Using Your Accounting Qualifications, to Give Something back | Texas CPA magazine18.11.2013

If a school in a deprived part of Kenyan hasn’t created a realistic budget for its projects or established workable monitoring systems, it could easily run out of funds unexpectedly. This might lead to a lack of trust from its donors and an inability to cover vital running costs, such as school meals and staff wages. The school might even have to close. If a women’s refuge in Cambodia doesn’t make effective use of its limited income, it might have to turn away vulnerable women and girls. And if a health clinic in rural El Salvador isn’t able to produce clear and transparent financial reports, its international donors might have to withdraw vital funding.

Such problems are well known in the international development sector, and the volunteer organization Accounting for International Development (AfID) was set up to deliver an effective solution. Accounting skills are a globally accepted language that transcends many barriers. Accounting skills are just as useful at a Ugandan children’s home as they are in a firm or business.

AfID supports hundreds of groups, from tiny orphanages to social enterprises to international organizations. Assignments vary in length from two weeks to 12 months and focus on developing the skills, confidence and potential of local people. This creates the local financial management capacity needed to deliver more effective and sustainable programs to their many beneficiaries. By passing on professional skills through mentoring and coaching, volunteer accountants empower local staff and avoid creating an aid dependency.

Local staffs in Africa, Asia and South America are highly aware of the need for financial management capacity building. “Our AfID volunteer arrived at the exact time needed in our organization’s development,” says Helen, managing director of Epic Arts, a performing arts and education charity in Cambodia. “Having a professional spend time with our finance team and look at the details in our financial processes, and make recommendations for improvement, was such an enormous gift!”

Accountants can also use volunteering as a platform for career change. More than one in 10 of AfID’s volunteers go on to work permanently in the charity and international development sectors.
Bryan Mundy volunteered as a mentor at peace building charities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he coached local staff in the use of Quickbooks and set up new reporting systems and processes. Once back in the U.K., Mundy drew on his experience to move his career to the international development sector.

Mundy summed up his experience volunteering as “life-changing, challenging, thought-provoking, stimulating, satisfying, motivating and career developing.” His experience helped him to secure a position at Partners in Health, one of the world’s most prestigious health care organizations. “I spent six weeks in Congo, [with] no hot showers and basic living, but I made new friends and proved my skills in an NGO environment, which enabled me to secure the position of finance director for Partners in Health’s flagship hospital in Haiti.”

So what is volunteering overseas actually like for an accountant? John Kruger recently returned from IDinsight, an organization that develops effective HIV and AIDS programs in Zambia. “Overall, I really valued my experience at IDinsight. My work was the establishment of basic cash and expense controls, to learn their new simple accounting software and develop an accounting process for their specific business to match Quickbooks capabilities and processes.”

In addition, Kruger found he was contributing to numerous other aspects of the financial management of IDinsight. “I was also involved in the recruitment of an internal auditor, the establishment of contract terms and development of a plan for the internal auditor’s reviews and management’s reviews.” However, Kruger found the gratitude a just reward for his efforts. “These seemingly basic actions were really appreciated, which was enormously satisfying.”

There are other reasons that make volunteering abroad worthwhile in addition to utilizing your skills to help those less fortunate. Kruger sums up his experience by saying, “Living in Zambia, I made new friends and learned a lot about their culture. I managed to visit Victoria Falls – both beautiful and eye opening. My impression is that the charities really appreciate it and that it is extremely valuable to them. For accountants, it’s a wonderful way to see the developing world and add more visible value. I have and will continue to recommend it to all of my colleagues and hope to do assignments again and again.”

There should be little doubt that accounting skills are not only useful, but critical in the international development and charity sectors, and there is a huge demand for CPAs both as volunteers and employees. For finance professionals looking for both challenging but enormously rewarding assignments, there are many opportunities available all over the world.
For more information about the Accounting for International Development organization, visit its website at To learn more about volunteering, contact Khushboo Koutu, marketing and communication officer, at or +44 (0) 208 741 7000.