GreenRidge Foundation: An Interview with Kelechi Ibe
Tell us a little bit about your organisation and why you set it up
GreenRidge Foundation is a Community Economic Development (CED) driven organization, created to develop an excellent pro bono culture amongst corporate professional services firms, and drive economic transformation across Africa, by leveraging technology.
We offer a model that leverages technology to connect Africa’s visionary entrepreneurs with corporate law firms that have offered to assist them navigate regulatory complexities by assisting them with pro bono transactional legal services.
We understand that there are over 41 million Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in Nigeria for example, which employ over 59 million persons (i.e. 86.3% of the National workforce) and contribute over 49.8% to the Nation’s GDP. Most of these businesses fail at their formative stages owing to several factors, including inability to obtain or pay for sound legal advice. This is the reason we started GreenRidge Foundation – To support MSMEs through some of their difficulties, by providing access to legal services they cannot ordinarily afford.
What has been your greatest success/are you most proud of so far?
We are most happy and proud of the partnerships we have been able to drive. We have been able to convince some of Nigeria’s biggest law firms to subscribe to this initiative. We have also been able to partner with some technology hubs, incubators and accelerators, where we find the visionary entrepreneurs we support.
You can find some of our partners here https://www.greenridgefoundation.org/partners
What is the greatest challenge you have faced in setting up the organisation and how have you managed it?
Getting law firms to assist businesses for free hasn’t been the easiest of things to do. We have had to develop narratives that make the initiative attractive to law firms such as rankings and awards, earning CPD points from the Nigerian Bar Association for pro bono work (We are still pursuing this partnership). Also, we have leveraged our robust Advisory Board to convince more firms to sign up to the initiative. You can view our Advisory Board here. https://www.greenridgefoundation.org/people.
What are the top challenges facing African lawyers today, in terms of data and technology?
First, the fact that technology will disrupt the legal services industry in the world and Africa doesn’t seem ready worries me. This disruption will transcend the borders and dislodge our protectionist move against the incursion of foreign law firms into Africa. With software leveraging AI and machine learning, corporations may no longer be paying lawyers to review documents.
Also, Alternative Legal Services Providers (ALSP) like the Big Four (4) accounting firms, consulting firms and technology companies, are developing technologies that are disrupting the legal services industry. Law firms need to constantly evolve to also leverage technology in delivering services to their clients.
Data mining is another challenge. African law firms are yet to harness the power of big data in driving business development and developing new service offerings.
How do you think lawyers can make use of technology to address those challenges? How are you using technology in your organisation/company/firm to meet client needs or wider societal legal needs?
Law firms should invest more in technology development, much more than the ALSPs. R & D in the area of technology development should be driven by law firms just like it is done in developed countries. Global firms like KPMG are constantly developing technologies that help to serve clients better such as Tax Global Mobility Service, to Tax Function Management, Data Analysis, Risk Assessment and Management, Family and Private Wealth Management etc. If the law firms do not invest, the ALSPs will continue to do so and will ultimately earn more market share.
At GreenRidge Foundation, we are working to analyse data spooled from our system to ascertain the most pressing legal needs for small businesses and develop solutions to assist them.
What regulatory and legislative environment is required to facilitate greater use of technology in the African legal sector?
The Nigerian Bar Association should self-regulate by setting minimum technological standards for law firms operating in this 21st century.
The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) Regulations which models the GDPR also provides for data security and use. The bar association should harness this opportunity in further regulating how law firms keep, protect and manage data. Cyber security is key.
Legislations should focus on use of technology in our courts and judicial system generally to enhance and facilitate reforms in the administration of justice and drive productivity.
If you could do one thing to facilitate the growth of legal tech in Africa, what would that be?
Continuous use of technology to make legal services and justice more accessible and developing solutions that make it more efficient to run law firms.
How best can lawyers influence and shape the legislative and policy environment to enable the growth of the African technology market?
Partnerships between the Bar Association and various tiers of government is a key factor. These partnerships would see lawyers being invited to the table when conversations around policy development arise.
Also, law firms should organize or participate in more hackathons to find solutions to some legal issues. This would help lawyers contribute more to influencing the legislative and policy environment from a position of experience.
Who or what is your greatest inspiration?
Kola Aina of Ventures Platform is my greatest inspiration. He has invested his time in developing African start-ups and I admire him for that. I hope to be like him, but more focused in developing technologies for legal services and consulting.