Myung Lee: Bringing Communities Together Through Service

The 2019 Global Pro Bono Summit keynote speaker shares her insights on the future of the pro bono movement
Apr 25, 2019 1:10 PM ET

The 2019 Global Pro Bono Summit, hosted by Taproot Foundation, will take place in New York City this May. Leading up to this gathering, Taproot will be releasing a series of profiles featuring movers and shakers of the pro bono movement, from companies with cutting-edge programs to individuals working towards a more engaged society to nonprofits tapping into pro bono service as a way to deepen their impact on the communities they serve. 

A love for service

Myung Lee is changing the way local governments and citizens work together. As the Executive Director of Cities of Service, a nonprofit organization that works with city leaders to build stronger cities, she is an expert in tapping into the knowledge, creativity, and service of citizens from across sectors to tackle social issues together. And the breadth of her experience—ranging from law to social services to launching the AmeriCorps national service program—helps her make those connections. Love for service has always been in Lee’s blood. Born in South Korea to a family who cared for orphaned children during the Korean War, she was taught from a young age the importance of doing what you can to help your fellow man. Now as the leader of Cities of Service, Lee has “the best job in the world” and is able to spread this ethic of service with communities around the globe, offering the opportunity for “citizens to take an active role in making their community a better place for all.”

Cities of Services provides counsel, expert assistance, and trusted resources to city leaders and their teams so they can tackle tough challenges together with their citizens. They provide opportunities through initiatives like the Love Your Block neighborhood revitalization micro-grant program and Engaged Cities Award recognition program for cities who are leading this work. Cities of Service enables community residents, nonprofits, businesses, and government leaders to work together and see each other as integral parts of their city--building relationships and instilling trust.

Making the investment

Through Lee’s work with cities around the globe, she has witnessed the tremendous impact pro bono has on communities. She understands, though, that it can be challenging to see how seemingly small acts of volunteerism can move the needle on large-scale social issues. Her solution? Investing in stronger impact measurement and storytelling; “We need to show people the value of their volunteerism. Measure the impact, get to those outcomes, and tell the story of your program loudly and clearly. You’ll get people to join your movement by proving the value of it.”

Lee asserts that “pro bono is something that every city wants more of” but they simply don’t have the time available to manage each stage of the scoping, management, impact measurement, and storytelling process. It is in these critical areas that she sees the most opportunity for volunteer intermediaries and corporate pro bono practitioners to add value. Lee points out that there is a need for experts from these groups to provide a much-needed investment of time and research on pro bono best practices so that the movement can continue to spread.

The importance of building trust

As Myung looks ahead, she’s excited by the recent global uptick in civic activism and has hopes that it becomes our new normal. “I envision a world where what we’re seeing today is just the way people live--where service and speaking up is the regular course of action.” But with this optimism comes an acknowledgement of challenging social realities that pose hurdles to this exciting vision of the future.

Edelman’s 2019 report shows that global trust in government is dropping. So how can one pro bono project build connections between a government and its citizens? What about a company and its community? Myung proposes that “You have to build trust. A pro bono project is not simply a transaction—it can be the start of a long-term relationship.” Through her work at Cities of Service, this relationship building process is at the forefront of all that they do, and the key to sustained impact.

A call for collaboration

The 2019 Global Pro Bono Summit offers a unique opportunity for pro bono leaders to come together to make great strides in providing critical support to the social good organizations solving our world’s most pressing challenges. With years of experience facilitating partnerships between the public, private, and social sectors, as the keynote speaker at the Summit, Lee is looking forward to sharing her insights and inspiring collaboration between groups. After all, as she so eloquently states; “We all need each other. We all need help. We all have the capacity to give.”

Read more about the 2019 Global Pro Bono Summit here.