AfID volunteer Alistair Ross featured in CIPFA magazine17.01.2017

CIPFA member Alistair Ross travelled to Gaborone, Botswana, last year to provide accounting support to Young 1ove.


Young 1ove is a sexual and reproductive health rights focused organisation which gives young people across Botswana the life-saving information they need to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies and HIV/AIDS. They are one of the 500+ charity partners of UK based social enterprise Accounting for International Development (AfID), who arranged the volunteer assignment.


We caught up with Alistair on his return to hear all about his two-month placement.


“I first became interested in volunteering as I wasn’t particularly happy with where my career was going, and was struggling to get excited about going to work each day. I was working in public sector external audit, and I’d stopped feeling like I was having a significant impact. It felt like the time was right to take the plunge and do something different.


“When I arrived at Young 1ove the systems in place were sufficient for a local organisation with few reporting obligations, but their ambition was to deliver their programmes at scale across southern Africa, which would involve more onerous external reporting to a range of donors. I think some of the fundamentals and the new ledger system I helped put in place will put Young 1ove in a good position to expand and deliver their curriculum to more at risk young people in the future.


“I enjoyed working with the local accounting staff to help develop their skills from being processors towards being informed decision makers, and to always understand the rationale for the controls they operate. I also really enjoyed connecting with visiting donors, and being able to demonstrate the improvements the organisation had made in its back-office functions, to provide them with reassurance that the organisation was on a sound footing.


“Outside of the finance team, I really valued visiting a school where the Young 1ove curriculum was being delivered. Actually seeing the grant funding in action had a deep impact on me. It was amazing to see how skilfully the team could communicate their message to a group of school children in just an hour.


“Volunteering gave me access to a wealth or opportunities to experience something different. I really enjoyed travelling whilst I was out there. I figured having travelled five and a half thousand miles to get there, weekend trips to Johannesburg, Cape Town, the Chobe National Park and Victoria Falls were in order. I had some slightly surreal experiences I know I won’t have again – including getting stuck in traffic jams caused by cows just standing in the middle of the street, watching amateur boxing in a Zimbabwean youth hostel and being drafted in to a rugby match for the Gaborone Hogs against the Botswana Defence Force – all certainly memorable experiences!


“Volunteering has left me with some great memories, having meant some fantastic people making a real difference in areas we don’t often think about. I’m now much more comfortable taking a leadership role, and in a much better position to explain complex accounting matters to non-financial experts than before.”


Original article featured in the January 2017 edition of CIPFA's Spreadsheet magazine