“YOU are CreateAthon?”
“Well, uh, yes, I guess I am.”
“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it’s really you! I talk to people in India about CreateAthon all the time!”
That is what greeted me within 10 minutes of stepping into an evening reception at the Global Pro Bono Summit, hosted recently by Taproot Foundation. It was a moment that took my breath away, and the start of a 24-hour experience that filled me with the promise of good in the world like never before.
Joining me at the event in NYC was none other than CreateAthon Chief Evangelical Officer Peyton Rowe. That, in itself, is enough to get me pumped up on the matter of all things pro bono. Then there were our friends from Taproot Foundation, A Billion + Change, and other swell folks from socially minded corporations we’ve come to know. I expected to see these flag-bearers for pro bono, and to once again be inspired by their leadership.
What I encountered was something altogether different.
I was surrounded by people from about a dozen different countries who were part of Taproot’s global fellows program. Then there were “intermediaries,” people throughout the US who lead programs designed to mobilize pro bono efforts in their respective industries and/or communities. Like CreateAthon.
Before we intermediaries were introduced to the global fellows, Taproot Founder and event organizer Aaron Hurst provided some meaningful context to us on why these people had come to New York, and why we had been invited to meet them:
“Understand that most of the people you’ll meet today come from countries in which pro bono is neither encouraged nor tolerated. In some cases, they are not only putting themselves at professional risk for advocating the practice of pro bono, but also personal. They can go to jail for this.
“You’re here to get to know them, encourage them, and connect with them from now on, so they can be prepared to carry out this work when they go home.”
That got our attention.
Then here they came, 22 of the most delightful people I’ve ever met. Between their broken English and my heavy Southern accent, we often had to repeat ourselves or help interpret each other’s sentences. But what transcended that awkward dialogue was the immediate, shared spark of something between us: the belief in pro bono.
There’s so much to say about this experience — perhaps I shall come back here and unpack all of my takeaways — but for now, I hope you’ll be inspired by three things I now know to be true, thanks to this global gathering of good.
Pro bono is going to become an industry, not a nice to do.
We can capitalize on it and make a living giving it scale throughout the world. What some may have once considered a pipe dream is now quickly becoming a force.
People are different. Their hearts are the same.
The power of human connections around a central cause has never been more palpable to me than in the last two weeks. All it takes is one moment, and an extended hand.
The impact of CreateAthon has only just begun.
Our 24-hour marathon model is being noticed in places far from here, not just in India. In France: “We now have a marathon model in place inspired by CreateAthon.”
In the Netherlands: “Oh yes, we've heard of you. What a great program!”
In Germany: “We love CreateAthon, and I am going to get you to Berlin to teach us how to do it.”
Where do we go from here? Global fellows, corporate leaders, and intermediaries like us will reassemble for Global Pro Bono Summit II a year from now. In the meantime, we’ll be connecting with each other, one by one, sharing ideas and offering encouragement. We’ll also be working together on a number of initiatives coming out of the summit that will help to move the global pro bono movement forward in the next 12 months.
The last thing I know for sure?
If you have a little idea, it can be big.