Having previously worked with a big 4 firm in the UK, Gregor decided to take up a volunteer assignment alongside his wife Emma through AfID. Gregor and Emma spent a month volunteering with Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) in Cambodia, who are a non-profit association that works with vulnerable children, young adults and their families.
Following his assignment, Gregor secured a position as CFO of Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap, Cambodia. AfID caught up with him to find out about his first six months in his new role and how his volunteering experience helped him to make the move.
The volunteering I did gave me the confidence to take on a larger, more permanent assignment. Everything from having a better understanding of the culture in the region I was interested in working to gaining an appreciation of the challenges and priorities of NGOs in development settings.
Since March this year I have been living in Siem Reap, Cambodia, working as CFO of Angkor Hospital for Children, a non-profit pediatric teaching hospital employing 500 people. The hospital provides free quality health care to impoverished children living in Cambodia. I am responsible for all aspects of financial management at the hospital, building financial management expertise, improving the internal control environment, driving the budgeting and reporting processes.
Previously I worked with a big 4 firm in the UK, first in audit and then corporate finance. I find that my role is much less defined here and typically involves working with a much wider range of people on a day to day basis. I am also definitely more reliant on a much smaller network of people for day to day support and technical matters out here compared to my previous role. That smaller network however are a diverse group of highly experienced individuals both on the management team at the hospital and the international board of directors, who are always available to support.
The voluntary experience gave me the confidence that I could do this job. It also showed my prospective employer that I had a commitment to the sector, that I understood the skills required for this role and some of the key challenges of the sector.
Before volunteering I was concerned about the transferability of my skills. Pretty soon I found that I was getting involved in a lot of areas you would typically associate with accounting skills (setting the organisational strategy / building budgets and funding models / designing inventory management systems / delivering excel training) to those which you would not - such as negotiating insurance claims and getting involved in fundraising activities.
A key part of this for me was really taking the time to listen and respond to the challenges being faced by those around you. If you decide what the problem is without this you might end up doing a lot of work which nobody is going to use later. This was particularly relevant for me in my first volunteering role where I designed a fantastic excel model without building the capacity of people around me such that it could be used after I left.
While somewhat offset by the lower cost of living here, the financial benefits in this sector are not as good as what I could have got back in the UK at this stage in my career. However for me this is made up for by the variety of experience I am gaining here in terms of the people, culture and acceleration in responsibility. Outside of work becoming an expat has meant I have a lot more time to do things which I enjoy and more opportunities to travel.
I have had an exhilarating first six months finding my feet in my new role. This has included an introduction to a new town, country, climate, friends, colleagues plus the healthcare sector, politics and culture of Cambodia. This has been stressful, exciting, entertaining and on the occasion of two fires in the hospital - slightly scary. Ultimately though it has been extremely rewarding.
The NGO sector can be an emotionally charged environment with many donors and volunteers putting much more than just money into the interests of the people they want to help. People's passion to help can present a unique set of challenges, but never a dull moment.
To other accountants thinking about a similar career change I would say you can consider it without fully committing - find out what you are getting into and whether it is for you by doing some volunteering first.