Accountants can provide crucial support volunteering overseas
CAs can offer a wealth of important advice as skilled volunteer consultants. UK-based social enterprise Accounting for International Development (AfID) engages accountants to play an important part in these efforts, utilising their expertise to build the financial capacity of non-profits globally.
This International Volunteer Day is an opportunity to celebrate the benefits of volunteering and perhaps consider how you could use your own skills to support others.
ICAS member Olivia Ng recently volunteered with Accounting for International Development (AfID) on a six-week placement with Bright Generation in Ghana, a small organisation focused on improving the wellbeing of local communities. Olivia helped prepare a business plan, shared Excel skills and provided assistance on financial controls.
Previously, she had volunteered in Mongolia on a more general placement but was keen to make the most of her accountancy skills. “As a lay person, I did not contribute as much as I could have offered. I later found out about AfID and was immediately hooked, as it would allow me to use my professional skills as an accountant while volunteering,” she said.
Finance volunteers stand to learn just as much from such experiences as they teach. For some, this includes a new perspective on their career.
AfID volunteer and ICAS member Meghan Hughes-Hallett, who volunteered with youth-led sexual health non-profit Projet Jeune Leader in Madagascar for four weeks, reflected: “Volunteering helped me realise I was in the wrong sector. I have recently moved from Corporate Audit into Donor Assurance as a result.”
Meghan’s brief was to undertake an internal audit of the organisation’s accounting processes, review its financial manual, standardise the reporting system and train staff. Like many first-time AfID volunteers, Meghan initially had doubts about how her financial knowledge and professional experience would translate in a charity setting.
“My main concern was that I wouldn't be able to help with what they needed – fears ranged from questioning if my assignment length was too short to wondering if my background in auditing retail clients could have prepared me for supporting the finance department of an NGO [non-governmental organisation]. I overcame these fairly swiftly after realising that my past experience was relevant and we were indeed achieving the objectives we’d set out.”
Olivia shared similar worries: “I had concerns about whether my skills would be useful, as my background is mainly in the audit and corporate space – but the AfID workshop training and call with the charity pre-assignment helped to alleviate these worries.”
Volunteering in a new work setting also helped her develop softer skills, such as the importance of really listening to the team’s needs and questions.
Since its launch in 2009, AfID has supported over 500 charity partners across Asia, Africa and Latin America with 250,000 hours (worth £25m) of pro bono professional financial services. The organisation was founded by Neil Jennings, who left his career as a director at a renowned accountancy recruitment agency to work as the overseas development director of a small Rwandan NGO.
During this time, Neil said: “It became obvious that whilst the staff had achieved amazing results with little resources, the survival of their activities hung desperately in the balance due to a lack of financial management experience and faltering donor relationships”. A common issue faced by NGOs, AfID was born out of a need to address this identified lack of resources and training.
Volunteering with AfID
Accountancy professionals are in a unique position to provide valuable and crucial support to non-profits that is otherwise hard to source. AfID carefully matches an organisation’s needs with accountants’ experiences, ensuring that they possess the relevant skills and have the capacity to undertake the scope of the assignment.
Volunteers are able to choose from a selection of personally tailored assignments that meet their requirements in terms of timing, location, cause and scope of work. This partnership between volunteers and organisations is mutually beneficial; both parties walk away with a newfound understanding of their abilities, new friendships and a mutual appreciation for each other’s work.
For many accountants, volunteering overseas stems from a desire to apply their knowledge in a new context and environment. AfID placements focus on capacity-building and are training-based, ensuring that all skills are transferable and recommendations for new procedures are relevant and sustainable for the specific organisation.
Find out more
AfID offers a world of new experiences for CAs and provides crucial support to over 500 organisations. Celebrate International Volunteer Day by embarking on your own volunteer assignment.
“I would definitely recommend it to anyone, particularly anyone with a sense of adventure or wanting to get out of their comfort zone a little”, said Meghan.
“I couldn’t recommend it enough”, Olivia agreed. “If anyone is considering an assignment – just do it!”