Laura had been working as a chartered accountant for nearly four-years when she decided it was time to revisit her true passion - working overseas. She visited AfID to see if they could assist her with a change in career direction to the international development sector. Having previously volunteered in the Philippines and Ecuador, she was very culturally sensitive which would stand her in good stead to make the sector switch; this knowledge and experience made her a great candidate for a voluntary role at one of AfID’s international charity partners.
Laura chose to join a charity in India and in January 2010 jetted off for an 11 month assignment that would change her career path forever. Her host partner, Kalki Welfare Society in Pondicherry, is a rights based, child-centred community organisation. The organisation works toward the development of society through a systematic process of children’s empowerment.
Laura says she was offered her current role as a ‘direct consequence’ of her voluntary work and that she hasn’t looked back since. Now working in Siem Reap, Cambodia, she is Acting-CFO at a charity called Angkor Hospital for Children, which provides free quality-healthcare for children in poverty. We caught up with Laura to see how she is enjoying her role.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your current role?
I am CFO at a children’s hospital in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I’m responsible for a $6m annual budget, with over 50 restricted donors, 20 departments and programs and 480 Khmer staff, including 6 accounting staff. Each morning I attend a management meeting with senior medical and non-medical staff and tour the hospital to see what’s going on. Much of my work falls into monthly cycles. For example, donor reporting, financial reporting, reviewing payroll and bank reconciliations.
I also work with other departments to develop new policies. I work to improve the efficiency in the logistics department, meet with the medical department to discuss its objectives and how this impacts the financials, work alongside the fundraising department to provide budgets for its proposals, and discuss the organisation’s progress with the Finance Director and members of the Board
In addition I also provide support, training and mentoring to both financial and non-financial staff.
Q: Many accountants worry about the transferability of their skills, have you found any specific experience from your past commercial roles that has been particularly relevant?
Having trained as an auditor I had a good understanding of systems and controls which allowed me to identify potential risk factors and provide solutions. Analytical skills developed during auditing also allowed me to provide narratives for non-financially trained management on financial results and projections. This background also helped when communicating with external auditors.
Q: Why did you choose to work in the International Development sector?
I wanted to work with organisations I cared passionately about and felt proud to work for. I also wanted to work aboard, possibly in more challenging environments (although Siem Reap is a very nice place to live!) with people I wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to develop close relationships with.
Q: Are there any additional challenges for a woman working in a senior role in this sector?
I have not found any particular issues. I find people respect me because I have demonstrated I am able to work well with people and in turn show them respect.
Q: You volunteered previously in southern India; do you feel this experience helped you gain this role and prepare for life in Cambodia?
I was offered the role as a direct consequence of my voluntary work so yes. It also prepared me for the heat, mosquitoes, traffic and power cuts!
Q: What would you say are the pros & cons of your decision to work in the sector?
Pros – there is the potential for a rapid increase in responsibility, you are exposed to a diverse range of people and working methods, you’re made to think outside the box, you get to experience something funny and unusual every day, and your patience increases. In addition, you realise that there are many people in the world with good hearts.
Cons – The salary is lower, the bureaucracy of some donors and interaction with government officials can be very frustrating, and you realise that the world can be very unjust.
Q: What would be your advice to other accountants considering a similar career change or looking to break into the sector?
Your skills are needed so get out there and see what and where you can offer them. Do this respectfully and accept that other countries have very different methods of working, however illogical this at first may appear. You are not helping unless you keep quiet and learn before you speak. Be prepared for a lot of stress and confusion, but also great reward when you get taken out for a beer at the end of the day.
Q: What ‘do’s and dont’s’ would you give to women thinking of travelling and working in a less developed country?
Do. Make sure you have a phone number of someone you can trust, just in case. Do your research, follow your gut instincts, and use your common sense. Enjoy yourself.
Don’t. Do the opposite of any of the above.
Laura, CFO, Angkor Hospital for Children | Siem Reap, Cambodia.
New EmployerAngkor Hospital for Children
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Angkor Hospital for Children (AHC) provides healthcare to children in Cambodia who otherwise would not be reached for vital medical care. Its founding principle is that every child has the right to a healthy and loving life. Since 1999, over 1,000,000 children have been treated by AHC and even more connected through its programs.
In 1996 Kenro Izu founded Non-profit organisation Friends Without A Border (FWAB). With the help of health care professionals, the art community, and more than 6,000 supporters worldwide, Angkor Hospital for Children then opened in 1999.
Since its opening, the hospital has expanded while remaining focused on providing quality health care in Cambodia. From opening an operating theatre in 2002, to being able to provide specialist heart surgery in 2008, AHC has achieved many milestones. Its Satellite Clinic, which opened in 2010, further broadened its outreach and in 2011 it marked its millionth outpatient treatment.