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Volunteering overseas: broaden your horizons

Thinking about a career in international development but can’t gain the relevant experience? Accounting for International Development (AfID) has assignments available for part qualified accountants just like you

February 2016

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to volunteer overseas? If so, you may well have imagined yourself teaching English, handing out mosquito nets or painting the walls of an orphanage. As worthwhile as this work is, would it be the best way to make the most of your skills and experience?
As a part qualified accountant, a whole new network of professional volunteering opportunities is open to you. Charities and NGOs across the developing world are doing extraordinary work, often in the most difficult of circumstances, but they all too often struggle to obtain the essential skills training needed to run their operations effectively and meet the financial reporting requirements of their donors.
Accounting for International Development (AfID) was founded in 2009 with a commitment to providing long-term support to their charity partners, involving several volunteers over a number of years. This approach means that there is always a need for accountants from all backgrounds and levels of experience, from PQs and newly qualifieds right up to those with senior level industry experience.
One recently returned volunteer, Erin Petaski, left on assignment to South-east Asia before knowing whether she had passed her final exams with CGA Canada. She travelled to Cambodia to support two wildlife conversation organisations, Samson Mlup Prey and the Sam Veasna Centre.
Petaski said it came as a surprise to her that she was able to use her newly gained expertise before fully qualifying: “When I first came across AfID I knew it was something I wanted to do at some point in the future. It was only through speaking to them that I realised I could do it right away. I’d made the assumption that they would only be interested in fully qualified accountants with vast experience.”
Petaski said that it’s normal to have some fears – and second thoughts – on whether you have the necessary skills to help an overseas organisation, but that these fears were soon allayed. She said: “Before speaking with AfID I felt under-qualified, and only went ahead after being assured that my skills would be of good use and value. It was reassuring to understand how they match a volunteer’s individual background and experience to one of their charity partners.
“Once I started, I found that I was comfortable and that they had provided a good match not only to my personal preferences but also to my accounting background.
“As soon as I arrived I found the local accountants were eager to tell me about their department and offer areas where I might be able to provide assistance. I soon found not only how needed any professional office experience was, but also that I personally could be of value to my partner organisations.”
She added: “I think that sometimes we can take for granted the most basic knowledge we learn in school and our entry level positions, as well as the ability to consult with supervisors and teachers with questions and doubts we may have.
“I was surprised to realise that often in the developing world there simply is no one to ask for help, no supervisor or peer, the network of relevant knowledge and experience does not exist, yet the very real need for accurate and meaningful financial information is as necessary for a director in Cambodia as it is in Canada.
“That is how I realised how important AfID is and how we, especially as young students and accountants, can really lend a meaningful hand and not only make a difference in the organisation you support but also the individuals you work with and mentor on a daily basis.”
As a PQ accountant you can truly make a difference, and you just might make a few great friends, meet other volunteers from across the world, and experience places tourists don’t usually get to see too. Could this be your next challenge?
To find out more about AfID’s work, read first-hand volunteer experiences and to take the first small step to arranging your own volunteering experience visit www.AfID.org.uk.
• This article first appeared in NQ magazine, December 2015

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