Lawyers can get involved in the fight against poverty by supporting pro bono initiatives
Imagine you are a child and your diet is almost exclusively made up of maize, so you do not eat enough protein, fats or micronutrients. You are at risk of anaemia, vitamin A deficiency and stunted growth.
You are malnourished. You do not need a lawyer, you need medical help – or the kind of emergency, nutrient-packed wonderfood made by a company such as Valid Nutrition, which has just won Ashoka’s Nutrients for All competition for the work it is doing.
Valid’s brown paste Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), which is eaten straight out of the pack, may not look particularly appetising, but if you are malnourished, the proteins, fats and minerals it contains could save your life.
So where do the lawyers come in? Well, like all charities and businesses, Valid needed lawyers to get its product off the ground. When it started it needed advice on the structures and collaborations it wanted to establish in regions where malnutrition occurs, which is a critical part of its business model – tackling malnutrition and stimulating developing economies.
It also needed advice on trademarks to ensure it could protect the ethical identity and quality of its product and, as it grew, on establishing subsidiaries and an international organisation.
This is make-or-break advice for a growing enterprise – the sort that normally comes with a hefty price tag. But through legal anti-poverty pro bono broker Advocates for International Development (A4ID), Valid has received advice from Allen & Overy, Ashurst, Reed Smith, Shearman & Sterling, Weil Gotshal & Manges and in-country lawyers, all on a pro bono basis.
To date, Valid has produced close to 20 million life-saving sachets of RUTF and estimates these have been used to treat some 200,000 children, with several thousand lives saved. It describes A4ID’s role in this success as pivotal.
Valid is not the only development organisation that has received pro bono advice from A4ID since it was established by a group of City lawyers in 2006. Despite the fact that more than 450 charities, social enterprises and developing country governments have received support from A4ID in that time, there is still much more potential.
The amount lawyers can and do contribute to the fight against poverty is underestimated.
Every charity working to blot out malnutrition, illiteracy or preventable disease has legal needs and would be able to do its work more effectively with top legal support. We are trying to level the playing field so the organisations tackling world problems can get world-class advice. What makes international pro bono so special is that it is not just asking lawyers to put their hands in their pockets, but offering them the chance to contribute to anti-poverty efforts in a practical way.