Pro Bono Economics was registered in 2009, but the idea existed for some time before the charity was established, when friends and fellow economists Martin Brookes and Andy Haldane identified an opportunity for economists to help charities.
Martin, while CEO of New Philanthropy Capital, saw that charities wanted to demonstrate their impact and needed sound analysis and good evidence to support this. Andy, in his role at the Bank of England, wondered what opportunities existed for economists to broaden their horizons and develop their skills beyond their day jobs, in a profession with no tradition of volunteering. Where these two lines of thought met, the pair identified an opportunity.
The charities Martin encountered were largely unaware that economists could help them. Most economists, at the Bank of England and beyond, had not considered that their skills could help charities address questions of impact. Quite simply, Martin and Andy identified a missing market. While there were examples of economists helping charities with issues of measurement, these were rare.
Over many breakfast meetings and brainstorms Andy and Martin developed their idea of introducing volunteer economists to charities, and discussed their thoughts with colleagues across the economics profession. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and resulted in a number of economists volunteering to take up the challenge and pilot the idea. Others agreed to become patrons and trustees of the charity.
Some charities bravely offered themselves as guinea pigs, unsure of what the result might be, and took on the risk of welcoming economists new to the third sector to scrutinise their data.
The pilots proved there was value in the idea, but that it was not simple to do, and a number of these early projects did not result in a report. Others were successful but took longer than expected.
Most important for ensuring successful outcomes proved to be a permanent team at the centre to manage the process and relationships from beginning to end. The Director and Operations Manager joined in 2010 and with full-time staff, the concept became a fully operational charity.
We learnt valuable lessons from these early projects, giving us insight into what helps bring success. We continue to improve the way we work, so we can provide the best outcome for charities and the best experience for economists.