Yan Peng: Building a Better World Through Pro Bono

Apr 30, 2019 9:15 AM ET
Blog

The 2019 Global Pro Bono Summit, hosted by Taproot Foundation, will take place in New York City this May. Leading up to this gathering, Taproot will be releasing a series of profiles featuring movers and shakers of the pro bono movement, from companies with cutting-edge programs to individuals working towards a more engaged society to nonprofits tapping into pro bono service as a way to deepen their impact on the communities they serve.

The potential of pro bono

Global Pro Bono Network council member Yan Peng has been doing pro bono since before she even knew what pro bono was. Having worked in environmental sustainability and social development since 1995, she donated her time and expertise to co-found the Center for Civil Society Studies of Peking University. Her work helped set the stage for training programs run in partnership with Harvard University that built the management capacity of China’s first generation of NGOs. During this experience using her skills to make a difference, Yan quickly realized that “everyone has a social mission in their heart” and sensed that pro bono partnerships have the unique potential to bring together various groups in a society.

The rise of volunteerism in China

Bringing the pro bono movement to China was no easy feat. The country has struggled with a lack of trust in charities due to some unfortunate social sector scandals. Despite these historical misgivings around philanthropy, Peng believes that China is “more ready than ever for the pro bono movement” to spread throughout the country. She ties that belief to a massive positive shift in the country’s relationship with community engagement that occurred in 2008 due to three distinct events: the Wenchuan Earthquake, massive flooding in South China, and the Beijing Olympic Games. She reports that each of these moments galvanized Chinese citizens, “uniting them around a common cause—to help one another,” and laid the groundwork for philanthropy and volunteerism to become a more established presence throughout the country.

Peng co-founded the Beijing Pro Bono Foundation in 2016 as a response to this rise in community engagement. Peng notes that her organization is “professionalizing the pro bono process by providing an online infrastructure for Chinese professionals to volunteer their skills and for NGOs to get the support they need.” Before an NGO is able to request pro bono support, BPBF screens the charity and its need. Then, when a project is completed, they require that both parties write up a thorough description of how the partnership went. In Peng’s eyes the structure that her organization provides to pro bono plays a huge role in “solving issues around trust.”

Find out what's next for the pro bono movement in China.