By Ali Mashraf

iProbono is a non-profit online network connecting organizations in need of legal assistance with lawyers and students who want to use their legal skills for the public good. It hosted the first ever Round Table Discussion on ‘Pro Bono in Bangladesh: The Present and the Future’, followed by the launching ceremony of ‘The Legal Toolkit: How To Register as a Social Enterprise in Bangladesh’ on December 6, 2018, at the Professor Dr. Abdullah Farouk Multipurpose Hall, University of Dhaka.

The roundtable discussion brought together lawyers, law academics, law students and a few beneficiaries of pro-bono legal services to discuss the current scenario of pro-bono culture in Bangladesh and the way forward. Barrister Sara Hossain, honorary Executive Director, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust; Advocate Z I Khan Panna, Member, Bangladesh Bar Council; Ms. Khushi Kabir, Founder, Nijera Kori; Dr. Shahnaz Huda, Professor of Law, University of Dhaka; Professor Dr. Farhana Helal Mehtab, Associate Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Daffodil International University; Barrister Tapas Kanti Baul, Prosecutor, International Crimes Tribunal, Bangladesh etc. were some of the attendees of the round-table forum.

A number of recommendations and suggestions were put forward to diversifying the operations
of iProbono and giving quality pro-bono service to the litigants in Bangladesh. They stressed upon the collaborative effort of the bar, bench, academia and civil society in this regard.

Moreover, the discussants outlined how young lawyers and law students can effectively engage in providing pro-bono service with iProbono’s network of panel lawyers. During the second part of the day-long event, iProbono launched its Legal Toolkit for Social Enterprises. Ms. Mariam Faruqi, South Asia Regional Director, Ms. Arpeeta Shams Mizan, Legal Analyst, Bangladesh and Ms. Shaveena Anam, Country Representative, Bangladesh from iProbono were present at the launching ceremony. The launching ceremony was attended by people from the legal sector, corporate world, civil society and budding social enterprises.

At the onset, Ms. Shaveena Anam reminded everyone about the absence of any legal framework for registration of social enterprises in Bangladesh. As such, she reiterated how it was iProbno’s goal to help out our social entrepreneurs here, which led to the launching of this toolkit.

Thereafter, she gave an overview of the entire toolkit and elaborated on some of its important elements. Ms. Arpeeta Shams Mizan informed the attendees that the toolkit was drafted in a very simple language for anyone to understand its content. Additionally, she answered the queries of the participants regarding the toolkit and the legal aspects of conducting business in Bangladesh.

Ms. Mariam Faruqi advised the participants to consider referring business-related disputes to arbitration/mediation panels since these procedures entail lower costs and are faster than regular court litigations. The iProbono team also received feedback from the participants on how it could help the social enterprise ecosystem of Bangladesh through its activities.