Remarks at the Pro Bono for Social Good Conference

Ambassador Bell delivers her opening remarks at the conference. (Embassy photo by Attila Németh)
Ambassador Bell delivers her opening remarks at the conference.

Good morning.  First of all, I would like to thank Mr. András F. Tóth for the opportunity to say a few words at the opening of this conference.

I am particularly pleased to be here because volunteering and civic engagement have always been and still are a cornerstone of our nation.  Americans strongly believe that civil society is one of the pillars of a healthy democracy.  As President Obama said, “The participation of civil society is fundamental to democratic governance.  Through civil society, citizens come together to hold their leaders accountable and to address challenges that governments cannot tackle alone.”

This is why our Embassy works to support a strong Hungarian civil society.

This conference is very much in line with this goal, as it promotes pro bono work, a specific kind of volunteerism that is an essential part of civic engagement from the business community.  Through the pro bono work offered by companies and individual professionals, civil organizations get access to expertise and advice they would not be able to get otherwise – guidance that is crucial for their operations.

Pro bono work is an essential component of good corporate citizenship, a value that American companies certainly understand.  And as this conference demonstrates, it’s a value that the Hungarian private sector also respects.

It is especially vital now, when civil society organizations are coping with an increasing number of regulations and restrictions, and while their ability to afford necessary legal assistance can strain resources intended for operations and programs.  The smaller the organization, the more valuable pro bono work can be in improving strategic planning and internal management.  Pro bono work creates a dialogue between the business and civil sectors that leads to fruitful partnerships – examples are many in the United States and elsewhere.  Pro bono work generates new ideas, and this type of collaboration fosters an environment of innovation and inspiration, which benefits businesses, civil society, and the broader economy.

I am glad that there are several pro bono experts on the subject from the United States participating in this conference to share some of our best practices, such as providing corporate tax incentives for companies that offer pro bono services.

As many of you know, prior to beginning my service here in Hungary as the U.S. Ambassador, I spent many years volunteering in leadership positions in several nonprofit organizations.  I know firsthand the direct benefits of this type of corporate-nonprofit collaboration, and I am an enthusiastic supporter of your efforts.  Thank you very much for all that you do – I look forward to learning from you all today.