Ingrid Larson, Intern, BSR

China faces a wide variety of social, environmental, and economic challenges. Solving these in such a large country is a Herculean task, yet one that is urgent for China’s—and the world’s—continued prosperity. Although China is developing its own solutions unique to its context, it also needs new ideas and expertise from abroad.

From BSR’s perspective, an inventive idea can be mindfully adapted into another country, seeded, and grown into a new solution through localized innovation, global partnership, and patience. Our new report, "Lessons of Localization: Adapting the Pro Bono Model into China," is intended for Chinese and international organizations—including civil society, foundations, academia, and the private sector—who see the potential for new ideas to address the wide range and complexity of the issues China faces today.

Insights from the full report are based on the recent work of BSR’s CiYuan Initiative in adapting the Taproot Foundation’s pro bono model in the U.S.—making business talent available to non-profits—into China through local NGO partner Huizeren.

As of this month, Huizeren has been implementing the pro bono model in Beijing for 20 months, supported by a cross-sector, global partnership among Taproot, Hewlett-Packard (HP), the Narada Foundation, and BSR. Together, the five partners set out to combine financial resources, unique competencies, and networks to facilitate the growth of pro bono work in China.

Huizeren’s adaption of Taproot’s model faced challenges and underwent fine tuning along the way, but was ultimately met with success. The lessons of localization are not framed as clear-cut best practices or a specific structured strategy but rather as a basis for discussing key constraints, decisions, and factors that influenced the effectiveness of this approach:

  • Evaluating market potential for an idea involves breaking down the original model into its underlying assumptions, then challenging the assumptions in order to understand why the program developed the way it did. Using those assumptions to identify possible parameters of localization and then market testing through prototypes and focus groups can help shed light on how to develop a program in China.
  • In the realm of partnership design, trust is more important than contracts, commitment outweighs capacity, and partners are matched to complement strategic resources, offset limitations, and serve as testing grounds for pilot projects and potential business models.
  • Once the program begins, managing a global, cross-sector partnership in a dynamic environment means balancing flexibility with structure—promoting accountability and communication between partners without undermining the innovative autonomy of the implementing partner.
  • Program development involves adapting the model to both the local market and the implementing partner’s organization, yet still leveraging the original partner’s intellectual property, skills, and tools. While building an inventory of case studies as evidence of impact, an organization needs to systematically pilot and set up for success by creating high-quality tools, documents, and processes that can be scaled up in the future.

BSR believes that this approach—and its potential to channel resources across countries and sectors into highly strategic, resilient partnerships—can ignite localized, sustainable innovation in emerging markets around the world.

Ingrid is a summer intern in the BSR office in Beijing and is focused on evaluating a signature partnership development project with Huizeren as part of BSR's CiYuan initiative.