How the AIG Pro Bono Program uplifts communities in need
As AIG celebrates the program’s 10-year anniversary, here’s a look back at volunteers’ impacts on society and what’s ahead.
When Erica Blau recalls her most memorable successes at AIG, the first thing that comes to mind is the handmade gown she received from more than 6,000 miles away.
The dress – pink and beaded from head to toe – was a gift from the family she helped escape from Afghanistan through her work as part of the AIG Pro Bono Program.
Working at the time as an M&A attorney for AIG, Erica volunteered her legal expertise to secure Special Immigrant Visas for the family, who supported U.S. military forces during the war in Afghanistan and, as a result, lived in hiding from the Taliban’s death threats.
After nearly four years, the family arrived on U.S. soil. And when Erica visited them for the first time, they greeted her with a homecooked meal and a festive gown, which she wore to celebrate their newfound freedoms in America.
“We shared so many tears of joy,” recalls Erica, who worked closely on the matter with one of the Pro Bono Program’s partners, the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP).
“I think the biggest impact was that I got the children out of Afghanistan, so now they have access to an education and all the opportunities that come with that.”
Today, as Director of the Pro Bono Program, Erica is developing new opportunities for AIG colleagues to give back and have an even greater impact on society. As the Program celebrates its 10-year anniversary, Erica seeks to form new partnerships and develop new areas of focus to build on the Program’s successes uplifting communities and bettering the lives of individuals in need.
A look back at AIG Pro Bono milestones
Over the past decade, the Pro Bono Program has united volunteers from around the world to help those in need find justice and build better lives for themselves and their families. Whether that involves helping immigrants escape persecution or helping military veterans get healthcare or other benefits they’re entitled to, the Program centers around one of AIG’s core values – allyship.
“There’s no greater way to be an ally than to be able to provide people with the level of legal acumen that our lawyers offer,” says Lucy Fato, who oversees the Pro Bono Program as AIG’s Executive Vice President, General Counsel & Global Head of Communications and Government Affairs.
The Program is a strategic part of AIG’s broader efforts to build an inclusive workplace culture where everyone feels they belong, regardless of gender, race or background.
“We talk to our regulators about our Pro Bono work, just like we talk to them about our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts because I believe they are interrelated,” Lucy says.
Because Pro Bono Program volunteers help individuals from a diverse range of communities, they often form bonds with those who may not look or speak like them.
“Giving back to communities, especially post COVID, is important for all organizations to do,” Lucy adds. “I encourage other general counsels to do Pro Bono work, as my colleagues at AIG learn so much from the individuals, organizations and communities we work with.”
AIG’s Pro Bono Program officially launched in 2012 with a small group of lawyers led by Eric Kobrick, AIG’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel, AIG Re and Reinsurance, who remains Chairman of the Pro Bono Committee. Since then, it has steadily expanded globally. In 2021, volunteers logged more than 4,400 hours, and nearly 50% more colleagues outside the U.S. participated in the Program compared to the previous year.
“There are so many different opportunities for non-lawyers to partner with lawyers in the Program,” Eric says. “I’m equally as proud of my non-legal colleagues, who have really stepped up to the plate, as I am of my legal colleagues.”
The Pro Bono Program regularly hosts training to prepare colleagues for different cases and projects, and AIG provides them with up to 16 hours of Volunteer Time Off annually to devote to causes they care about.
A focus on social and criminal justice reform
Over the years, the Program has also grown the number of non-profit organizations it partners with, as AIG volunteers help with cases and projects that many corporations have previously shied away from.
This includes initiatives related to criminal and social justice reform, which AIG recently added as a key pillar to the Pro Bono Program’s mission.
“It’s an important area because when it comes to criminal matters, there are many situations where people don’t have adequate representation,” says Lucy, adding that weaknesses in the U.S. criminal justice system has long stood out in her mind.
Lucy notes that people of color disproportionately make up the U.S. prison population, with Black adults especially likely to be imprisoned. They represent 33% of the sentenced prison population and nearly triple their 12% share of the U.S. adult population, according to a Pew Research Center report.
To help address such disparities, the AIG Pro Bono Program launched a series of initiatives, including partnering with the Innocence Project, which aims to exonerate the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reform of the criminal justice system. Through this partnership, AIG also sponsors the non-profit’s Wrongful Conviction podcasts, featuring interviews with wrongly-convicted men and women.
And last year, AIG partnered with the Be a Coffee Bean Foundation, which helps incarcerated Black men secure an education and college degrees to support their re-entry into the workforce.
“Recidivism is a big problem in America,” Lucy says. “Be a Coffee Bean works very hard on criminal justice reforms, including helping educate incarcerated men and women so that when they get out of jail, they can more easily get a job and reintegrate into society.”
Looking ahead, the AIG Pro Bono Program plans to build on the successes of its fundraising campaigns. In the past, the Program has raised funds to support its partner organizations, including the Pro Bono Institute, the Legal Aid Society, and Her Justice.
Lucy envisions doing more for the Program’s partners in the coming years.
“It’s another way for us to provide financial support where we may not necessarily be providing legal services,” she says. “The organizations we partner with do important work to help some of today’s most vulnerable populations, and we want to support them where we can.”
The Program also wants to increase partnerships with other companies, bringing together resources and legal expertise to various causes impacting communities. Last year, for example, AIG joined Accenture to help New York and New Jersey residents facing evictions amid the global pandemic.
“Our Program is growing and expanding in ways that we had never imagined,” Lucy says. “We have a big platform at AIG, and we strive to use our brand to continue doing good.”
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