Jemini (ACCA), a highly experienced finance director, came to AfID so that she could utilise her accounting skills in a different environment and ‘benefit developing countries’. She also wanted to use this opportunity to ‘test the waters’ and see if working in the international development sector was something she wanted to do long term.
She had a preference to work in sub-Saharan Africa, so the AfID programmes team found her a charity that not only matched her skillset, but that also catered for her country choice.
After looking at her options, Jemini decided upon a two-month placement at Pestalozzi, Zambia, an educational centre that provides children with opportunities to help them develop socially and understand about their responsibilities. In November 2011 she set off for what would be a career changing assignment.
Two-years on from beginning her eight-week placement at Pestalozzi, AfID caught up with Jemini, who is now Director there on a permanent basis…
Q: Can you tell us a little about your current role in Zambia and how it differs to your last position?
I have overall responsibility for the operations in Zambia which consist of a boarding village for 200 children and a secondary school which operates on a commercial basis. I cannot really compare it to my previous roles which have been very technical and project based.
I can’t say that there is a “typical day”, I can honestly say each day is different and there is never a dull moment! My day starts early at about 7am, where I catch up with emails and correspondence from our office in the UK. The rest of the day depends on what happened during night or any issues in the village. I know a lot more about boreholes and water pumps now!
Pestalozzi Zambia has undergone significant expansion is recent years so a lot of my work is related to capacity building to cope with this expansion both in terms of infrastructure and resources.
Q: Many accountants worry about the transferability of their skills when moving to a new country and sector; have you found any specific experience from your past roles have been particularly relevant?
I found that my management, organisation and project management skills in particular were extremely useful.
Q: Why did you choose to work in the International Development sector?
I wanted to use my skills and experience gained in the private sector to benefit developing countries.
Q: You volunteered previously with Pestalozzi before accepting the permanent position; do you feel this experience helped you gain this role and prepare for life in Zambia?
Yes extremely useful – it’s a great (safe!) way of trying something out before buying! AfID arranged an eight-week placement for me with Pestalozzi and whilst this was enough to provide Pestalozzi with a piece of financial consultancy, crucially it allowed me to test the waters. It also enabled Pestalozzi to see if I was a good fit for their organisation. So now those eight-weeks have turned into a full time two-year contract. Without taking that short break from my life and work in London, I am not sure I would have had the confidence to make that move to Africa and into the charity sector.
Q: What would you say are the pros & cons of your decision to work in the sector?
The best thing about working in this job is that you meet so many amazing people who have given so much to help other people – it is humbling and I feel privileged to be part of it. I can’t really think of any con’s.
Q: What ‘do’s and dont’s’ would you give to women thinking of travelling and working in a less developed country?
Be sensible of course but also be sensitive to local customs and culture
Q: What would be your advice to other accountants considering a similar career change or looking to break into the sector?
I think a short volunteering position is a must…to make sure it is what you really want to do!