"Looking for an adventure" - Stuart Raeburn | Economia Magazine Article19.06.2014

"Being an accountant is a passport to doing some wonderful things,” says Stuart Raeburn. “It has opened the world up for me.” It helps to be adventurous – as Raeburn certainly is. Few people would eschew a flight back from Malawi and instead take a train across Africa, or ask a bus driver to 
drop them off in the Tanzanian wilderness. “If I visit a country, I want the true experience,” he says. “If you’re sensible, friendly and interested, people are friendly back. That human connection is wonderful.” 

His adventures have increased since volunteering at Accounting for International Development (AfID), which supports 258 charities and non-profit organisations with financial management. He puts to use internal audit skills honed in a diverse 40-year career for employers including Cambridge firm Chater and Myhill, Philips Electronics, the Ministry of Agriculture, Willis Faber, Britannic Assurance and a host of Lloyd’s market companies.

“My first assignment was in Tanzania with a charity called Childreach, which improves the conditions in which children get education. This might mean providing a school toilet, kitchen, or helping parents grow crops to give their children lunch at school. If children get lunch at school, attendance levels can rise from 50% to 90%. I paid for the two-month trip, during which I helped by reviewing their systems, introducing them to risk management and producing an operations manual."

“Then, last spring, I went to Malawi to help with the internal audit of a micro-finance organisation that lends money to help women set up businesses. They are basic businesses – for instance, selling firewood by the roadside. But by growing those businesses one community installed a fresh water tap, others have been able to put tin roofs on their houses instead of leaky thatched ones, and many other things. All this can transform lives and it’s wonderful to be a part of.” Getting home from Malawi was an adventure, too. “I thought, ‘I can’t just fly back’. So I flew to Lusaka and took the Tazara Express train to Dar es Salaam. There was a derailment up the line and I waited all night at the station, but it did arrive – then stopped a lot on the way. We got to Dar es Salaam 32 hours late, but what a great African experience.”

Back home, Raeburn is a keen singer, recently playing Don Ottavio in an amateur production of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni. His wife Julia and their two children are also musical – daughter Helena was among a trio of sopranos in the RSC’s recent London production of Richard II, starring David Tennant. His volunteering includes being a London 2012 Gamesmaker, a role he hopes to repeat at this summer’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. He also volunteers at the Watercress Steam Railway in Hampshire, (“I put on a porter’s uniform and play trains!”), and manages accounts for an arts centre near his home in Southfields, south-west London.

But it’s clear his heart lies with AfID. “You make such a significant contribution,” he says. “It is transforming people’s lives – and it has transformed mine. You have to give fully of yourself, but the rewards are enormous."