ICAA Accountant Volunteers in Philippines: Azim’s Story19.08.2014

In May 2013, ICAA chartered accountant and self-confessed adventurer Azim Bhutta left the UK to head back to his hometown in Melbourne, Australia. However it wasn’t the dull 24 hour plane journey which most travellers endure; Azim chose to stop en-route in the Philippines for 4 weeks to volunteer with Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD), an international disability charity which aims to help increase understanding of disabilities and combat discrimination.

Travel had always been one of Azim’s passions and combining his globetrotting ways with his accounting background was not something he had considered, but with the help of Accounting for International Development (AfID), an organisation that specialises in sending accounting professionals to work with local community projects around the world, Azim was able to use his accounting skills to make a difference.

Despite being initially concerned about the relevance of his skills, Azim was surprised to find that his ICAA qualification and much of his four years’ public practice experience were particularly transferrable and enabled him to have a positive impact in many ways.

“My biggest nerves were whether I was qualified enough to carry out the tasks and whether I had enough time to do what they needed. However, the skills I had built upon in my professional career were extremely relevant, the finance staff and the project managers took the opportunity to utilise my CA skills in order to gain an understanding of how budgetary and finance matters are related to the actual running of the projects.”

Azim’s initial brief was to help with the reporting requirements and the charities budget monitoring across their many projects. He was asked to assess and make recommendations across other areas of the financial infrastructure, whilst advising the head office in London of potential ways they could give remote support.

Like many of AfID’s partner organisations the majority of the local team at LCD did not have a finance background, so Azim’s communication and problem solving skills were really tested.

“It was a challenge to find a way to report and communicate financial information for compliance purposes, and simultaneously present this same data in a way that would also be accessible to non-financial staff and board members.”

However, this was a challenge which Azim relished and, like many past-volunteers, found easy to overcome.

During his placement Azim’s main focus was to mentor the Finance Manager and help increase his understanding of budget reporting requirements and bank reconciliation. However, Azim also found it was a learning process for him too.

“Within a large organisation it is sometimes difficult to see where you are adding real value. On this assignment I learnt the true value of effective financial management, particularly within the NGO sector. I saw first-hand the importance of effective mentoring and how equipping key staff with the right skills is critical to an organisation’s sustainability.”  

Azim described his placement as ‘an eye-opening experience’ which showed him “the value accountants have in the world beyond the traditional workplace.”

Like many of the accountants that approach AfID with an interest in volunteering he was unsure about how his experience could make a difference and which aspects were really transferable. This always comes as a surprise to the team at AfID, who view good accounting and financial management as a universal language, critical to the success of any charities work, be it delivering education, healthcare or improving the rights of the disadvantaged.

If you’re an accountant either based in Australia or New Zealand working overseas and you are interested in following in Azim’s footsteps or simply would like further information on volunteer assignments, please contact us on info@afid.org.uk