CA's Reap Rewards Of Charity Work : ICAS Magazine Article 30.04.2014

In times when charities and aid organisations are facing decreased funding and increased demand on their resources, the need for expert management of their finances is more important than ever. Among those helping to answer the call are ICAS members, sharing their time and specialist skills, providing pro bono financial guidance around the world. Volunteering in accountancy brings the opportunity to take on new challenges, travel and contribute to positive social change.
One of the main ports of call for those considering volunteering both at home and abroad is the social enterprise project Accounting for International Development. AfID works to provide individually tailored assignments, supporting over 256 charities and non-profit organisations in almost 37 countries across Africa, Asia and South America.

Since the enterprise was launched in 2009, AfID has placed more than 450 volunteer accountants, giving many an invaluable experience that has changed their outlooks and even the direction of their careers.

This was the case for Chris Oliver, a CA who wanted to take a different path after working for private equity/venture capital backed businesses for 10 years. Following an AfID placement with the non-profit organisation INCLUDED in Beijing he took on a permanent position as their chief financial officer.
INCLUDED was founded in 2006 to help children of migrant workers and their communities through social education programmes. As a relatively young NGO it benefits from Oliver’s wide-ranging business experience.

He says: “My role now is more people focused and broader. NGOs do not have the luxury of employing pure specialists; they need generalists who have specialist skills. The team is young, so I have a role to play in sharing my prior experience. The prize for me is to be able to work with committed and passionate people, helping to improve the lives of others.”

Volunteering overseas has also brought about a complete career change for Jume Sananikone, a CA who, in August 2013, volunteered in Jacmel in Haiti with Ecole de Musique Dessaix-Baptiste, a school that gives children from poor families the opportunity to overcome social deprivation through music.
“I love music and believe in its potential and healing power and I also believe in nurturing youngsters,” Sananikone says.

“The children benefited from more time made available to teachers and the team who worked with me benefited from the skills that I shared with them.”
The experience led Sananikone to resign from her position as a contract compliance auditor for an oil and gas operator in Aberdeen to pursue her dream of working with charitable organisations. Those wish now sees her based north of Thailand, working with the Khom Loy Development Foundation, a charity that assists hill tribes and Burmese nationals who crossed the border into Thailand.

Paul Hancock, the CEO of Khom Loy describes having a CA in his organisation as “extremely helpful in providing an external perspective in connection with our planning, budgeting and accounting”.This ability to cast an analytical eye over an organisation’s financial operations is arguably the most valuable quality a CA can bring to their placement. It is something that Forbes Mitchell, strategy and development director with London based Energy Works, discovered while in Cambodia last year.

He says: “I love going to new places and I’m really interested in micro lending and specifically impact investment, businesses that will have an effect on society while providing a return. I wanted to do something entrepreneurial and I thought there’s bound to be things around the world that would suit me.”
Mitchell found himself tasked with assessing a community water purification enterprise and a pig farming enterprise in Northern Cambodia operated by ICS (Investing in Children and their Societies).

Over the course of his three-month placement, Mitchell travelled throughout Cambodia, meeting with local entrepreneurs and farmers and taking them through the fundamentals of cash handling. It was no mean feat in a country with limited infrastructure, still recovering from civil war and the murderous rule of the Khmer Rouge.

Looking back at the experience Mitchell says: “It was humbling to see people making the most of their situation and it reopened my eyes to the fact that there are real world problems and then there are modern western problems. No matter what age or stage in your career, there are always skills you can pass onto people. That was for me the most rewarding thing.”

Another CA inspired to take their professional skills to Cambodia was Gregor McKellar, an assistant manager with Deloitte in Glasgow. Last summer he volunteered with PPS (Phare Ponleu Selpak), a social support, arts and education association based in Battambang city. Like Mitchell, McKellar was also able to help shed light on the organisation’s operations.

He says: “My role was mainly around improving their reporting process so they could start to see each of the different parts of the business and understand how they were performing and contributing to the overall picture.” McKellar adds: “They were all eager to learn and hear what I had to say, which was a bit of pressure but it always worked out. I grew in confidence as a result of doing it actually, as you realise there are quite a lot of things you can help with.”
The social enterprise and microfinance projects being offered by organisations such as ICS and PPS in Cambodia have their equivalents in many developing and newly industrialised countries throughout the world.

For Vartika Lal, a senior consultant working in energy trading risk management, volunteering in India was an opportunity to take on a personal challenge while also seeing how entrepreneurship is thriving in the slums of Mumbai. Lal worked with Agora Microfinance, which provides financial services to low-income clients among the hugely diverse urban population of Mumbai.

Describing her role she says: “They needed someone to help with their audit strategy and to collect data so they could make better informed decisions. I was also going into slum houses to speak to clients and discern what their problems were.”

Lal also lends her time to organisations back home in London, including Crisis Christmas and Centrepoint, the charity for homeless young people. She says: “The biggest benefit of volunteering is that it helps you build your soft skills in a different environment, where sometimes you really need to think outside the box to find a simple solution. It’s sometimes the simple solution that is the answer to everything and I have really benefited from that.”

Lal says the most important thing for a CA when thinking about volunteering is to keep an open mind. As she explains: “Explore all opportunities available and don’t pigeonhole yourself. Also try to speak to a previous volunteer before you embark on a project – their experience is really valuable. What you should really do is have no expectations and then you will only ever be surprised – hopefully with good surprises.”