WHY [Not] Pro Bono?


If we were to answer this question with a fundamental problem-solving technique, "ask why 5 times," then I would have to start with this: WHY do I believe in pro bono?
My most immediate response was “why NOT pro bono?” There is something uniquely beautiful in this genuine exchange of professional skills in an environment of mutual trust. The idea of ‘helping society’ is often very abstract. Pro-bono helps define one act of giving. It is simply contributing a little bit of your time and knowledge in order to benefit someone else.  “Doing good” suddenly becomes a lot more comprehendible.

Matthew Manos, founder and partner at verynice, mentioned in How to Give Half of Your Work Away for Free that “There are far more of us with valuable skills than there are people with extraordinary wealth.”  As a young designer myself, it is very empowering to discover that I, too, can have the ability to give back to society by participating pro bono projects through design.

WHY Free? Don’t you have to pay rent and bills?
The short answer is yes. Rent and bills are waiting for me just like they are waiting for everyone else! However, it is really refreshing to practice pro bono in our capitalist society. It's almost rebellious to chase a dream for good.

I personally believe that a philanthropy, or seeking to promote the welfare of others through the donation of time/money/skills to good causes, is not only a belief system but an act of social activism— it challenges society to progress in a positive direction through professional practice and behavioral decisions.

Philanthropy is not only possible for older, successful, and wealthy people; in fact, it doesn't require large amount of capital donation either. By incorporating pro bono projects into  the professional world, we can all contribute and ‘donate’ a little bit of our skills everyday for a good cause. At the end of the day, money does not define someone’s happiness. That sense of fulfillment that comes from helping others, however, can really brighten someone’s personal and professional life.

WHY is it important to participate in social activism?

ACTIVIST: a person who campaigns for some kind of social change. When you participate in a march protesting the closing of a neighborhood library, you're an activist. Someone who's actively involved in a protest or a political or social cause can be called an activist.

I believe that in order to have a sustainable business model, one must make his/her decisions based on social courteousness and empathy. Or, simply, the gut feeling of trusting and connecting with others.

Maximizing profit has been the first priority  for businesses in our society. However, our culture is becoming more progressive, and we're starting to think about global issues like environmental welfare and population growth as well as more localized issues within our communities. With that, I believe every single one of us is responsible for making sustainable decisions to support our society’s progress in a positive direction.

WHY is that related to you as a designer?
I received my undergraduate degree from Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Graphic Design. At the early stage of my design practice, I thought design was only about problem-solving in a visual way: nitpicking color decisions, typography, and hierarchy to name a few.

As my design journey progressed, I started to engage my design skills with real-world, complex issues. The problem I try to solve is no longer solely based on “how to make this poster LOOK sexy”, but rather, “who is my audience? what kind of neighborhood/environment is this presented in? what is the potential impact my design could make on audiences/community? how do they FEEL about the issue?”

I have always found myself attracted to topics in sociology and cultural behavior. Discovering the human-centered thinking methodology was the turning point on my perspective. The sudden realization that my design skills can benefit a larger audience group and support social causes that I care about was the most liberating feeling. EVER.

I love my career as a creative; and the fact that I could bridge my design skills and my heart for social innovation by participating in pro bono projects is honestly the greatest career track I could choose for myself.

With that, I will conclude my last but not least WHY… WHY ain’t you participating in the pro-bono (yet)?

Jessicapro-bono, Giving Back