Maria Sanchez-Marin Melero

Podcast Interview

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BFP: What do you do?

MSM: I head the TrustLaw Connect service at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, where we link the best NGOs and social enterprises in need of free legal assistance around the world with the best law firms.

Our mission is to expand the practise of pro bono around the world, which means often creating both the demand and the supply of pro bono assistance. Outside of countries like the US, UK, Australia or South Africa, there has been little pro bono done in a structured manner, particularly when it is helping organisations rather than individuals.

Many of the NGOs or social enterprises we work with would not have thought of approaching a lawyer for advice before we get in touch. Sometimes it is an expense that they cannot afford, other times theydon’t even realise a lawyer can help – which means that these organisations end up finding themselves in difficult situations which may challenge their whole existence. For example, theintellectual property they rely on may not beprotected, or they might sign funding contracts that are counterproductive for their programmes, or their staff or volunteers (who often operate in difficult environments) not protected.

We also work with organisations which want to advance policy in all sorts of field, from women’s rights to land rights or transparency. Our law firms help them to understand the existing laws, learn about the best practises across different jurisdictions, and start thinking about where the sector might go in the future.

BFP: What is the best part about your job?

MSM:People! I am surrounded by passionate and very professional colleagues; by exceptional NGO staff and social entrepreneurs selflessly working really hard – and sometimes in very difficult circumstances – just because they think the world can be a better and more equitable place; by lawyers from Ethiopia to Sydney who again and again recognise this and contribute in the best way they can, with their much needed legal expertise.

BFP: What have been your greatest challenges?

MSM: Many, which has made this project so exciting and rewarding. What we are doing at TrustLaw Connect is unique. At the end of the day we are saying to NGOs or social enterprises anywhere around the world “come to us and we will find one of the best lawyers in your country to work for you, for free”. As I mentioned before, pro bono is not a traditional practise in most countries around the world, so you have to work on building the market in any country in the world, with a limited amount of resources. You need to make sure that there is a core model that works throughout, but you also must understand the local practises in different countries and regions. So you have to talk to many people, listen a lot, and continually adapt what you’re doing.

BFP: How have you overcome these challenges?/ What is the secret of your success

MSM: We’ve overcome barriers with hard work and more hard work; talking to our member NGOs, social enterprises, law firms, corporations and listening to what they are telling us; adapting our model accordingly until we have found the right way of doing things; believing in what we are doing and believing in the organisations and companies with whom we work.

BFP: If someone wants to do what you do, where should they start?

MSM: They should get in touch with us! Join us, follow our news, come to our events… Using the service is the best thing they can do!

BFP: Finally; what do you hope to get out of being part of the BFP community?

MSM: Learn from what others are doing in the same sort of field. After many years in an NGO, I did an MBA at the Said Business School (Oxford University) because, among other things, I wanted to find like minded people who believed in the power of the private sector to do good. You are IT!

Editor’s Note:

Thank you to Maria Sanchez-Marin Melero for taking the time to do this interview.

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