Empower, Engage, Sustain: Building New Partnerships in Asia

1 October 2019

In September 2019, A4ID’s ROLE UK Programme took part in the eighth annual Asia Pro Bono Conference held over three days in Kathmandu, Nepal. This year’s theme, ‘Justice for All: Empower – Engage – Sustain’, perfectly embodies A4ID’s and the ROLE UK Programme’s work to mobilise legal pro bono expertise and harness the law to ensure no one is left behind on the path to achieve the global agenda for sustainable development.

The conference hosted around 650 participants from over 30 countries and a range of legal backgrounds, including corporate lawyers, NGO lawyers and those specialising in legal aid and pro bono. A4ID’s ROLE UK Programme was represented by A4ID CEO, Yasmin Batliwala, ROLE UK Programme Manager, Naomi Barnard, and ROLE UK Technical Expert, Adrienne Joy. Following Yasmin’s participation at last year’s conference in Hong Kong, the team aimed to further strengthen collaboration with legal stakeholders in Asia.

Placing People at the Heart of Pro Bono 

The inauguration opened with an address from the United Nations Development Programme Resident Representative, Ayshanie Medagangoda-Labe, who highlighted the fundamental role that access to justice plays in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Medagangoda-Labe affirmed that the conference provided a forum for leading thinkers in the legal community to address prevalent rule of law issues within justice systems globally.

“Over 5 billion people worldwide have no access to legal services.”  -  Ayshanie Medagangoda-Labe, United Nations Development Programme Resident Representative

There is an increasing awareness that poor application of the rule of law in many developing countries creates a climate of vulnerability that undermines development initiatives. Medagangoda-Labe stressed that people must be kept at the centre of pro bono efforts, emphasising that justice is about daily life, about women, about men, about children. In order to address systemic injustices faced by those removed from power, we must address the concerns that directly affect the livelihoods and security of everyday citizens.

Over the course of the three-day conference, A4ID’s ROLE UK team participated in a number of sessions on topics ranging from the decentralisation of power in countries such as Indonesia, to ensuring intersectionality in the provision of legal pro bono. On the final day of the conference, the Programme hosted a dynamic event on ‘Doing Pro Bono the Development Way’, which situated legal pro bono work within an international development context to encourage participants to develop more impactful pro bono projects that respond to the environment that they are operating in.

Doing Pro Bono the Development Way

ROLE UK’s conference session, presented by Naomi Barnard, Adrienne Joy, iProbono’s South Asia Regional Director, Mariam Faruqi and facilitated by Yasmin Batliwala, was attended by over 60 conference delegates. Naomi Barnard opened the session by exploring the nexus between law and development, providing examples that placed a spotlight on the importance of building and maintaining cross-country partnerships in achieving sustainable development. The presentation was followed by an audience discussion, allowing attendees to exchange thoughts and experiences related to using their legal expertise to facilitate development.

ROLE UK Technical Expert, Adrienne Joy then introduced a variety of development tools, including theories of change, the COM-B model for stimulating behaviour change among a target group, and monitoring and evaluation frameworks, which allow practitioners to measure the effectiveness of their pro bono assistance and build on the lessons learnt to improve future efforts. Whilst regularly an afterthought in legal pro bono, these tools are crucial to ensure the sustained and positive transformation necessary to address rule of law issues.

"Fantastic presentation, I benefitted greatly!" - particpant of the Doing Pro Bono the Development Way session

Finally, Mariam Faruqi, provided a case study outlining the work between iProbono and the Law and Policy Forum for Social Justice (LAPSOJ) in Nepal. This ROLE UK-supported partnership offered participants a clear example of how the development tools they had learnt about were being implemented to improve economic, social and cultural rights in Nepal. The partnership between iProbono and LAPSOJ illustrated the structural difference that pro bono work can make when appropriate development tools are considered and utilised in order to address underlying rule of law issues, as opposed to just the symptoms of those problems.

The response from participants was overwhelmingly positive, with the majority of delegates expressing a desire to make a change to their existing ways of working as a result of speakers’ presentations. One participant explained that, “The content may not be immediately relevant to my day-to-day work, but I want to make it relevant!”

Looking to the future

The Asia Pro Bono Conference was an exciting chance for A4ID’s ROLE UK Programme to strengthen existing ties and promote further collaboration between the UK and Asian legal sectors to promote long-term positive change. As the legal and judicial sector begins to adopt development tools in their work, pro bono expertise will be better employed to empower vulnerable members within a community and secure universal access to justice.

With the Programme at the forefront of development-conscious legal pro bono; strategic, sustainable partnerships will continue to be a central component of A4ID’s international development efforts to help improve the rule of law worldwide. Join us as we strive to achieve justice for all; register your interest in attending the next ‘Doing Pro Bono the Development Way’ workshop in London. 


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