Photo: Reuters /Arko Datta. A worker's son plays in a salt pan near Bhavnagar.
Lawyers have an impact: Thomson Reuters FoundationIn Mexico
Physical and sexual violence, a culture of male chauvinism, drug-related crime and poor access to healthcare in rural areas put Mexico among the worst G20 countries for women (as a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll showed this year).
One of the organisations I met during a recent trip to Mexico is fighting that situation through a unique phone line that provides psychological and legal assistance to women suffering violence. They have developed a very successful model that is already making a difference.
So why would they need TrustLaw? Needless to say, their employees and volunteers live and work in very delicate and dangerous environments, as do the women they serve. One of the consequences of their success is a huge demand for their services, which means that they have grown very quickly. They need more formal and solid systems in place, and contracts protecting both the women and volunteers. A failure to protect any woman or volunteer could mean the end of their whole enterprise, and thousands of women a month would have to go without their support.
I came back from Mexico thinking this was a perfect example of what we do at TrustLaw Connect: making sure that the best lawyers in any country are aware of the work of NGOs like this one and their specific needs.
Although we have been working in Mexico since we launched in June 2010, my trip was a chance to expand our work there. Preparation for the trip started a few weeks before, with lengthy research by my colleagues into organisations whose great work we should be supporting. The organisations include established NGOs, foundations, innovative social entrepreneurs and top law firms.
I visited organisations that work with migrants who risk their lives attempting to cross the border into the United States, and those working on corruption, democracy, transparency and reproductive rights. Their needs include advice for when they sign an MoU with a corporate or government partner (who have very good lawyers to draft them!), support in protecting their intellectual property, and help finding a lawyer who will help make sense of opaque tax regulations. The list is endless.
Many organisations are looking into microcredit too, so I was glad to see that they will be taking advantage of the sort of comparative research our members have already done across the European Union: 20 law firms joined forces with TrustLaw in 2011 to study the state of microfinance for micro-enterprise organisation ADIE. Some will use the methodology, others the content.
Back in London with many ideas to think about, it’s the turn of the rest of the team to take things forward. Colleagues will make sure that each organisation is vetted carefully before becoming a member of TrustLaw, and that we help them to “market” their mission and impact in the best possible way (after all, it will be our law firms and in-house teams that choose who to support).
Our lawyers will speak with each of them to help define what they need. For any large projects like the one we did with ADIE, we will be there to support the NGO or social enterprise through the whole process, all the way to the publication and wide distribution of the research.
In the past year our team has been to China, Croatia, India, Ghana, Russia and Switzerland to spread the word about TrustLaw Connect. In these places, and in all 140 countries where we work, our message to the people we speak to is simple: we can get them the help they need from the world’s best lawyers and it is all for free. It is a fantastic feeling to find lawyers in country after country committed to making that possible.
Maria Sanchez-Marin is director of TrustLaw Connect, a Thomson Reuters Foundation service linking NGOs and social enterprises with the best lawyers in every country to provide free legal advice.