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Supporting Asia’s economic orphans

Freshfields has been assisting OneSky for more than a decade, helping so-called ‘left-behind children’ in Asia.

Before OneSky was founded in 1998, many children in China without families were fed and sheltered at institutions.

To address the lack of nurturing care and quality early education for these children, OneSky began by creating Infant Nurture Centres and Preschools for orphaned children in China. They expanded from two government welfare institutions to 20, then to more than 50. But it became clear that this model could not reach all the children in need of help, which included those whose parents’ work commitments left little or no time to spend with their children. (In China alone hundreds of millions of migrant workers have left their ancestral villages in search of a better future.)

A shift in focus saw OneSky’s best centres become demonstration Early Learning Centres, providing quality care at scale. OneSky became first and foremost a training organisation, training local staff and communities to provide tailored early interaction and stimulation for a healthy start. The goal is to prepare children to enter society as intellectual and social equals with their peers. The OneSky Global Centre for Early Childhood Development, which opened in Hong Kong in 2019, aims to be a world-class hub for quality early education, offering nurturing and caregiver training, as well providing resources for professionals in the field.

OneSky has now expanded to Mongolia and Vietnam, in addition to China. As the demand for its services grew, OneSky developed online learning tools and expanded capacity by teaching caregivers to train others through Training of Trainers (TOT).

Freshfields’ pro bono work with OneSky

Freshfields has been a long-term partner to OneSky, providing pro bono legal advice from offices including Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Hanoi, London, New York, Düsseldorf and Amsterdam on a wide range of issues including restructuring and IP (trademarks, training materials, licences etc).

Freshfields has also been involved in OneSky’s next milestone, a centre in Hong Kong. We have given pro bono advice on everything from advising on lease negotiations, to finding local contractors, architects and providing space for OneSky’s staff training and board meetings.

But we also provide more hands-on support. Freshfields employees have sponsored an infant nurture programme in China’s Huangshi, supported annual gala fundraisers in Hong Kong and London, participated in charity hikes in Hong Kong and volunteered at children’s centres. Jose Villaverde, who went with a Freshfields group to Guangzhou welfare centre to refurbish two youth activity rooms, said it was a worthwhile experience and he was glad to have taken part. He was impressed by OneSky’s programmes, especially the support provided to abandoned babies and toddlers, many of them born with disabilities or congenital diseases.

On the strong relationship between Freshfields and OneSky, CEO and Founder Jenny Bowen says: “I am so grateful for our incredibly productive partnership with Freshfields. Over and over in the last decade Freshfields’ immensely competent and energetic staff have helped us navigate the legal challenges inevitable in our work, pitched in at fundraising events, and brought smiles to the children. I cannot thank them enough.”