Sustainability of paralegal projects

I was reading a beautiful article by @caitlinpierce about private sector as an alternative option for funding for paralegal work and it has inspired me to write this piece. For the past six months I have been trying to think of how to sustain the Kenya citizenship paralegal project when its funding is lifted. We often think of how a project shall be sustainable in the community when it comes to an end. Rarely do we think of the trained personnel who we spend thousands of dollars empowering them to support their communities. For example the citizenship paralegals are well trained personnel in that field but can other sectors absorb them when the project comes to an end? Do we need to empower them with other life skills to fit the job market when the project comes to an end? Or do we just let them go and let life take a toll on them?

This post also published on Namati News at:

As much as we might be thinking of alternative funding for projects, have we ever thought of income generating activities for partners and Namati to sustain the projects past funding? Or is there a guarantee that funds shall always be at our disposal? What about the sustainability of the partner organization that runs these projects?

During my visit to a partner organization (Council of Minorities) in Bangladesh running a similar paralegal model on citizenship, I got an opportunity to visit other organizations and this sparked all these ideas of post funding and the fate of projects and the partner organization. We visited Brac offices and during our visit we noted that Brac internally raises a significant amount for their projects and they are capable of funding all their paralegal projects. But how did they reach to this level? They have microfinance projects, banks, chicken – a significant amount of businesses that they have invested in to raise funds for their community activities. They are now a global organization. This is the dream of every organization but in order to reach this level we should start brainstorming on how to support each other and grow together.

We may be confident of funding but are we sure that the regulations and laws governing partner organizations locally will be conducive enough in the years to come? It is common knowledge that in 2014 the Kenyan government pushed for the enactment of a law that would limit NGO funding to 25%, requiring them to raise the rest of the 75% locally through self-funding of their activities. This should be a lesson for everyone that this can happen again in Kenya or even in other countries. This unknown should inspire all of us to start thinking of how we can sustain our projects during this time should it reach, or should we just brush this issue aside and hope to address it when we reach that time?

According to me I think Namati and other legal empowerment organizations should start thinking of such issues at this time and we should all join hands and share best experiences of self-sustainability of projects. I recall I had this discussion with @lauragoodwin and she shared that in some countries paralegals charge fees to sustain the project. But what is the essence of charging fees if the paralegals are meant to cut down the costs of the application of identity documents which were high as a result of brokers charging applicants in the name of assisting them in their application. Won’t we be training a group of brokers in the name of paralegals to replace the former?

We were able to also meet another organization in Saidpur called Eastern Screen Printers. This group creates beautiful artifacts ranging from gift cards, success cards, bags and other hand-made crafts and later exports them to Europe and the money is used to pay the workers and fund other activities of the organization.

What can we borrow from such activities? Or can we start small by giving start-up capital to partner organizations to begin income generating activities for future sustainability of their project? Just like the way we give seed funding can we provide such funds with the interest of future project sustainability can Namati take the lead and document the success of such initiatives? As a development partner is this one of the paths to take? And if this is the path, what type of business can we invest in that is a guarantee to give returns? Let the discussion begin…. @vivekmaru @michaelotto @lauragoodwin


Dear Mustafa:

Thanks this great article. Just to add that with the idea of professionalization of education gaining steam in most developing countries that too can be an opportunity to fund raise. Many private and state universities will buy into any partnership that complement its educational and training efforts in the area of bringing in professional field experience to make its products more prepared and qualified to face the real life challenges of the economic, political and social life. Namati partners can start to think of building partnerships with educational establishments to train professionals in various areas where they have gained field experience through their work and develop a curriculum that complements existing university level programs- that are for the most part in developing countries theoretical. Both Namati partner and an educational establishment can then share the fees for training 50/50; this could help sustain projects and programs of Namati partners and at the same time increasing the number of trained paralegals to attend to the needs of their communities. For our organization for example, we have been able to propose and develop a professional training course on ‘public service integrity and corporate corruption management’ with one of the leading universities in the country. We provide the training while they provide the campus to host the program and we co-sign or award the certifications while also sharing the gains as a form of sustained fund raising effort on our part!!!


Dear Steven I totally agree with your idea. Indeed we have a lot of skills and best practices that we can tap as income generating activity to sustain our activities. In Kenya and Bangladesh we can even coordinate with law schools to give us units to lecture or generate curriculum on citizenship and statelessness and I must say there is a gap in this field that we can take advantage of. Could you share more on how you were able to achieve this success? I am personally interested in exploring this lane with the new legal aid bill I know many Higher institutions of learning shall start developing curriculum on paralegals and most of the materials in circulation are on prison based paralegals.@caitlinpierce @vivekmaru @michaelotto @lauragoodwin do you think Namati can take lead in this given the best practices you have documented?


That’s a really interesting idea @FITCAM! How did you first get the university to commit to the program on public service integrity? Who attends the course?

I really like this concept as it’s a way to get the revenue generation to contribute towards our larger mission rather than being a totally separate endeavor.

As @Mustafa_Mahmoud mentioned, many law schools or even refugee studies programs have a serious gap - there is little material on statelessness and nationality law. Namati and our partners have both theoretical and practical knowledge (from the paralegal work) that could help fill in those gaps… potentially bringing in some fees as well as increasing awareness about the issue among legal practitioners! And who knows, they may go on to fill various roles in which they can influence change! All of that is part of building the legal empowerment movement as well as solving the issue of statelessness. The same would go for the other themes that Namati’s work tackles.

@caitlinsislin @yeyinth @micahperlin @marenabrinkhurst - any thoughts about investing in income generating activities?


You see Laura, it has been a road of collaborative non-confrontation (avoiding naming and shaming but however complementing the university in its weaknesses). This strategy generated a sense of mutual respect and partnership that led to proposals and negotiations. Nevertheless the key is that the institution in question should be able to see the value added that the organization in question (seeking partnership) will bring. It may start practically by organizing seminars and programs on campus that involve one or two of the university’s management (to give a speech or present a paper etc). This is to get them to know your organisation, to notice/see what you are doing and thereafter you may approach them to suggest possible partnership.

As regards the ‘money side’ you may advise them that it does not necessary entail an additional financial burden on the university to kick start the running of the program before the benefits that streaming in. However, advise them it is a little or no cost approach to the university. For instance, the Namati partner in question will provide the tutors or lecturers and score the students or train the participants while the university on its part will only have to provide course hall/training facility and then co-sign the certificates awarded. The trick is that the credibility of the university in question adds value to the certificate and thereafter people will start coming in not necessarily because of the certificate but for the knowledge which has been tested through the quality of professionals that you produce! The course is open to non-academics and individuals with a minimum of 2 years professional experience in any field or others (with an advanced general certificate of education qualification) who aspire to take on managerial and leadership roles in future in any form. It is a civil society wide program inclusive of actors who desire to make a difference in the way the public service is run and who desire to contribute in building integrity in the way individuals acquire and exercise public duty.

Here is a link on our website (featuring the Vice Chancellor of one of the State universities we have worked with) which carries an article on lessons learned in engaging in ‘collaborative non-confrontation’ with our government or institutional partners to foster change and advocacy for improvement in well-being. “The University of Buea 5 years on after support from Partnership for Transparency Fund-(PTF) USA"

You may also glean at some of the course modules that we offer here


Dear Mustafa:

I am certain Namati, can take a lead in this by not shelving their best practices and professional knowledge, but by engaging with educational institutions that are involved in 'mind development and capacity building. We have a good example of a prison project where our partner organisation ‘Operation Total Impact’ mobilized young graduates from university to teach prisoners and prepare them for certificate examinations such as the General Certificate of Education as well as the Advanced Level. It is equally easy to get volunteers who are passionate about passing on knowledge. You will not imagine that for the first time inmates were provided general education in prison by youths, got registered for public exams wrote and had a 20% pass. Just for the first year and with just three months of lectures. These are success stories that Namati can build on and approach educational establishments with the goal of scaling up their knowledge base and expertise to impact more people in society through training. Course start out of need and once your course program is need base and address a specific social problem there will be a buy in from government or politicians who may want to use your platform and thus contribute the political will required for such programs to be included in higher institutions or programs of departments that deal with the issue.

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Great discussion and such an important question for our movement. I’ll be attending the SOCAP conference in October (, one of the world’s largest impact investing convenings, here in San Francisco. There are opportunities to host side conversations, and to connect with other participants via the SOCAP internal social network prior to the conference; I can certainly float these questions to see if there are others exploring the investment/ income-generation/ justice nexus.


I think partnering with Universities is a great idea. @Mustafa_Mahmoud

I worked on a project in Ethiopia that pursued this model of University-based training and support to paralegals with Haramaya University. Haramaya University is well known in Ethiopia for being strong on pastoralist and environmental studies/sciences, but also has a law school. In this case, the program was able to focus on land law and land-related mediation trainings, and be seen as a complement to the University’s strong reputation on the technical elements of natural resource management, rather than as a critique.

As the political situation in Ethiopia virtually necessitates that one be a member of the leading political party in order to be a practicing lawyer, support to the development of paralegals was also seen as positive as a way for law students to gain practical skills and exercise their learning, even if they did not belong or want to belong to the party.

Introducing the paralegal approaches and exploring the possibility of integration in the current activities started between several Universities and BABSEA in Myanmar would be great. It is always great to think of how we can use existing resources from the local community and institutions in designing our paralegals programs in terms of cost effectiveness, quality assurance, creditability, accessibility and sustainability, etc.

BABSEA CLE started working in Myanmar in 2013, officially opening an office in Yangon in 2014. BABSEA CLE is working to establish university and community based legal education programmes throughout the country. Supporting justice education and the Rule of Law through the introduction of Clinical Legal Education (CLE) Programmes. We are working with all 18 university law departments in Myanmar to assist in establishing and strengthening university based CLE programmes. Our university partners are developing CLE curricula to bring CLE into mainstream legal education in Myanmar. This is being done through training of trainers, workshops, international placements, micro-grants, as well as materials including textbooks and support from regional and international CLE experts. It has included working with the university law lecturers and professors on how to apply CLE teaching methods and how to incorporate pro bono and legal ethics in law curriculums in Myanmar’s university law departments.

Source :


That sounds like a really interesting conference @caitlinsislin! I’d be very interested to know what other organizations are thinking about in terms of the intersection between impact investing/income generation and sustainable justice programs.

If few others are looking at income generation activities that can specifically support justice work, that might be something Namati would actually want to invest in trying - as a complement to some of our ongoing paralegal programs! It could be one area for further innovation/experimentation, which we do within our grassroots programming to generate lessons for the legal empowerment field as a whole. What do others in Namati think about investing in and testing income generation initiatives for paralegal work?

Any other examples of how organizations have tried to sustain grassroots legal work - or ideas for efforts that might be both income generating and still advancing justice at the same time?

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@lauragoodwin I think it is a good avenue for income generation for Namati. We could look at coming up with curricular for paralegals across al fields for example compiling all the best practices in health, citizenship and even land and share with Universities to include in their curriculum or even begin partnering with Universities to offer short courses as shared above @caitlinpierce and @yeyinth but it should be standardized across all partners in terms of content and little change might be made to suit the country’s context. @lauragoodwin @vivekmaru can we pilot such in Kenya? Given the numerous activities namati has in Kenya like Land, health and citizenship? Is this a path worth exploring?

@Mustafa_Mahmoud thank you for your thoughtful post! It’s great to have you on board and I look forward to learning more about your organization. I spent some formative years myself in Kenya so have a soft spot in my heart for the country.

I published your post to the main Namati news site where it will get wider visibility. Here’s the direct link:

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I like this discussion! Sustainability for paralegals, who are the cornerstone of all our rights work is key. we cannot afford a gap, we cannot afford to keep training new paralegals. The idea of investing in micro finance and income generating activities to sustain our paralegals is great! and as addresses speaks to several goals.

Sex workers under BHESP have registered a SACCO (Savings and Credit Co-operative) under the name Kenya Umbrella Sacco, attached, our paralegals also serve as administration officers for the SACCO.We would like to fast track the Sacco by securing seed capital to guarantee loans, that will make us the SACCO of choice for investors especially sex workers.

We would be very happy to share and learn the best practices of such an enterprise.


I have really enjoyed following this discussion. Thanks for kicking it off, @Mustafa_Mahmoud!

In a previous post, I had written about income generation activities that we saw during recent learning exchanges, which you can see here: Paralegals working together with small businesses.

The post covers a group of income generating businesses that help sustain paralegal efforts locally. In Johannesburg, we observed paralegals who had organized community daycare centers for small fees and ended up serving many of the women and children from the community through the daycare itself, expanding their reach. We also saw an amazing recycling project in South Africa at the Orange Farm Human Rights Advice Centre that had grown so much that they had hired up to 50 people from the local community to run the recycling operation and received assistance from the government there, having also opened a daycare and a community training center. In fact, this was such an amazing operation that one of the participants from Tanzania, @nobel, is now currently working to train refugees to create goods from recycled materials, but more for their own financial sustainability and to improve relations with the local Tanzanian host community.

There is also another post about Alternative fundraising ideas for legal empowerment that includes some tips on crowdsourcing funds and another cooperative model of legal empowerment organizations who have started an investment holding company in South Africa, although I think BHESP’s SACCO idea that @peninah_bhesp_org brought up is possibly more sustainable in the long term - thanks for sharing that!

The most important thing we were told is that the business or income generating idea must be carefully thought out and adapted appropriately to the local context, but there are many examples out there to learn and build upon.


Big thanks to @mustafa_mahmoud for the excellent initial post and for getting us thinking about this vital topic; big thanks to @FITCAM, @peninah, and everyone else for their insights.

I agree with Mustafa that if Namati is serious about elevating the field of legal empowerment, we need to support partners and network members to grapple with the fundamental question of financing. @lauragoodwin, I agree, certainly worthy of experimentation in our grassroots efforts, and also worthy of research to compare and analyze experiences from across the network.

Namati’s Sierra Leone team is planning to start a law firm that would serve middle class paying clients, and use some of the fees to subsidize services for those who cannot pay. Perhaps @bridgettaamoateng, @sonkitaconteh, and others from SL team can say more as this idea develops.

The examples @michaelotto describes from South Africa-- recycling business, day care center-- and the use of micro finance by BRAC and BHESP (as @peninah_bhesp_org describes) are inspiring.

But as @michaelotto alludes to, it’s very difficult to run a successful business, even when profit is the only motive. I wonder whether we could develop a cousin to Lawyers for Resource Justice, something called Businesspeople for Justice, whereby business school students or successful entrepreneurs would assist legal empowerment organizations in evaluating and establishing social businesses to subsidize their operations.

I do think contributions from clients is worth exploring further, though as @mustafa_mahmoud mentioned we wouldn’t want to deter the very people we’re aiming to serve. One possible benefit of charging something is greater accountability of paralegals to clients.

Last, we argue that government should support primary justice services. I would love to hear from practitioners in jurisdictions where this is a reality or even a plausible option.

Look forward to more dialogue and collaborative action with our network on this essential question.

(@tobiaseigen I wonder if this- the question of revenue and sustainability-- should be a discourse topic to itself.)


Very good piece. We also just discussed this sustainability issue at this learning exchange programme in Bangladesh.


Hi @Zaw, what were some of the main take-aways you learned regarding sustainability of programs?

I know that @Wigayi, @fatimaadamu and @Jovin_Sanga were also focusing on this issue and it is often one of the most pressing issues we face, so I wanted to ask if you had any insights from the recent exchange that you would like to share with others?


Hello,On this issue of sustainability, its a challenge we are all faced with. Big organizations like BRAC are also faced with issues of sustainability themselves.

Tanapara Swallows in Rajshahi, Bangladesh running a guest house and they also sell products made by community women too. we saw residents of the BNWLA proshanti who are also involved in small businesses.

There was a very long discussion around CSR and how to access them. We also had some discussions around working with communications service providers to help attain subsidized rates and using retires as paralegals so as to cut down cost of payments.

These and many more. @Zaw we haven’t heard much update from you.

@nantthithioo whats happening with Myanmar and land?

@hlamyosu70 how many paralegals do you have now? in what field?

@Wigayi @Jovin_Sanga whats up with Tanzania? how have the learnings impacted on your work? waiting to hear from you all.


Hello, Sustainability of paralegal project is still a challenge facing both big and small organization in Tanzania. Most of organizations depends on development partners support. And the funding situation is not good hence some of organizations has closed down some of their field offices. We are still waiting for the legal aid law that has a component of government to support legal aid. We are not sure whether the 5th regime Government will take it as a priority. @Fatimaadamu have you developed your organization plot? WLAC is still looking for opportunity to develop the plot to something like that of Tanapara Swallows.


My Sister @Wigayi we havent been able to raise money to do anything. However, we do have plans already. We would continue search and we are hopeful.