Christmas Lunch 16 Dec:  Ironmongers' Hall
Charities Supper 15 Jan 2020:  Skinners' Hall
Click here for our rolling events programme

Pro Bono Ramblings...

Second Warden, John Corneille, navigates from Entrepreneurs producing breakfast cereals and biscuits out of a gluten-free grain, to others buying machinery to cut bamboo for weaving and perfumed sticks ....

When I retired from PwC after spending many years continually travelling internationally, I promised myself that I wouldn't be drawn back into navigating busy airports and spending too many nights trying to sleep on planes, albeit heavily sedated with red wine. However, this year I seem to have failed in my promise, not helped by 3 trips in the last few months in support of pro bono activities.

India, on a whistle-stop mission...

In June I undertook an accreditation review, on behalf of our pro bono client Youth Business International (YBI),  of their member in India, BYST. I had never been to India so when I arrived in Chennai at 3.30 on a Monday morning after an overnight flight  from Heathrow, it was with some trepidation. Much to my relief my promised taxi was waiting at the airport to begin what turned out to be a whistle stop tour of India. After a day and a half in Chennai,  I flew to Assam for a couple of days, returning to Delhi on the Thursday evening. I departed late Friday night from Delhi arriving back in Heathrow at 5.30 on Saturday morning and, unsurprisingly, had no problem sleeping on the flight.

The accreditation review went very smoothly.  BYST have been in existence for 20 years and are one of the founder members of the YBI network. They proved to be a very effective and well run organisation who have been running successful programmes supporting young entrepreneurs in various parts of India. As ever with accreditation reviews, some of the most memorable parts of the work is visiting young entrepreneurs in situ to see their businesses first hand.


Receiving a presentation of books....

Entrepreneurs making huge contributions to very poor communities...

Two in particular come to mind. The first, in Chennai, had raised a loan with BYST's help and had bought machinery that produced breakfast cereals and biscuits from a gluten free grain. With the help of a BYST mentor he had learned to package and market the products, which he now sold to local supermarket chains and retail outlets. From scratch he now employed 20 people from the local community. The second, from rural Assam, had purchased machinery with BYST's help to take local bamboo and cut it into lengths for weaving and for perfumed sticks. This business had grown to employ up to 80 people from the local village, with bamboo products being sold nationally and internationally. Both these entrepreneurs operated in areas of extreme poverty and their businesses were making huge contributions to the local economy.

Attending the World Aids Conference in Durban...

In July I was asked to attend the World Aids Conference in Durban on behalf of the St Stephens Aids Trust, an HIV research and education charity founded by doctors from the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, where I am a Trustee. This turned out to be a huge event with over 20,000 delegates and attended by a host of celebrities such as Prince Harry, Elton John, Charlize Theron and Bill Gates, as well as many politicians particularly from Africa. The theme of the conference was equal access to treatment for all, so there was much on the social consequences of Aids as well as the medical ones.

It was interesting to hear how far we are from dealing with the Aids epidemic, particularly in places like sub-Saharan Africa. For example, in South Africa, where deals have been reached with large pharmaceutical companies to give those diagnosed with Aids access to drugs at reasonable prices, there has been an explosion in new cases amongst girls in the age range 12-20. Only 1 in 7 of girls in this age range are in employment and many are drawn into prostitution as a result.

Then to Kenya...

I have just returned from my third trip which was to Kenya. Two years ago I undertook the YBI accreditation reviews in Uganda and Kenya and, at that time, there was a Foreign Office travel ban to Mombasa because of terrorist activities in the area. As a result the review of the YBI network partner based in Mombasa had to be undertaken in Nairobi, where I met their senior team, and - via Skype - communicated with stakeholders in Mombasa. I was therefore pleased when the Mombasa organisation, in looking for a consultant to assist in their strategy development, asked me travel there to help them out.

I'd been to Kenya several times before, but never to Mombasa.  What a fascinating place – a lively mix of  African and Arabic culture, with a bit of British


With the Entrepreneurs in Mombasa.... 

thrown in. The network partner, KYBT Mombasa, is a muslim based charity helping young entrepreneurs from a disadvantaged background.  I had a most stimulating time meeting stakeholders, including the young entrepreneurs themselves. Everyone in the local community seemed to have encyclopaedic knowledge of the English Premier League and English politics!  The pro bono work was successful too, and we now have an agreed way forward on the strategy.

I needed that quiet drive to Romney Tweed....!

After all the rushing round internationally, I'm looking forward to seeing my local pro bono client next week. A quiet drive to Romney Marsh through beautiful English countryside to see Romney Tweed will be most welcome. Ah, the pleasures of pro bono work!

 

John Corneille,  2nd Warden