My life-changing experience working with Accounting for International Development
In his day job, ACCA student Jacob Bikovskis was IT projects finance controller for Tieto Latvia, a global IT services provider and a leader in the Baltic region. But his accountancy and finance skills also gave him the opportunity to do something very different. He speaks to us about how he approached Accounting for International Development (AfID) to volunteer his time, expertise and experience on projects in a far away land that could improve people’s lives – an experience he wouldn't hesitate to recommend to other trainee accountants
What projects did you work on with AfiD?
‘Through AfiD I worked on two projects for the same organisation, a non-profit in Siem Reap, Cambodia, called ICF Cambodia. Initially, I went for two weeks to do a financial-heath assessment, as well as to identify the general needs of the organisation. I saw so much passion from the people, the vision and considerable potential in the management. I decided to take two months’ unpaid leave and returned there again (three months after my initial trip) to continue supporting the dreams of the local people, which was shared by the international team running the organisation. My second trip mainly comprised of implementing an accounting software package, introducing budgeting and control principles and practice, as well as forming and training a team of local accountants.’
What were you able to bring to the project?
‘An idea that accounting is a tool that is powerful enough to help an organisation realise its mission. I also like to think that I was also able to spark a real sense of belief in the local accountants, to make them realise that they could achieve great things and could contribute so much to their organisation and city.’
What did you take away from the experiences?
‘My world view has widened and my soft skills have massively improved. I made many new friends, attended local weddings and home-move parties. I have seen a beautiful country and had some of my most fascinating conversations ever with the local people who, while not having much materialistically, are so rich in many ways. I became more compassionate and open towards different cultures and people. I came to give – I did my best to do that – but somehow I received so much more.
‘I have seen that accounting and finance is a universal instrument. It is applicable and really useful in any part of the world. I have seen my profession from a new and wider perspective. This experience renewed my confidence, pride and joy in my chosen career.
‘I learnt that it is important to be equipped with the skills of explaining what you know in the simplest way – you will then see the results. I also learnt that building really close relationships and trust, and having a willingness to truly get to know a different culture, is key to achieving any success in the accounting and finance area of an organisation in a third-world country. Lastly, I learnt to value my time in a brand new way because, while the desire to make an impact can be instant, the process is often longer than we would wish for. Therefore, patience and commitment are vital. There is no such thing as ‘quick’ when it comes to international development.’
What inspired you to get involved in something like this?
‘A colleague once told me about his experience with AfiD. Later in life I started to feel a deep desire to do something different, something crazy and challenging, something bigger than me. And I recalled the conversation with that colleague. So I contacted AfiD and they were absolutely amazing and found exactly the sort of role that suited my passion, personality and skills.’
What would you say to a fellow finance professional considering doing something similar?
‘You must do something like this at least once in your life. Not only will you make an incredible impact, since there is so much need in the world for financial order and competence, but there is a very high chance that this may become a life-changing experience, just like it was for me.’
Find out more about Accounting for International Development (AfID) by visiting its website at www.afid.org.uk
This article was first published in Student Accountant