More Than a Conference: A Reflection on the 12th APBC

December 2023 | SOUTH ASIA

As a member of the Asia Pro Bono Roundtable Consortium (APBC) since its inception, iProbono actively participates in the conference each year. The event fosters a culture of collaboration and commitment to pro bono work across the globe. Since I joined iProbono almost two years ago, I found myself working in close proximity with this vibrant community of pro bono professionals. In October 2022, some of my colleagues returned after attending the 11th APBC in Laos. Listening to their stories of knowledge-sharing and networking at this event fueled my desire to contribute to this meaningful initiative. Little did I know, the opportunity for me to be a part of APBC would present itself the very next year. Last month, I boarded the flight from Delhi to Cebu, excited to be a part of this gathering. 

The conference was started by Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia Community Legal Education Initiative (BABSEACLE), an organisation working towards developing justice education and access to justice initiatives. Over the years it has become a key event that helps stakeholders develop, explore and share pro bono initiatives and projects that strengthen access to justice in Asia and globally. Currently in its 12th year, the conference was hosted in Cebu City, Philippines, from 1-3 December 2023.

On my arrival, I found a three-day packed conference offering a vibrant atmosphere. There were carefully curated plenaries, break-out sessions, interactive workshops and networking events. Mariam Faruqi, CEO of iProbono, was a speaker at the opening plenary. Her session titled “The Evolution of Empowering Pro Bono” spoke about the collaborative power of pro bono and highlighted the status of civil society organisations providing pro bono services.

Mariam Faruqi, CEO, iProbono, during the session ‘The Evolution of Empowering Pro Bono’.

In another session organised by the iProbono team, Radhika Saxena, Senior Program Manager for South Asia, moderated a discussion titled ‘The Role of Fellowships in Promoting Pro Bono Lawyering in South Asia’. This highlighted the strategic use of fellowships to deliver innovative models of change by supporting and mentoring young lawyers. The session showcased iProbono’s flagship fellowships: the Justice Leila Seth Fellowship (JLSF) in India and the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Fellowship (ESCRF) in Nepal.

Radhika Saxena, Senior Program Manager, South Asia, during her session ‘The Role of Fellowships in Promoting Pro Bono Lawyering in South Asia’.

The session saw insightful experiences being shared by the funders, mentors, and the fellows themselves. As a supervisor of the Justice Leila Seth Fellows, I found the participants’ eagerness to learn about the fellowships fascinating. Hearing them speak fueled my own commitment to foster a vibrant and impactful experience for future fellows.

Radhika Saxena and Nimisha Menon, Senior Program Officer at the Pro Bono Bazaar.

The iProbono team further showcased our work by participating in the Pro Bono Bazaar and the silent auction held at the conference. We shared factsheets and country brochures at the Bazaar with the attendees.

Conference attendees at the auction with photos taken by Richa Oberoi, Senior Advocacy Officer at iProbono.

The iProbono team also raised funds for the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Cebu City Chapter, by auctioning photos taken by my colleague Richa Oberoi, Senior Advocacy Officer at iProbono.

Each day of the conference offered opportunities to gather insights from colleagues from across the world. Each session challenged my existing perspectives and sparked new ideas. iProbono’s participation in the conference continued on the second day, with Radhika sharing examples from our work in South Asia, including our Equality Law Program, Hunger Relief Campaign, and our People At Risk: Afghan Evacuation Program.

On the final day of the event, I got the opportunity to participate as a panellist on a session titled “Representation at the Intersection of Culture and Trauma”, organised by Justice Without Borders (JWB). Since it was my first experience of speaking at an international conference and before a room packed with experienced professionals, I was a heady mix of nerves and excitement.  But soon enough, the familiar adrenaline rush that comes with being a litigating lawyer kicked in, amplified by the thrill of sharing my experiences and insights on a global stage.  In my talk, I emphasised the need for lawyers to be mindful of vicarious trauma, and advocate for trauma-informed practices in the legal system. Drawing from my experience of working at iProbono and other organisations in India, I further highlighted the importance of collaboration between legal and psycho-social professionals to provide holistic care for survivors.

Nimisha Menon during her session “Representation at the Intersection of Culture and Trauma”.

The JWB team had crafted a stellar session. They had assisted a survivor of trafficking to present her story and her journey of rehabilitation and reintegration, with great sensitivity and success. This was followed by an interactive demonstration of a “client interview gone wrong”,  followed by group brainstorming sessions on trauma-informed strategies, which kept the participants engaged and energised. Besides sharing information, they created a powerful atmosphere that solidified our collective commitment to advocacy and trauma-sensitive legal practices. Through the session’s activities and conversations with other participants, I saw that while our paths may differ, we share the goal of closing the gap in access to justice.

My experience of participating in the 12th APBC was more than just speaking at a session. It was a journey of personal and professional growth. It was a reminder that our individual contributions, however small, can be part of something much larger, something that has the potential to achieve greater impact. The memories and lessons I carried back with me from Cebu will undoubtedly shape my future endeavours and inspire me to contribute to a brighter, more interconnected world.

Nimisha Menon, iProbono’s Senior Program Officer.

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