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Pro bono around the world - Sandrine, Turkey

Pro Bono Lab launched in 2020 the study "International Panorama of pro bono". Its objective : analyse the diversity of pro bono practices around the world. Discover the testimony of Sandrine, from C@rma, in Turquey.

C@rma is a turquish organisation whose mission is to inspire and support the private sector to work together with Turkish Civil society as a tool to advance the Sustainable Development Goals

Sandrine Ramboux is its Founder and General manager.

1. Tell us more about the national context in which your organisation operates

Turkey used to be the last one on the world giving index. Since two years ago, Turkey is no longer present on it. There is a strong culture of supporting people in your community, your family, people in your village, friends, friends of friends…You will do everything for the cousin of your best friend, but you won’t do anything for someone you do not know. There is some kind of mistrust vis-à-vis others.

I believe there are two factors explaining this: 1) the strength of the community in the country and 2) the level of democracy. When you have strong political interference in day to day life, people rely more on their community since they do not want to take any risk.

When I arrived in Turkey, there was an earthquake in the South-East. We wanted to collect money and send equipment, but everybody was saying the money won’t arrive, they were suspicious. On the other side, when you speak to NGOs, they say they do not trust corporate people because they do not understand the worries of civil society. So it’s both ways. What’s very funny is that people in these two worlds, private sector and non-profit sector, are coming from the same background! They are generally coming from the same couple of good universities in Turkey.

That’s the reason why we concentrate our efforts on creating dialogue. We have a lot of small events of one hour, two hours, where non-profits are joining and corporate professionals come to help the NGOs. It’s a good way for them to see what it is and after that let them engage by themselves.

Although the UN Global Compact is very present, companies do not support civil society because they do not trust small NGOs and they are afraid of the potential liabilities it might have. They want to work with the 3-4 very large NGOs that everybody knows. Moreover, there is no tax incentive for the company to make donations or volunteer.

More generally, those companies do not want to oblige their employees, they won’t organise something at corporate level. This is a real hurdle because I think that compared to Europe, the individual employee does not really feel “in charge” of the subject, most of them would think it should be handled by the corporate as an entity and not by them individually; that might be a reason why the culture of Individual Pro Bono is not largely spread.

I must also admit that most NGOs are very small, with volunteers and no staff, so it is hard for companies to work with them. NGOs are overwhelmed, they do not have time to work on their capacity building and hence to receive the potential support from the companies.

Finally, tax authorities are suspicious vis-à-vis volunteering work that they are considering as undeclared work. More generally speaking, people do not understand why you would work if you are not paid.

We concentrate our efforts on creating dialogue.

2. If you had one legislative measure put in place by your government to facilitate the work you do…what would it be?

The best one would be to oblige companies to do CSR! (she laughs). At least have a status for volunteers and define some rules: say what it means, say that you need to have a contract, pay for their lunch and transport…

Yet, the legal status of entities is also challenging; there is no status for social entrepreneur, they are a corporate firms or an NGO, nothing in between and there is barely any incentives for NGOs, for 95% of them, no tax deductions for corporates when giving them donation and they pay the same taxes as if they were a company.

3. What are the different activities that you put into place within your organisation?

On the part of inspiration, we regularly organise a pro bono drink where we invite 6 NGOs and 60-75 corporate people. The NGOs present their activities, people can interact, and then, they have wine and cheese. Last time, we had a panel of corporate professionals asking questions to NGOs. It was a good incentive for these persons to support those non-profits.

On mobilising, we first have a platform that is quite efficient, where NGOs can publish their project. It just takes us a lot of time because we need to scope the project correctly and then to coordinate between the volunteers and the NGOs.

We also have what we call the “speed-meeting”. At first, we had different NGOs coming with different projects and then we were recruiting different experts to match them bilaterally. More recently, we gathered different experts, for instance one lawyer, one accountant, one website designer and for a full day, each non-profit spends one hour with each of the experts. It motivates the NGO to be very concise. Our corporate professionals really liked that format.

In addition, we have corporate projects. One example is the ones we did for Engie. We identify a suitable NGO, we scope the project, the company organises the open call for the employees. Then we manage the project, usually with 7 to 10 employees. They last for four months. Each professional is working in his/her field like HR, marketing, IT, legal etc. We even had engineers to checking whether all the safety measures were taken in the premises of a non-profit working with disabled people.

Recently, we started working with a foundation. They regularly support NGOs. They have a network of donors or employees they want to involve in the process, so we developed together a pro bono part of their grant programme so that each NGO they support would get pro bono. Pro bono professionals are provided from the donors side. It’s a win-win situation: donors are satisfied because they know the money is better used and they get involved, the Foundation knows the grant is used with purpose, and as for us, we are paid for this service. This is the model we would like to develop.

More and more companies are looking at how to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. We are providing ways to include the development of the capacity of Turkish Civil Society players in their approach for reaching these goals. In these projects, Pro Bono is one of our tools in a toolbox. It can be combined with philanthropy or for example with entrepreneurship programs.

C@rma enjoys a very good reputation in Istanbul, we are well-known for our professionalism and we have a very large network. However, we have not found the correct model yet to be financially sustainable in the long run. The Pro Bono part of C@rma is mainly subsidised by the other services that C@rma is providing like support to disadvantaged women to develop their businesses. We raised funds through grants for these projects and it enables us to cover the admin cost of C@rma.

4. In the survey, you said you work with job seekers, students, retired people: how do you work specifically with them?  

We are mainly working with individuals. They are not specially part of a group. Most of the projects we do with corporate firms are also based on individual participation of the employees. Contrary to other countries, we do not have any funding targeted at various categories of the population. We are focusing mostly on the support of Civil Society, not really on giving another skillset to individuals although this is also of course in our value proposition to our volunteers.

Sometimes we do work with schools. For instance, we are currently working with 55 high school students who are helping remotely two non-profits for three months.

5. How do you facilitate your community?

We have regular (online) gatherings with our community of volunteers, we organise events, we have a regular newsletter. For events, we ask volunteers to bring another person with them to broaden the group. We believe the project should be fun as well. It is about sharing personal experience too. Another way is to make them see what the non-profits do on the field and speak to beneficiaries. Finally, we make sure that the project is relevant and that volunteers have an impact.

6. Can you tell us more about your Digital platform?

At the beginning, when I created C@rma, I only wanted to have the platform, where people could volunteer, donate and invest in social entrepreneurs. I started with donations and pro bono but I realised donations were not working, so I decided to focus on pro bono.  

How does the platform work? People have to create a profile when they register, in order to look at the projects. Then, we ask them their interests and their skills. We have a long list of skills, and not professions. On the other hand, we create the profile of the NGO. We include their financials, the description of their impact, who is at the board…We give all the information for the sake of transparency. Then, we create the project, and it is linked to the profile.

When that is done, the tool automatically sends an email to people who have the right skills who can then apply through the platform. In order to assess their candidacies they have to motivate their request by answering questions chosen by the NGOs. It could be something like what is your experience with this topic? Why do you want to support this organisation? How much time do you have? etc.

Finally, the NGO and myself get the information and we can contact them.

Yet, by lack of resources, we barely find the time to track what happens next. It is a pity. We can only check after a while what happened.

7. Have you adapted your activity to the coronavirus situation?

We went 100% virtual.. What I often say is that pro bono can be done online. When you have a city of 20 million inhabitants like Istanbul, people like solutions that are easy and flexible. The volunteering meetings were the only activities we had to move online.

During these hard times, people might be open to supporting civil society but if C@rma needs to survive, then we need to have corporate firms paying for project and in this economic crisis, that might be challenging.

8. Why is pro bono important according to you, and why it will be even more relevant in the future?

In Turkey, we have a lot of small NGOs and they know very well what they are doing, such as working with disadvantaged communities. But they do not have the resources for all the rest (business model, marketing etc) and therefore, they cannot grow.

They could have much more impact and sustain on the long run, avoid burn out in the team…so pro bono helps support the expansion of civil society!


🌏🧐 Intéressé.e par le Panorama International du pro bono, et par l'engagement citoyen à l'international ? + d'infos par ici

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