Many business professionals have the desire to engage with social enterprise, but lack the context and connections to be impactful in the space. By training professionals with a specific skillset on common trends and practices in the social innovation sector and creating a community to support that skillset, businesses can help social entrepreneurs meet their talent needs while providing professional development opportunities for their employees.

“Through our courses we have [built] a collaborative and active community of practice that in turn is able to provide tailored legal support to social enterprises across the world,”

— Carolina Henriquez-Schmitz, Regional Lead and Legal Manager, Thomson Reuters Foundation

The Issue:

Many business professionals possess skills that could be an asset to entrepreneurs, and are willing to deploy these specialized skills towards social enterprises on a pro-bono basis. However, very few have a nuanced view of how to tailor these skills to the constantly evolving social enterprise space. In particular, legal support can help entrepreneurs navigate the regulatory and legal environment in their city. However, as Carolina Henriquez-Schmitz of TrustLaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s pro-bono program, notes, “most law schools do not provide a comprehensive curriculum on social innovation, social entrepreneurship or impact investing, and many fail to offer relevant clinical/experiential education opportunities.” As a result, corporate lawyers often lack the relevant skills and knowledge to effectively advise social enterprises in a changing landscape.

The Solution:

TrustLaw responded to this problem by leveraging its social finance work to start running a series of legal training courses and events. Core to this is the Social Enterprise and Impact Investing Training, which was launched in 2014 and provides lawyers and other advisors with the skills and knowledge to advise social enterprise clients on legal issues and trends in the growing social innovation sector. The courses combine hands-on legal training with practical case studies and networking opportunities.

The Impact:

TrustLaw has trained over 150 lawyers in three years, building a collaborative and active community of practice that in turn is able to provide experienced pro bono legal support for social enterprises. Course attendees have gained an in-depth understanding of key legal issues facing the social enterprise and investment sector, including structuring advice, legal challenges for investors, and different funding models. This has in turn led law firms to take on more and more social enterprise pro bono projects through the TrustLaw platform. As one example, Latham & Watkins drafted website terms and conditions and independent contractor agreements for NaTakallam, a social enterprise providing employment opportunities to refugees and displaced individuals. “This assistance was invaluable for NaTakallam – it allowed us to formalize and expand our online platform that connects displaced Syrians with Arabic learners for language practice.” – Aline Sara, NaTakallam

How it applies to your city:

Each city has a unique mix of businesses whose resources and skills could be leveraged in support of social entrepreneurs. Enablers and businesses should consider how the talents of their local businesses could be used to help social enterprises succeed. By building a network of skilled professionals who understand social enterprise, they can help social enterprises get the resources they need. Businesses also have the opportunity to build the skills of their employees and improve retention through impactful engagement.