Life after Work: Out in the real world | An Economia Magazine Article14.10.2014

John Andrew never imagined his accountancy skills could have such an impact in so many places. But in the last few years he’s set up bookkeeping systems in the slums of Nairobi, audited in Harare and run his eye over the accounts of a rugby federation in Laos.

“I just Googled voluntary opportunities and found Accounting for International Development (AfID),” he says. “It’s fantastic – a really interesting way to travel and a chance to help people make a difference.”

John has just become the 500th volunteer for the organisation AfID, which launched seven years ago to give finance professionals the opportunity to use their skills to make a difference in the developing world.

“It is great to bring your professional expertise and use it to help others learn,” says John. “My first trip was to a school at the heart of the Kibera slum in Kenya. Many projects run by charities require proper accounting systems so they can attract grants and donors. I set up a rudimentary bookkeeping system so one of the teachers could do the accounts.

“It was wonderful to be able to help but the other thing about working with AfID is that you get right to the heart of an environment and get a sense of the real country. Kibera is one of the most deprived areas in the world and was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. But the amazing thing is how quickly you get used to it – the sights, the sounds, the smells – and after a few days you just go about your work.”

John turned to AfID after retiring from a career in the oil industry. “I started out in accountancy to keep my mum happy,” he says. “I left school at 16 years of age and was taken on as an articled clerk at a chartered accountant in Hull called Hodgson Harris. It was very tedious – I spent the first few weeks just totting up pounds, shillings and pence in cash books. But it grew on me.”

After completing his articles John went to London and took various accounting jobs before gaining the position that would shape his career. “It was an American oil company called Conoco. They gave me free coffee and I didn’t need to call anyone sir. I loved it,” he recalls.

John joined the British National Oil Corporation until Margaret Thatcher’s privatisation prompted his move to Marathon Oil, where he worked for 30 years, making financial director of European operations before retiring. Along the way there were moves for his family – wife Maggie and their son and daughter – to oil capitals Houston, Texas, and then Aberdeen, where he still lives.

“I retired six years ago aged 60 and contacted AfID because I wanted to do something in the Scottish winter,” he says. “In the summer I love working on the garden and I love golf, which is one of the pleasures of living where we do. But it’s nice to get away in the winter to volunteer somewhere hot – especially if you know what you’re doing is really making such a positive difference to people’s lives.