Legal advising is at the core of these projects, and CAMINNOS adapts traditional approaches to lawyering by designing into them capacity-building programming and technical support that allow clients to learn how to operate their business entities independently by complying with sector regulations providing transparency, and promoting good governance across large shareholder bases. Based on this experience on the ground, CAMINNOS sees the role of the lawyer, particularly for lawyers advising small, medium, and new businesses, as including educating clients on the rule of law, including by emphasizing corporate ethics and the role of environmental sustainability and social impact together with profit.
At CAMINNOS, business law advising is not only about helping clients mitigate risk but also about empowering clients to learn to identify and address the legal frameworks underlying the root causes of such risks. Implementing such an approach, in 2021, CAMINNOS developed a project to introduce indigenous populations to the rural tourism sector through companies owned by the members of their communities. This project was the winning initiative in the Local Innovators Contest 2021 organized by the Local Innovation Network and Ashoka, and selected from the proposals of more than 120 local government leaders paired with social entrepreneurs. The innovative component of the project was the design of a digital inclusion program that allowed collaboration between business lawyers, local government, and rural communities to develop and implement a digital tourism program formed as business entity run by its shareholders, with equal participation from business and the community. By facilitating multistakeholder collaboration in response to client demands, CAMINNOS was able to find long-term and systemic legal and business law solutions to the difficulties and limitations that rural tourism in Bolivia had to face during COVID-19 lockdowns. Reaching out to key allies, CAMINNOS gathered the National Protected Areas Authority, tech startups, NGOs, and academic institutions to design strategies to support rural communities in the tourism sector, creating legal frameworks to integrate such communities as direct participants in the sector. This collaborative public-private pipeline was able to implement a digital tourism program for rural communities to gain skills to create digital tourism experiences and digital artwork using blockchain technology that promoted and sold the works as non-fungible tokens in cryptoart galleries. The initiative was selected from among 80 public-private partnership proposals, as the most innovative project in the Local Innovators Contest 2021 international competition. This project and CAMINNOS’s work provide an example of the potential at the intersection of business and public policy that will be replicated in 2022 by other communities and the public sector in Bolivia and Argentina.
From working at the intersection of business and law, CAMINNOS has learned that business lawyers are key to activating the potential for businesses’ leadership within the business community. Moreover, CAMMINNOS has found that delivering innovative legal advice to clients that allows them to go beyond compliance with “minimum” safeguards to focus on the more enterprising “do no harm” principle invigorates business and inspires business leadership. It also creates within business clients an interest in and a commitment to engage in strengthening the rule of law by building and growing more accountable business institutions. These actions can be defined as part of the “changemaker” movement, a rather uncommon term for the legal profession, yet understandable enough to indicate that professionals on this level of engagement are committed to assume a different approach to attain new and better results in their effort to uphold the Rule of Law and achieve their clients’ social goals. Driven by its clients’ goals and aspirations, CAMINNOS is creating a community development model through new governance structures in rural communities, causing a change of mindset that redefines the relationship and power dynamics in communities, with a special focus on gender equity and the interactions between communities and other actors such as governments, private investors, NGOs, and civil society movements. The organization continually works to promote specific legal regulation to change the status of sustainable development for rural areas to allow indigenous communities’ inclusion in disruptive and scalable industries, such as the energy and technology sectors, enabling them as business actors.
Applying business law frameworks, CAMINNOS has trained rural communities on how to construct and operate community-led gas stations, as well as how to reinvest their profits into sustainable development projects. Anchored in business law and principles of rule of law, CAMINNOS has also deployed multidisciplinary teams of researchers, engineers, and financial and legal specialists to structure a corporate governance model that has enabled the creation of community-owned gas stations for five communities, granting ownership to more than 4500 families and enabling them to exercise their shareholder rights and comply with corporate regulations that govern commercial entities in that jurisdiction.
Some of the lessons that CAMINNOS has learned through its work are specific to South America. However, the core of CAMINNOS’s approach appears to have universal application. For example, incorporating advising on the nature and value of the rule of law into traditional business advising to help clients cultivate business leadership skills is an approach that business lawyers advising new or socially minded business clients can immediately experiment with and adopt. Moreover, business lawyers can also begin to develop networks beyond the legal community so that, where affordable, they can offer their clients collaborative and big picture opportunities for business growth and innovation that support and enhance the rule of law in a way that advances their clients’ leadership positions. In this context, an innovative approach to legal advising can be understood as a process to provide clients with effective solutions to systemic social and environmental issues, using strategic and multidisciplinary approaches, grounded first and foremost in business law and, more broadly, in principles of rule of law. The concept itself calls for an intervention that goes beyond traditional legal counseling, requiring a deeper understanding of the social problems, the culture, and the context, driving business lawyers to question whether existing law is helpful to the highest aspirations of the businesses and business clients they serve in given circumstances and how the Rule of Law can be upheld and relied upon in such work.
As an added fruit, given that the impact of socially conscious business projects is measured in both financial and social terms, this approach to business lawyering also allows lawyers to measure their own social impact, in addition to their financial impact—a measure that might make them more appealing and attractive to socially-minded entrepreneurs, who are increasingly numerous. Keep in mind that measuring social gains initially requires the design of a theory of change model, understanding the underlying needs of your clients and the communities they wish to serve and translating them into objectives, which must be aligned to identified needs in the relevant communities, needs also targeted as pressing social issues listed in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals promoted by the United Nations.