Doing Better by Doing Good: A Qualitative Study on the Pro Bono Projects of Management Consulting Companies in Sweden

John Öberg and Kiryl Shantyka

Kiryl received Effective Thesis coaching during writing the thesis he co-authored with John. Both completed their Bachelor’s in Business and Economics at the Stockholm School of Economics. John is continuing his studies in the Master’s program. In the future he intends to pursue a career related to governance and policy-making. Kiryl has recently joined Effective Altruism Sweden as Executive Manager and will focus on community-building activities in Sweden.

Authors’ Note

In what ways do you think your topic improves the world?

The impact management consulting companies can have on pro bono projects is enormous. There is a great demand among NGOs for pro bono services provided by management consultancies. The beneficiary organizations report significant impacts such collaborations bring to life, starting with optimizing NGOs’ scarce resources and creating long-term strategies.

Our thesis builds a business case for management consultancies to engage in pro bono engagements by demonstrating and explaining the vast pecuniary and non-pecuniary benefits reported and associated with pro bono engagement. This study will enable managers to make more informed decisions regarding their pro bono engagement as well as contribute more broadly to the stakeholder and employee engagement literature with industry-specific insights.

One of the most important implications for businesses seeking assistance from management consultancies is to concentrate on reaching out to regular employees interested in promoting the matter internally rather than using the common practice of contacting top management directly or through official channels of communication.

What do you think the stronger and weaker parts of your research are?

Our study potentially doesn’t cover the entire range of possible factors affecting company motivation to engage in pro bono projects. The scope of the thesis was limited to a single country and included a qualitative analysis of several companies. Such limitations didn’t allow us to perform the contribution assessment of each factor. Even though this study wasn’t intended to make such an assessment, we think it could help make an even stronger and more compelling argument for pro bono engagement.

Yet, we can see that the study, by shedding some new light on the subject, could identify the primary driving forces and spark a conversation in an area that has not yet been studied significantly. Most importantly, we offer a sophisticated framework for creating a business case for pro bono work in the management consulting industry and offer several managerial implications that can also be used by businesses outside the management consulting industry.

We would welcome it if some future studies could explore further value-creation processes and assessments to help in quantifying the impact, which would strengthen further companies’ motivation to engage in pro bono projects.

In what ways have you changed your mind since writing it?

First of all, it was a great pleasure to disprove of the common stereotype of marketing benefits as a major driving force for pro bono as a form of organizational altruism. On the contrary, many companies are actively limiting their external communication, potentially due to the risk of being accused of greenwashing. 

Although the biggest surprise was coming to the paradoxical conclusion that the business case for pro bono was supported mainly by management consulting firms’ perceptions of the benefits rather than by actual evidence thereof. Companies that focus on improving and measuring the performance of their clients don’t measure and question their own initiatives.

Finally, donations as a form of organizational altruism were less appreciated by management consultancies as they reported donations to have a lower or non-existent benefit in comparison to pro bono projects. We think that this discovery alone should spark interest in further research and discussion of its implications for the community.

What recommendations would you make to others interested in taking a similar direction with their research?

It’s crucial to approach a study of decision-making processes with an open mind and be prepared to adapt your theoretical framework study to reality, for example, by using the abductive method of research, particularly when conducting a bachelor’s thesis. 

Getting access to people who can actually provide insight into the research question is one of the biggest obstacles. Because of this, don’t be afraid to concentrate on a small number of individuals who have the necessary knowledge or experience rather than attempting to cover as many individuals and businesses as possible. Accessing the sense-giving and sense-making processes within a company can also assist in regaining a more complex understanding of motivation and navigating between espoused and actual theories of motivation.

Published 21/11/22