TradeLab is a global network of universities and training centers, founded in 2013, that conducts pro bono projects for developing countries and other stakeholders such as Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) (hereafter: “beneficiaries”). TradeLab’s overall goal is “to empower countries and smaller stakeholders to reap the full development benefits of institutions and rules that govern our global economy”.4 TradeLab’s contribution to capacity building centers on “legal clinics”: small teams of students work from their respective places of study with and for specific beneficiaries on semestrial basis. Student teams are closely supervised by experienced academics and mentored by expert practitioners in the field. Using internet tools, students, experts, and beneficiaries on a given project are virtually connected across the globe, from centers of expertise in Geneva or Washington, DC, to remote places in Africa or Latin America. Research memoranda and other non-confidential output are posted on the TradeLab website for all interested parties to access. TradeLab thereby seeks to achieve three objectives: (i) help beneficiaries build capacity; (ii) train students; and (iii) inform and create awareness within the wider public.
Inspired by crowdsourcing and the sharing-economy, TradeLab functions as a global innovation and learning network. No one pays (all contributions are made pro bono), but all participants gain: direct beneficiaries enjoy free help and on-the-job training; students “learn by doing” and receive university credits; experts obtain teaching credits or other benefits of joining the network (reputation, access to a pool of highly qualified graduates) or simply enjoy “giving back to the community”.
Though much work is still needed, and TradeLab is but one actor in a broader universe of capacity building suppliers, the TradeLab “model” has the potential to disrupt and democratize both legal education and the legal profession in the field of international economic law and policy, spreading awareness, learning and expertise beyond a handful of highly specialized universities and “big-ticket” law firms in Europe or the United States. TradeLab also offers an alternative to technical cooperation and traditional capacity building. The latter is the focus of this paper. Section 2 describes how TradeLab is governed and financed. Section 3 explains the importance of capacity in today’s global economy. Section 4 elaborates on what types of capacity are needed and where the main bottlenecks are. Sections 5 and 6 summarize the TradeLab “model” and the challenges of “scoping” and “scaling” TradeLab’s work. Section 7 sets out benchmarks against which TradeLab’s current and future success can be measured. Section 8 concludes by setting key objectives for the future.