Recognizing the urgent need to solve pressing community challenges and the power of children to identify and implement these solutions, Fundación EducarUno launched a program, proven successful in India, called Diseña el Cambio (Design Change) in Mexico in 2010. Diseña el Cambio is a national school competition designed to empower participants to be key players in the development and implementation of ideas to transform communities with leadership and proactive attitudes. Teams of five students and a teacher address challenges including insecurity, pollution, poverty, corruption, and violence.
Designed as an empowerment project, Diseña el Cambio participants are motivated to think what changes they would like to see in their communities and then they are encouraged to design a project and see it through to achieve these changes. For example, students have cleaned up waterways and tested them for safety, developed instructional videos on using recycled waste, launched anti-bullying campaigns, built playgrounds, and removed waste from and planted barren fields. Open to elementary and middle schools from all regions of the country, all types of schools and students, over 10,300 Mexican students and teachers have ventured into the adventure of design change.
In 2012, the Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation (Foundation) met Alfonso Romo, President of Fundación EducarUno, through Lex Mundi’s member firm for Mexico, Basham, Ringe y Correa. Given the success of the program in Mexico, Fundación EducarUno was looking to scale the innovative Diseña el Cambio competition throughout Latin America. As a first step in the expansion process, the Foundationwas able to connect Alfonso with a number of Lex Mundi member firms eager to assist with critical pro bono assistance to trademark Diseña el Cambio in a number of key jurisdictions including: Panama, Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, and Peru.
The Lex Mundi member firm for Panama, Arias, Fábrega & Fábrega (ARIFA), has provided pro bono legal trademark assistance to Fundación EducarUno. Handling all of the trademark registrations, including a comprehensive search of the trademarks available for registration. In addition to the registration process, ARIFA generously provides ongoing trademark monitoring services in the event that any future applications filed are identical or similar to Fundación EducarUno’s marks which will require defense. And, the firm stands ready to assist with additional pro bono assistance as the organization begins to establish its program in the country. Sandra Rivera of Fundación EducarUno commented: “Ileana del C. Martinelli and her colleagues at ARIFA were great! They provided wonderful legal counsel as we take the first steps in our Latin America expansion. It has been wonderful to see the willingness of ARIFA, and so many other Lex Mundi member firms in the region, to support our work.” Fundación EducarUno and their Diseña el Cambio program highlight the power and impact that the Lex Mundi network of firms can have to help innovative social entrepreneurs in Latin America and around the world help to change lives and communities.
The Blessing Basket Project is a nonprofit organization based in the U.S. that works with about 2,000 weavers in seven developing countries, helping them rise out of poverty through empowered entrepreneurship. The organization aims to reduce poverty in developing countries through a Prosperity Wages® model, a unique poverty reduction method that pays artisans for their products. This innovative financial system creates a cycle of entrepreneur-driven growth that supports lasting financial independence for artisans.
The earnings artisans receive through the Prosperity Wage model are substantially higher than fair trade wages, sometimes reaching six times as much. Artisans are free to utilize profits however they see fit and most use the new income to create various small businesses which further their sustainable independence. The results of Blessing Basket’s Prosperity Wages have been so effective that the University of Wisconsin Madison and Washington University St. Louis have studied this work as part of their poverty alleviation research.
Even large corporations have taken note of Blessing Basket’s model and success. Blessing Basket has partnered with Whole Foods Market stores nationally, which are now the largest retailers of its artisan crafts. In addition, Whole Foods assisted the organization in opening the Doone Girl’s School in the Upper East of Ghana, the first and only girls’ primary and junior high school in the region. Blessing Basket has also collaborated with AT&T to help supply women in developing countries with communication technology. The work of the Blessing Basket alongside these powerful partners has impacted thousands of lives globally.
However, Theresa Carrington, Founder and Executive Director of Blessing Basket, asserts that the most important partnership for Blessing Basket has been with Armstrong Teasdale LLP , Lex Mundi’s member firm for Missouri. Armstrong Teasdale created the legal structure which facilitated Blessing Basket’s creation and expansion. The firm also assisted them through many other legal challenges that would have otherwise prevented the organization from fostering global change.
The ongoing legal support relationship began in 2008 when newly-founded Blessing Basket discovered that a contractor had stolen $3,000. The organization needed to take legal action but could not afford an attorney. Armstrong Teasdale stepped in and filed a civil lawsuit against the contractor and company responsible for the misallocation of funds. Blessing Basket Project won the judgment and, more importantly, Carrington states, “This ruling set the precedent that Blessing Basket has a zero tolerance policy for the misappropriation of funds and marked the establishment of a powerful alliance between Armstrong Teasdale and Blessing Basket.”
Since 2008, Armstrong Teasdale has provided ongoing pro bono support to Blessing Basket on a breadth of legal issues. The firm has filed dozens of trademarks on the nonprofit’s behalf as well as counseled them on a number of employment issues. Armstrong Teasdale frequently examines the organization’s corporate records and documents to make certain that they are in order. Throughout this work, Carrington emphasizes that not only does the firm thoroughly and expediently work through these legal issues, but they also make an effort to advise and educate Carrington and her staff to ensure they have an informed understanding of the legal matters in question, a testament to “the real partnership element of our relationship,” said Carrington.
Several years ago, the Blessing Basket Project faced a serious obstacle when a shipment from Bangladesh came in and was completely destroyed with water and mold. The shipment was estimated to contain about $25,000 worth of artisan crafts and placed Blessing Basket volunteers at risk of mold related illnesses. The delivery could not be salvaged so the organization began the process of an insurance claim. The impact of the destroyed shipment was felt across the entire organization as the $25,000 in losses meant that they could no longer order as many products as intended from other parts of the world. When it seemed that that the nonprofit was on the verge of losing the insurance claim, they contacted Armstrong Teasdale for assistance. Within weeks, the firm was able get the previously unresponsive insurance company in motion and shortly thereafter the entire $25,000 in damages was restored. Carrington attributes this turn around entirely to Armstrong Teasdale’s diligence and reputation.
When Blessing Basket moved its headquarters to another jurisdiction, Armstrong Teasdale supported Blessing Basket with lease negotiations, contract reviews, and business counseling on the value of a more visible location in St. Louis that resulted in significantly more volunteers for the organization, enabling them to generate greater impact. What the organization did not realize, however, was that moving across state lines as a nonprofit created problems related to their federal tax-exempt status. To maintain that 501(c)(3) status, Armstrong Teasdale assisted them with incorporation as a Missouri nonprofit. The organization had an extremely small window of time to fill out a new IRS 1023 Form. Panicked, Carrington contacted Armstrong Teasdale and the firm’s attorneys calmly and quickly took care of the problem and Blessing Basket maintained its tax-exempt status.
Armstrong Teasdale also played a critical role in reviewing and negotiating contracts between Blessing Basket and Whole Foods. The firm walked Carrington and her colleagues through every aspect of the contract, located potential vulnerabilities, and refined the agreement so that the nonprofit felt comfortable signing. Since this initial contract, the organization’s partnership has grown tremendously. Blessing Baskets are now sold in over 170 Whole Foods stores nationwide.
Most recently, the Blessing Basket team has been collaborating with Armstrong Teasdale on patenting their groundbreaking poverty reduction technology called the Artisan Selector Model. This artisan selection portal allows the organization to make informed decisions on which artisans they select to participate in their program. The organization is extremely selective when choosing artisans because they want to be certain that they choose individuals who will become micro-entrepreneurs, capable of independence from their participation. Blessing Basket has been developing this criterion for almost a decade, learning exactly what makes perfect Blessing Basket entrepreneurs. As Carrington describes, the normal standard for international aid has typically been a “come one, come all” model, but at Blessing Basket, they firmly believe that “in order to be the most effective, you have to be the most selective” because artisans themselves are the true change-makers and precipitators of widespread impact in their communities. In addition to fueling the technology that creates the basis for artisan selection, the patent on the Blessing Basket’s selection model also addresses the issue of sustainably exiting from development work, which has consistently been one of the greatest underlying challenges in the area of poverty alleviation. Carrington explains that the patent has been a critical component to Blessing Basket’s work because it allows the organization to share its innovations with the world for free while ensuring that the core concepts will be utilized exactly as intended through the backing of the patent.
Armstrong Teasdale has donated the equivalent of over a quarter of a million dollars in services to Blessing Basket. “All of the firm’s work has taken an enormous burden off my shoulders and allowed the Blessing Basket Project to focus on its mission, affecting thousands of people across the globe,” said Carrington. Armstrong Teasdale has truly helped the Blessing Basket Project to combat poverty and generate impact worldwide.
Root Capital is a nonprofit social investment fund that is pioneering finance for grassroots businesses in rural areas of developing countries. The organization provides capital, financial management training, and market connections to small and growing businesses that build sustainable livelihoods and transform rural communities in poor, environmentally vulnerable places. Since their launch in 1999, Root Capital has provided more than $200 million in credit to 290 small and growing businesses representing 375,000 smallholder producers in 30 countries.
Lex Mundi member firm lawyers have helped Root Capital review loan agreements, conduct due diligence on a prospective loan, and establish regional offices in multiple countries.
Individuals that contributed to these efforts include:
Commenting on the value of the legal services to his organization, William Foote, Founder and CEO of Root Capital, said, “Root Capital’s success and continued growth is dependent upon our ability to serve small and growing businesses in some of the world’s poorest rural communities. The support and guidance that we have received from Lex Mundi member firms has been critical. It has ensured access to quality legal counsel across borders and buttressed the loan documentation we use to finance otherwise ‘unbankable’ enterprises, thus building a strong foundation from which to scale our efforts. We are very thankful for Lex Mundi's guidance and dedication.”
For generations, coffee farmers did not know who purchased their product, how it tasted, or if they would sell to the same buyer again. Sustainable Harvest is changing this cycle with the “Relationship Coffee” business model. Relationship Coffee operates with complete transparency and brings coffee farmers, importers, and roasters together on a level playing field. Since 1997, Sustainable Harvest has purchased more than $100 million in coffee from farmers in Latin America and East Africa. They have also channeled significant investments — nearly $1 million in 2009 — to these coffee-growing communities.
Lawyers at a number of Lex Mundi member firms have helped Sustainable Harvest promote fair and transparent markets for coffee by providing trademark support for a coffee traceability software program, assisting the organization in resolving work visa issues, filing for nonprofit status in Peru, protecting business methods and processes, and providing general counsel for ongoing legal needs.
Libby Evans, Director of Farmer Development Programs at Sustainable Harvest, commented, "Sustainable Harvest has been able to focus on improving the livelihoods of more coffee farmers worldwide as a result of partnering with the Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation. Lex Mundi member firms have allowed us to focus on our work, while providing us with effective and efficient legal counsel."
The following lawyers at Lex Mundi member firms have generously contributed their time and expertise:
Over the last three years, numerous Lex Mundi member firm lawyers have helped Lumni Inc., a pioneer in the field of Human Capital Financing, make higher education more accessible.
Lumni designs, markets and manages "Human capital funds", an innovative investment vehicle for financing higher education. Students agree to pay a fixed percentage of their individual incomes for a predetermined number of months after graduation. This allows individuals with low incomes to receive higher education when they would otherwise be unlikely to secure a loan without collateral or a cosigner.
A number of Lex Mundi member firm lawyers have provided Lumni with advice on securities and fund formation, tax law, and lender regulation; drafting novel contracts for financing human capital; and registering trademarks in over 30 countries. These individuals include:
Felipe Vergara, Co-Founder & CEO of Lumni Inc., explained, “Several Lex Mundi member firms have made a critical contribution to developing Lumni’s innovative model for financing higher education. Their work has allowed Lumni to create and refine legal tools, resulting in 1,000 students funded to date and setting the groundwork for tens of thousands more in the coming years. Lawyers like Carlos Umaña from Brigard & Urrutia and Stacey Johnson from Steptoe & Johnson have gone the extra mile by tackling complex challenges with the highest professionalism and quality. It has been inspiring to see so much commitment for a financial innovation that is benefiting talented young adults from who would otherwise never get a chance.”
With the outpouring of charitable giving in the wake of 9/11, the founders of Network for Good – AOL, Cisco and Yahoo! – came to the realization that it is far easier for people to “buy online” than to send a charitable donation by check. Network for Good makes it easy for donors to research and make contributions to more than 1.5 million 501(c)(3) organizations listed by Guidestar, a non-profit that collects and publicizes information helpful in philanthropic decision-making. Since its creation, Network for Good has processed over $300 million in donations to over 50,000 nonprofits. For more information please see www.networkforgood.org.
Since being introduced by the Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation in 2008, William Pecau, R. Whitney Winston, Rachel Hofstatter and other lawyers with Steptoe & Johnson LLP, Lex Mundi’s member firm for Washington, D.C., have been assisting Network for Good in a wide variety of matters, ranging from technology transactions to trademarks.
Steptoe lawyers have reviewed and negotiated numerous technology agreements on behalf of Network for Good, including:
Steptoe lawyers have also been involved in enforcement of Network for Good’s trademarks, including:
Chief Executive Officer of Network for Good, Bill Strathmann, explained, "I first met David Roll and was introduced to the Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation at the Fast Company Social Capitalist Awards. We were immediately matched with Steptoe & Johnson LLP here in DC. To help drive more dollars to more charities, Network for Good forms a lot of partnerships with corporate partners large and small. So we're in pretty much constant need of legal counsel during these contract negotiations. Without the timely, specialized, and high quality pro bono services of Steptoe we'd certainly not be sending $100MM to 50,000 nonprofits this year."
Grassroot Soccer is an international organization that aims to utilize soccer and powerful role models to reduce HIV transmission among youth in Africa. They have developed a cutting edge curriculum that uses activities and games to provide youth with comprehensive HIV prevention and life skills education. To date, more than 270,000 youth in 13 countries have graduated from the Grassroot Soccer programs.
A number of Lex Mundi member firm lawyers have worked together to support the mission of Grassroot Soccer by providing critical international pro bono legal services. These individuals include:
David Harrison, the US Office Manager for Grassroot Soccer, described the critical legal support his organization has received: “As a result of opinions provided by pro bono legal services through the Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation, we have accomplished a number of things we probably would not otherwise been able to do. We have revised the By-Laws of the organization, obtained the legal permits necessary to carry out fund raising in a number of States, and developed policies about accepting donations and for setting standards for accepting volunteer service. Thanks to advice from participating attorneys, we have also successfully managed several sets of circumstances as regards employment issues. We have benefited from counsel having to do with trademark and other intellectual property issues as well.
We have been and continue to be the grateful recipients of the legal counsel provided to Grassroot Soccer through the Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation. It is no exaggeration to say that such counsel is service we could not have afforded in the earliest years of our corporate existence...at a time when we had the least experience ourselves to which to turn when legal issues arose.
As we have grown, the issues have become more complex and we take great comfort in knowing that the Lex Mundi service is available to us. I cannot tell you in strong enough terms how comforting it is to know we can turn to you for assistance.”
Lex Mundi Member Firms help Video Volunteers Raise Awareness of the Issues Facing the Global Poor