Why did you choose to volunteer; was it part of a planned career change?
I began to feel a strong disconnect between my work and my personal values before making the decision to make a career change. I recognized that the equation to create sustainable development in any global context required the participation of qualified professionals from all backgrounds. I began researching my next career path and made the decision to volunteer in Guatemala to gain first-hand knowledge through working on the ground directly with the entrepreneurs creating change in their communities.
My choice to volunteer was directly related to my desire to enter the International Development sector. I had previous experience with many global change makers and my respect for their work drove me to search out my own opportunities to support sustainable change.
Where are you working now? Can you tell us a little about your current role and how it differs to your last full time position in your previous sector?
I serve as the Country Manager for Alterna, Center for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, in Guatemala. My current role differs in many ways from my previous full time position. At Alterna I am constantly challenged to invent solutions to support the long term growth of the social enterprise sector in Guatemala. I work directly with entrepreneurs to find or create solutions to their most pressing problems and through this process increase the value they bring to their families, communities, and the region. The level of creativity and autonomy offered by working with a diverse set of entrepreneurs is extremely demanding and requires that I not only use the soft skills that I developed in my previous full time position but also the hard skills I developed through my studies and my previous positions.
Do you feel your voluntary experience helped you gain your current role?
My volunteer experience led directly to my current role. Alterna’s model is based on the investment of professionals, through unpaid fellowships, in the growth and success of the local business community. I began my time with Alterna as a fellow and chose to continue serving the local entrepreneurial ecosystem through Alterna’s program after my fellowship came to an end.
Many accountants worry about the transferability of their skills when moving to a new country and/or sector; have you found any specific experience from your past roles have been particularly relevant?
More than anything, the critical thinking and soft skills that I gained while at Deloitte have driven my success in the local context. Accountants that are able to interact with a diverse set of clients in a corporate context have the skills necessary to work with the earliest stage entrepreneurs if they are willing to tailor their approach to the needs of those clients.
In terms of hard skills, basic accounting is the foundation of decision making, the funding search, the formation of alliances, and many other fundamental functions for not only Fortune 500 companies but also the most basic of entrepreneurial ventures. The accounting skills gained in university and through a career in public accounting are easily transferred across contexts if the professional is willing to adjust his or her expectations and approach to getting work done.
What would you say are the pros & cons of your decision to work in the sector?
The sector is tremendously fulfilling. I am offered the chance to work with determined, passionate entrepreneurs on a daily basis. These entrepreneurs are fighting to create change in their community and being able to support their efforts gives me the satisfaction that was lacking from my previous position.
What would be your advice to other accountants considering a similar career change?
I would advise other accountants to search out opportunities which resonate directly with their values. For many, this will result in a long career in public accounting. For others, the opportunity to support a specific industry or group of people will bring the most satisfaction and long term professional and personal fulfilment. Accountants, like all professionals, should be honest with themselves and understand that if we are not making the most of every day, we are losing a precious opportunity.