfully able to lead is the most critical indicator of a corporation’s future performance: If you’re an investor, watching the CEO is important – but look at how they build, develop, and attract leadership. This is perhaps the most important thing they do9.”


1 RWL_APAC-IndiaReport-Kornferry.pdf



Note on the author:
As the Business Development Director – India for PYXERA Global, Amrit Rai works to build robust and meaningful partnerships across different sectors to leverage corporate social change in a dynamic India market via unique and innovative solutions.
Prior to joining PYXERA Global, Amrit spent 25 years across different media platforms spanning television, print and digital mediums. Her last two assignments were as the ELLE India Publisher and Business Head Bloomberg Television India.


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