Working in the international development sector gives accountants the opportunity to make a positive, meaningful impact on global issues, work with incredibly inspiring people and potentially travel the world. Whether you are looking into a ‘career change’ from the corporate to charity world, or if you are studying accountancy with a clear goal of working for a charitable cause, the rewards of a career in the industry are plentiful.
However, as a sector with a lack of funding across the board and where jobs are highly competitive, it comes as no surprise that such opportunities are hard to find. If you are considering a career in the charity sector then here are some useful tips from Accounting for International Development (AfID).
AfID is a social enterprise that offers every type of accountant, from anywhere in the world, the opportunity to use their skills to support a broad range of nonprofit organisations globally.
Through AfID, finance professionals are able to gain both volunteer experience and paid work in the sector. Offering pro bono opportunities in over 50 countries as well as specialised recruitment services for charities like Save the Children and Amnesty International. And more than 20% of AfID volunteers now work full-time in the non-profit sector.
The most crucial asset that NGOs value above all is prior experience, whether that be in institutional donor management, overseas fieldwork or capacity-building of funding recipients.
Even a short two- to three-week assignment will reassure employers that a candidate is serious and indicates a transferability and flexibility of skills. It demonstrates a candidate’s interest and commitment in the sector, personal qualities essential to navigate a diverse stakeholder group, cultures and contexts, and an understanding in how non-profits function and are funded.
Another important factor in employability is personality and dedication. Candidates with the experience and qualifications required, but who display no real understanding of the organisation and its context, are unlikely to be successful.
Demonstrating a keen interest and passion in working with them is something that should be effectively communicated in interviews.
Alongside volunteering and job opportunities in the sector, AfID hosts workshops offering a practical insight into finance work in international development, with further tips and guidance on the sector. Their next workshop is scheduled for 31 January 2020.
Case study: the African queen
In May 2017, Amber Honey decided she needed a break from the hustle and bustle of life at Deloitte in London.
She got in touch with Accounting for International Development (AfID), and was placed on a volunteer accounting assignment in Rwanda with Children’s Might Foundation.
From the early-morning discussions over freshly made chapattis to afternoon meetings among tomato crops, the contrast to Amber’s lifestyle was a stark and welcome change.
The South African native returned to London with a reawakened desire to make international development part of her future.
That future came around more quickly than expected as within four months, with the help of AfID, she landed a role in the non-profit sector as Finance Business Manager at Farm Africa – where she is now Head of Finance.
Can you tell us a little about your career?
“Joining Farm Africa’s UK offices has been an exciting career move in the direction I am passionate about. This role has challenged me to learn new things such as accounting standards/policies and improve processes and redefine ways of working, which I love.
Previously, I worked in the Risk Advisory department at Deloitte.”
What transferable skills have you found the most useful working in finance in the charity sector?
“While volunteering, I drew particular reference to my audit experience of writing clear step-by-step instructions, ensuring that processes are continued effectively. I think audit teaches invaluable skills in presenting information concisely.”
Do you feel your voluntary experience with AfID helped you gain your role at Farm Africa and prepare for life in your new role?
“Without a doubt, volunteering provided the crucial experience that helped me navigate my way into this sector. In my interview, I was able to show an understanding of and commitment to how programmes are run in rural Africa.”
What would be your advice to other accountants considering a similar career change or breaking into the sector?
“I would suggest volunteering with an organisation that shares your interests. Being realistic about what you are moving into in terms of people and pay is an important consideration. Be willing to push yourself to achieve results; you need to make up your own rules and deadlines in order to replicate the pressures familiar from the corporate world.”
For more information on Accounting for International Development, visit www.afid.org.uk or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org / 020 8741 7000