LGBTI rights social enterprise triumphs at TrustLaw Awards

An LGBTI rights social enterprise won the Innovation Award at the 2017 TrustLaw Awards last night for its work in creating the “first LGBTI safe house in the UK”.

Micro Rainbow International (MRI) was the only social enterprise to be nominated at the TrustLaw Awards, the annual Thomson Reuters Foundation celebration of outstanding pro bono legal work assisting social enterprises and not-for-profits.

MRI are a UK-based social enterprise fighting poverty and discrimination within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) community.

Awards for Impact and Collaboration went to initiatives ending child marriage in the US and combatting the distribution of images and videos of sexual violence in India.

The Innovation Award recognises MRI’s work with the international law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges in funding the opening of five LGBTI safe houses by the end of 2017.

The first property is set to open its doors to residents at the end of September, with plans to roll out a similar safe housing concept across the UK and Europe.

Through pro bono legal assistance provided by the TrustLaw programme, MRI was able to qualify for Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR), a tax incentive which was crucial to secure the necessary funding for its first property. TrustLaw is a Thomson Reuters Foundation programme that helps NGOs and social enterprises from around the world access high-quality legal support.

The temporary accommodation will support MRI’s existing social inclusion activities targeted at the integration of LGBTI refugees, including peer support groups, and life skills and employability workshops.

According to Home Office figures, the number of LGBTI individuals seeking asylum in the UK increased by 450% between 2010 and 2014. Many come from countries where homosexuality is illegal or punishable by death. Between 2007 and 2014, most claimants (748) came from Pakistan, where homosexuality is punishable by death. In the same period, 343 Nigerians, 112 Jamaicans, and 88 Ghanaians gave being gay as a reason to stay in the UK.

The partnership was formed after MRI sought tax and structuring advice from TrustLaw in February 2016. 

A team of 11 lawyers across a variety of practice areas have since dedicated over 210 hours for free to support MRI with issues relating to structuring of the social investment, tax matters, property negotiations and planning permits.

In August 2016, HMRC confirmed that social investments contributing to funding the safe house would qualify for SITR. Under the tax incentive scheme, investors enjoy a 30% deduction from their income tax liability for the cost of their investment.

Sebastian Rocca, Founder and CEO of MRI, is optimistic about the potential benefits of pro bono legal advice for social enterprises.

“[The project] has created a unique private-third sector partnership which helps grassroots organisations such as ours access financial instruments that would have otherwise not been available to us.”

The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the news and information provider Thomson Reuters. They are a UK and US registered charity working to empower people around the world through initiatives such as free legal assistance and media development and training.

“We have just surpassed the £109m mark in the value of pro bono work facilitated through our platform,” said Monique Villa, CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation and Founder of TrustLaw.

Every year the Foundation awards three pro bono projects, in addition to the international firm, domestic firm, in-house legal team of the year and esteemed lawyer of the year award.


Photo credit: Thomson Reuters Foundation