Pro Bono Economics was born in 2009 out of the tumult of the global financial crisis. Economists Andy Haldane and Martin Brookes had previously discussed the potential to fuse the work of charities supporting society with the work of economists supporting the economy. The fallout from the financial crisis, which saw economists accused among others of bearing some responsibility, gave the pair the impetus to put their concept to the test. 

Haldane, who had spent his career to date as a Bank of England economist, and Brookes, then Chief Executive of think tank New Philanthropy Capital, had noticed that economists did not typically volunteer for charities. Other professions – such as law or management consulting – had established volunteer programmes. But economics did not. This was despite the fact many economists seemingly wanted to volunteer and there was demand for their skills. 

With this realisation in mind, PBE was formed by Haldane and Brookes in March 2009 and given an official launch at the Treasury in September that year. At the launch, Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell, a passionate PBE supporter from the start, urged members of the 1,100-strong Government Economic Service to get involved. O’Donnell was joined in his patronage of PBE by the likes of Gavyn Davies, former head of the BBC, Financial Services Authority head Adair Turner and Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O’Neill. 

PBE appointed Sue Holloway in September 2010 as its first-ever Director, replacing Acting Director Jonathan Flory. Holloway, a former government economist, started as one of only two full-time members of staff, alongside an Operations Manager, matching volunteer economists with charities. She moved on from PBE in 2015 and was replaced by Julia Grant who became Chief Executive of PBE in 2016 to oversee a significant expansion in the organisation’s work. The same year, O’Donnell became PBE’s Chair of Trustees, replacing co-founder Brookes. 

Under the direction of Grant, PBE celebrated its 10th birthday in 2019 with a special 10th anniversary lecture from Haldane at The Royal Society in London. Over the course of the decade, PBE had worked with around 450 charities and over 500 volunteer economists. Writing at the time, Brookes said: “The first ten years of Pro Bono Economics can be seen as testing whether (a) economists do in fact want to volunteer; and (b) charities can benefit from their skills. Thankfully, the answer to both questions is yes.” 

Later in 2019, Grant took the decision to move on from PBE and was replaced by economist Matt Whittaker who left his position as Deputy Chief Executive of the Resolution Foundation think tank to oversee the next phase of PBE’s expansion. In December 2020, PBE launched the Law Family Commission on Civil Society, a two-year programme of groundbreaking research exploring how to unleash the potential of civil society in the 2020s. 

In May 2022, Haldane was announced as President of PBE – following time in government designing the plan for Levelling Up. At the time of his appointment as President, PBE has a team of 20 permanent staff.