When people consider volunteering overseas they often think of teaching English, handing out supplies or building orphanages. Yet such activities can only happen if funding is effectively managed by the charities and organisations delivering them. The skills that come with the ACCA Qualification can therefore open up a world of rewarding and vital volunteering opportunities.
Accounting for International Development (AfID) is a social enterprise that offers experienced finance professionals the opportunity to use their skills as volunteers.
‘Accounting skills are a globally accepted language that transcends many barriers,’ says AfID founder Neil Jennings. ‘An accounting qualification is just as useful at a Ugandan children’s home as it is in a UK business – I’d say far more so.’
If a school in a deprived part of Kenya hasn’t created a realistic budget for its projects or established workable monitoring systems, it could easily run out of funds unexpectedly. This might lead to a lack of trust from its donors and an inability to cover vital running costs such as school meals and staff wages. It might even have to close.
If a women’s refuge in Cambodia doesn’t make effective use of its limited income, it might have to turn away vulnerable women and girls. If a health clinic in rural El Salvador isn’t able to produce clear and transparent financial reports, its international donor might have no choice but to withdraw vital funding.
Such problems are well known in the international development sector. AfID was set up to deliver an effective solution.
Of the 480 AfID accountants who have offered their skills on a pro bono basis, just under 10% are ACCA-qualified. They come from nine countries including the UK, France, Malaysia, Australia and Slovakia, reflecting ACCA’s global reach. They also come from a variety of working backgrounds, including the private and public sectors, with only a small number having previously worked in the non-profit sector.
AfID supports hundreds of non-profit organisations, from tiny orphanages and social enterprises to much larger and well-known international charities. Assignments vary in length from two weeks to 12 months and always focus on developing the skills, confidence and potential of local people.
This creates the local financial management capacity needed to deliver more effective and sustainable programmes to their many beneficiaries. By passing on professional skills through mentoring and coaching, volunteer accountants empower local staff and avoid creating aid dependency.
One concern that many ACCA-qualified accountants have about volunteering is the transferability of their more corporate experience into the international development sector.
Wojciech Andrzejczak, a past AfID volunteer with UK charity War Child in the Democratic Republic of Congo, believes the ACCA Qualification ensures all the fundamentals are covered. ‘My ACCA Qualification helped me to establish a structured approach to the accounting and finance function, from procedures and accounting entries to the financial reporting,’ he says.
Similarly, Louise St Louis, who supported a small non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Juba, South Sudan, believes her qualification was a great basis for her assignment. ‘Having done CAT as the base and ACCA the professional qualification, I was technically geared up for the tasks ahead,’ she says.
Local staff in Africa, Asia and South America are acutely aware of the value of qualified financial coaching and mentoring. ‘Our AfID volunteer arrived at the exact right time in our organisation’s development,’ says Hannah Stephens, managing director of Epic Arts, a performing arts and education charity in Cambodia. ‘Having a professional spend time with our finance team and look at the details of our financial processes and make recommendations for improvement was an enormous gift.’
Many accountants use volunteering as a platform to build the experience necessary for a permanent career in international development. More than one in 10 of AfID’s volunteers go on to work permanently in the sector.
Bryan Mundy FCCA volunteered as a mentor at peace-building charities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he coached local staff in the use of Quickbooks and set up new reporting systems and processes. ‘I spent six weeks in Congo, which was challenging and career-developing. It enabled me to secure the position of FD for Partners in Health’s flagship hospital in Haiti,’ he says
An ACCA Qualification is not merely useful but critical in the international development and charity sector as there is huge demand for accountants both as volunteers and permanent employees.
This article was first published in the January 2014 UK edition of Accounting and Business magazine.
Julius Goldthorpe is AfID’s marketing and communications officer