Accountants Make a Difference Overseas
When people think of volunteering they often only think of teaching underprivileged children, handing out mosquito nets or painting the walls of an orphanage. But these activities can only happen if the right financial infrastructure exists
If a school in a slum in Malawi hasn’t budgeted properly it might run out of funds half way through the year and quickly be unable to pay for school meals or staff wages. It might even have to close. If a women’s refuge in Nepal 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 Tanzania isn’t able to produce clear and transparent financial reports, its international donor might have to withdraw vital funding.
In many ways good financial management is the foundation on which effective international development is built. Therefore volunteers with finance skills are in high demand. Qualified accountants have the training and experience to build the confidence of local finance staff and improve the systems in use at grassroots charities across Africa, Asia, and South America. Depending on the need, highly effective volunteer roles can last from two weeks to a year, either at a single small charity, or multiple charities, or the Country Office of a large international NGO.
“I found my time in Ghana to be extremely rewarding, on a professional and a personal level. I can honestly say that apart from achieving my professional qualification I have never been so proud of my achievements” – Jacqui, qualified accountant, volunteer with AfID
Accountants are often surprised at just how helpful they can be to charities operating in developing countries. There is a tendency to imagine that you need to have knowledge of local tax law, or have red hot accountancy skills. Not true. Most of the work is about building the confidence of local staff and providing a sound knowledge of the basics. There are a huge number of ways accountants can help:
By coaching staff and helping organisations change their own processes, volunteers empower local people to help themselves and run their own charities as efficiently as possible. In the past, Western charities have been criticised for building up an ‘aid dependency’ so that local people become permanently reliant on charity. But the process of coaching locals in finance skills does the very opposite: it allows them to solve their own problems in a sustainable way that is less dependent on international funding.
Finance professionals are also qualified to provide advice on income generation: increasingly, small organisations such as African schools are running micro-businesses to increase their income. Help with starting up these small businesses allows the schools to provide more education to more children, and secures the future of these schools against a drop in funding from international donors.
On the topic of sustainability and independence, microfinance institutions are increasingly operating in the developing world to empower locals to help themselves. Microfinance institutions provide small loans with very low interest rates to allow people in the developing world to start their own businesses. The loans are carefully managed and come with support and advice. Volunteer accountants are of huge help at these microfinance institutions, helping provide advice on the best use of the loans.
International donors want to know that their money is being spent well. They want clear records and transparent accounts. If a health clinic in the Ugandan countryside can’t provide financial reports that meet international standards, donors may withdraw their funding, as from their perspective they can’t be sure what the money is being spent on. Unlike the nurses running the clinic, a qualified accountant has training in such procedures, and can produce clear financial reports on their behalf, saving the clinic from funding cuts.
There is a huge variety of important help that volunteer accountants can provide, and organisations such as Accounting for International Development can help arrange tailored placements for finance professionals across the world.
If you're wondering how you can afford a volunteer trip with AfID, check out our list of 200 Volunteer and Study Abroad Scholarships and Grants or learn how you can volunteer abroad for free.
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