Accountants Give Back - and Reap the Reward | CGA magazine article04.12.2013

Lisa Caldwell hadn’t planned on becoming a travelling accountant, but it turns out, they are high in demand. The 45-year old CGA spend 3-weeks in Rwamagana, Rwanda, last year lending her accounting skills to an organization that support kids living on the street. Given the high scrutiny on the financial management of charity organizations in need of funding, it’s critical work. 

“You can help these organizations and their staff meet the requirements of their donors and funders, “says Caldwell, who lives in Calgary. “These are big compliance issues, so this kind of capacity building is huge.”

Caldwell loved lending her time and talent to the Street Ahead Children’s Centre Association. The non-governmental organization has three residential centres in eastern province. Staffs is kept busy working with kids who have fallen through the crakes by simulating “family home environment” in the residence, encouraging kids in their education and community activity. She worked on an internal audit, trained staff, reviewed internal controls and helped strengthen the organization’s budgeting and reporting processes. 

“I have always wanted to volunteer and use my accounting for that kind of capacity building, “says the enthusiastic Caldwell.

She will get the chance soon. In July, Caldwell quit her job as a resource manager at Robert Half management Resources and signed up for another tour with Accounting for International Development (AfID), the U.K. group that organized her trip to Rwanda. 

“It’s likely that much of the knowledge a CGA takes for granted in their day-to-day role will be essential information for our partner and vital for their long term sustainability,” Neil Jennings, AfiD founder, says in an email. “It’s a great chance for a CGA to not only help others who may not be as fortunate- but also to experience a different working environment and feel good about the efforts they’ve made to become an accountant.”

CGA’s across Canada are giving back, and it’s not just benefitting the local communities and overseas charitable ventures on the receiving end. Volunteer CGAs say giving back gives a vital boost to their personal and professional growth- as well as career development.

AfID’s Jennings concurs , and notes that approximately 10 percent of AfID volunteers go on to work permanently   in the international development sector, “ showing it a have a long-term benefit  on your career ,” he says. “Volunteer also have returned on numerous occasion to do repeat placements- in fact eight percent of past volunteer have done more than one placement.”

In septermber 2009, with the help of several small UK charities and five adventurous accountants, Jennnings spearheaded the group that set up pialot assignments that begin in Cambodia, Tanzania and Malawi. By the end of this year 22 charities where on board and 14 assignments had been successfully completed in six developing countries.

AfID is now supporting over 140 charities and non-profit organizations in 28 countries across Africa, Asia and South America. Jennings says it has placed over 400 volunteer accountants in different projects around the world. This adds up to total of 50,000 pro bono hours of financial management and coaching. 

“ It becomes  obvious that whilst that the staff has achieved amazing result with little or no resources , the survival of their activities hung desperately in balance due to lack of financial management experience and faltering donor relationship, “ says Jennings.

What was missing, he says was the capacity building. Volunteering with an organization or community in need is always win-win. But, when the skills of volunteer professional can also be transferred to local citizen who manage operations on day to  day basis that is when giving back has an exponential benefit – for everyone.