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JJ Remote Volunteering

JJ (Remote Volunteer)
AMMA Clothing, Sri Lanka

JJ Pisharello first volunteered with AfID in October 2019, when he helped The Baobab Home in Tanzania. He was due to take on a second placement in mid-March 2020, this time with AMMA Clothing in Sri Lanka. However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, he and the charity partner decided to instead carry out the placement remotely.


We spoke to both volunteer JJ & AMMA's founder Josie to see how it went:



1. Please briefly describe your role and why you feel the charity needed your support?


JJ: I felt AMMA was at a crossroads of their development. They are presently supported by another charity and were now ready to operate independently. AMMA's founder, Josie, explained that the charity was going through a period of growth, and felt that her team didn’t have the necessary skills to navigate through basic accounting and financial planning requirements for the future.


The scope for the remote assistance was agreed to include the following:

- Undertake a general organisation-wide review of AMMAs financial systems

- Assist in the development of a Financial Procedures Manual

- Assist in developing a budget and cash flow forecast

- Coaching Josie on financial matters, controls and reporting


The scope was extended to include assistance in the initial discussions over transitioning to an online accounting platform (Xero), which is also used by the charity presently supporting AMMA.


2. Why did you choose to take up a volunteer position, and why this particular charity?


JJ: I retired in June 2019 after close to 30 years in public practice. Over the years I had done quite a bit of pro bono work, which I always found very rewarding. My wife referred AfID to me from a Facebook post and I was immediately captivated by the ability of this NGO to reach out, via its many volunteers, in providing tangible, hands-on accounting support to many deserving charities around the world. I found this truly inspirational.


This was my second volunteering assignment with AfID; I like to combine supporting a charity with visiting new places. Sri Lanka appealed to me and once I got to learn about AMMA, the decision was easy.


3. How do you feel your work has benefited the charity?


JJ: My training as a qualified accountant provides the back bone in one’s ability to tackle accounting challenges with confidence. Seeing the bigger picture and how things should fit together is crucial. But, more importantly, is how you communicate and explain things to the charity so that they are able to develop and gain confidence in their own financial understanding and abilities. Manage your ego and don’t try to impress with accounting jargon – always listen and understand non-verbal cues and communication.


4. What do you feel you have gained, both personally and professionally, from taking on this role? 


JJ: You always learn from all roles and assignments. There are always areas which you need to research and areas which may be quite basic but difficult to explain. You need to be ready to adapt, learn to listen and learn to understand if you are to be understood. I think the greatest satisfaction is to feel you have made a difference.


5. What has been your most rewarding experience in the role?


JJ: I think in many respects I acted as a coach to Josie. For me, there is no doubt that that was the most significant and personally rewarding aspect of my role; observing how quickly Josie developed her confidence, knowledge and understanding of all finance related matters.


6. You were due to support AMMA in person, however, as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak jointly agreed to complete the work remotely. Can you please tell us about that; did your objectives change, and did you find that you were still able to offer effective support?


JJ: We had tentatively agreed a programme of work for my two week visit. Whilst it was a massive disappointment to have to cancel the trip, I felt that the specific circumstances of AMMA could enable the key objective of an organisational-wide assessment of their financial systems to be met via desk-top review. Two key factors were crucial in the successful delivery of the work remotely:


(i) No communication hurdles with my key contact and

(ii) The use of technological platforms for online meetings, file sharing and repository for documents online.


7. As the support you provided was remote, and not in person, it would be useful to get a sense from you on the difference between the two, and in spite of working remotely, how much you felt you were able to achieve working with AMMA.


JJ: You miss out on the immersive experience that you get from working on location and living through the essence of the charity. Getting to know the people running the charity and the way it achieves its objectives, on the ground, is extremely valuable in your understanding and assessment of its financial needs.


I feel that that all the objectives were achieved. However, my wife and I look forward to visiting AMMA in the not-to-distant future and witnessing on location the great work they do in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka.


8. You were due to receive the support of an AfID volunteer in-person in Sri Lanka; however, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic chose to receive that support remotely. Could you please tell us how that worked, how successful it was, and offer your feedback on your AfID volunteer JJ?


Josie (founder, AMMA): The support we received remotely from AfID was very successful. JJ and I had a number of video calls throughout the week, and maintained a Dropbox where we could upload and share documents. JJ was great at defining what needed to be achieved at the start of the placement, and so it was clear what our end goals were.


We had group calls with the team in Sri Lanka to support our progress and bring everyone onto the same page. I think that, because of the nature of the work, with a lot of it evolving around my personal development, it worked well as I also couldn't go to Sri Lanka, so was receiving this support while based in the UK.


JJ was a very calm and considered teacher and I have learnt a lot from him! He was great working with the Sri Lankan team, and his experience of working in Africa on a previous AfID placement meant he could relate to many of the challenges we are facing.


You can read more about JJ's experiences at The Baobab Home in Tanzania and remotely with Sri Lankan enterprise AMMA in this article by AAT. 

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