Business School gives back to 'Big Society'

The School of Business and Management at Queen Mary, University of London is the first in the UK to set up a free consultancy service to help not-for-profit-organisations (NGOs) become more business savvy - particularly vital as government funding cuts bite.

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(L-R) NGO Clinic members: Ishani Chandrasekara; Stefano Harney; Emma Dowling
(L-R) NGO Clinic members: Ishani Chandrasekara; Stefano Harney; Emma Dowling

The Clinic is modelled on law schools, which have a well-established pro bono (free-of-charge) tradition, making the best professional legal advice available free of charge to clients who cannot afford to pay. 

Queen Mary is leading the field here too, with an award-winning pro bono legal advice centre, staffed by law undergraduates, supervised by law professors and lawyers from City firms.

However, unlike law schools their business counterparts have no tradition of pro bono work. "Business schools may represent one of the richest resources for strategic-thinking in society," explains Professor Stefano Harney, Managing Consultant at the NGO Clinic, "but access to them is restricted to the few who can afford them, either by enrolling in expensive degree programmes or hiring business school academics for private fee-paying consultancy work – on average a rather pricey £200 per hour, up to £1,600 a day." 

For many in the not-for-profit sector this solution is neither possible nor desirable. 

"Increasingly, third sector organisations are required by funders to concentrate on their management, governance, and accountability structures as a condition of funding. At the same time, increasing emphasis has been placed on an expanded role for NGOs, for instance in the ‘Big Society’ proposals of the UK’s coalition Government," says Harney.  These combined pressures on NGOs require new organisational strategies and capacities, although often without the necessary means or expertise. 

The NGO clinic is designed to offer free consultancy to meet these challenges.  The clinic works with both local and international NGOs on organisational change and development, leadership and strategy, and implementation of management and financial systems, appropriate to the mission and organisational culture of NGOs.

The School’s NGO Clinic was founded in 2008 by Professor Harney, who, after working with NGOs in Indonesia, then Hong Kong and the Philippines, realised there was a real need for such a service. Led by Harney, a growing group of Queen Mary business academic and researchers with expertise in non-governmental and voluntary sectors has gone on to offer free, professional advice and support to six international NGOs to date: in the East End of London, in Hong Kong, Palestine, and Brazil.

The Queen Mary NGO Clinic is dedicated to establishing a much-needed pro bono culture in UK business schools, and recently spawned a sister Clinic at the University of Essex, and another is now in the offing at the School of Management, University of Leicester.

Like the Legal Advice Centre, soon Queen Mary will offer business undergraduates internships with its NGO clinic. Under the supervision of academic experts they will offer professional guidance to clients, learning valuable consultancy skills that give them an edge in the job market.

"In an era when many people question business school ethics, developing a pro bono culture, instead of just lining pockets with paid consultancy work, is a way for business schools to put their money where their mouth is. This will benefit their tarnished reputation and broaden the impact of business scholarship on society," says Harney.

Notes to Editors

Academics from the School working at the NGO Clinic, which is based at Queen Mary’s Mile End campus, are:

Professor Stefano Harney, Chair in Strategy 

Professor Denise Ferreira da Silva, Chair in Ethics

Dr Ishani Chandrasekara, Lecturer in Accounting

Ms Emma Dowling, Lecturer in Organisational Change

Professor Peter Fleming, Professor of Organisational Theory

The Clinic at the University of Essex is run by Dr. Steffen Boehm, a Reader in Management. Other academics involved are:

Dr Marjana Johansson - Lecturer in Management

Dr Chris Land - Undergraduate Director of 2nd-Year Studies

Dr Manuela Nocker - Lecturer in Organisation Studies and Innovation

At the University of Leicester, the NGO Clinic is led by:

Dr Stephen Dunne - Lecturer in Social Theory and Consumption

Some of the NGOs currently working with the Queen Mary NGO Clinic:

Ford Foundation

Decolonizing Architecture

Live Art Development Agency