Give something back and boost your CPD | A CIMA article07.08.2015

In today’s fast-moving world, continuous professional development (CPD) is key to expanding your skills and moving forward in your career. Business Journalist Laura Walkinshaw finds out how volunteering can teach you how to be more resilient in the workplace. 
Take a look at anyone’s bucket list and you can bet that volunteering won’t be far from the top. Taking some selfless time out can improve your health. As well as helping you to grow as an individual, it can also equip you with skills that will get you further in the workplace. 
With partner organisations in more than 30 countries, Accounting for International Development (AfiD) is well-placed to match accounting professionals to volunteering opportunities all over the globe. 
This year alone it has matched more than 100 individuals to voluntary positions. These range from two-week assignments taking control of accounts at an NGO in Peru, to months-long adventures in Rwanda, where professionals are involved in anything from grant reporting to building financial strategies. 
The importance of going back to basics
In addition to acquiring new skills, a crucial aspect of CPD is brushing up on existing ones – some of which may not have been revisited for years. Going back to basics was one of the aspects of volunteering that Alison McDade ACMA, CGMA (top left, right of picture), says she enjoyed most when she took time out to help at charities in Vietnam and Sri Lanka. 
Since starting a year-long career break in January, the former BP accountant has spent a combined six weeks in the two countries. She taught individuals about various accounting processes, systems and controls – including QuickBooks, closing accounts and budget reporting. 
Alison also discovered the benefit of working with people who come from a non-accounting background. This enabled her to find simpler approaches to what can often be complex processes. 
‘You can improvise a bit more with people and think about what some of the difficulties are and what might make your life easier,’ she says. ‘Those are good skills that I can hopefully bring to future roles and cut through some of the complexity to help explain things in simple terms.’ 
Michelle Foster ACMA, CGMA had a similar experience when she spent six weeks volunteering with Cambodia Living Arts, who needed help with reporting after receiving a grant from the EU. By taking charge of the project, the business development manager broke down what seemed like a very complicated task and simplified what needed to be done. 
‘One of the things I really learnt is the power of language,’ she says. ‘Because there was a slight language barrier, you’re trying even harder to make it work and that’s something that I really bought back with me.’ 
Stepping out of your comfort zone
Gaining the confidence to step out of your comfort zone can also come from throwing yourself into a somewhat daunting experience like volunteering, which is a very useful skill in the workplace. 
‘I was bit scared going there and not sure what to expect, and also not sure whether I’d be able to make a contribution to the organisation,’ Alison says. ‘But I think it just helps you appreciate how transferable some of the CIMA skills are. 
‘Now I think I feel more confident and that I could cope with completely different environments and situations. It helps you to recognise you have got a lot of skills and experience to bring and to not undersell yourself,’ she adds.
Janette SzubartJanette Szubart ACMA, CGMA (left of picture) is a business development manager at Fujitsu. She spent two weeks with Village Exchange in Ghana, training up college student Martha on accounting systems. Janette agrees that being out of your comfort zone can force you to find ways to work around problems.
‘Working in an environment where equipment is not up to the job and finding ways to circumvent the problems this causes – for example, network cables needing to be shared, power cuts and out-of-date laptops – there is a need for patience,’ she says.
Building strong relationships
Taking some time out can have a refreshing impact on the way you view your workplace, adds Janette, who says her experience has taught her to have a more balanced view. 
‘While I was away it became apparent that there is no difference between different cultures when it comes to working together as long as you appreciate each other and respect what everyone is trying to do,’ she says. ‘Prioritising the people I work with and appreciating their needs is much easier now.’ 
The ‘family’-like team spirit Michelle witnessed at the charity in Cambodia has made her see the importance of building strong relationships with her colleagues. ‘I’ve realised that you really have to work at those relationships to get that level of closeness,’ she says. ‘I feel a lot more confident now about stepping out of my comfort zone and trying to understand people better and helping people to develop.’
She adds: ‘I would definitely recommend volunteering to people because it’s just life changing. It completely changes your view on things.’