Excelling for women’s rights: volunteer accountancy in Nepal
Aurelia Diedisheim ACMA spent four months working for a charity in Nepal.
Airbus procurement financial controller Aurelia Diedisheim (far right) didn’t take to CIMA straight away. ‘I was hired by Airbus and it was part of the graduate scheme to do the CIMA qualification,’ she says. ‘I was a bit dubious at the beginning because I thought it was redundant, after the [business] studies I had done in France.’
However, benefits became clear as she progressed. ‘I was seeing the relationship with what I was doing at work, and realised it was much more in depth than what I had done before.
‘In France you really have only clerks or a financial controller. When you do business studies you only do the controlling side. Now I realise you can’t really control if you don’t know what was entered. I see being a management accountant as a complete qualification.’
Volunteering for duty
Aurelia’s desire to undertake charity work, combined with a passionate interest in Nepal, led her to an advert on the CIMA website for Accounting for International Development (AfID), who were looking for a qualified accountant to send overseas. She applied successfully for a sabbatical and her dream was suddenly a reality.
‘You tell AfID where and when you want to go and they are really good at finding charities,’ she explains. ‘They had three in Nepal they were in contact with.’
She picked an organisation called the Interdependent Surkeht Society (ISS), ‘a network based organisation: villages who group together. The work they do is driven by the needs of the villages. They support groups who are not empowered.’
Making a difference
Aurelia felt particular affinity with ISS’ main project: helping to promote awareness and education related to pregnancy amongst women and their husbands. ‘Overwork leads to serious health problems: women there never stop,’ she says. ‘They give birth and then one week after they are back working in the field, carrying heavy loads. If something happened to them they had no support.’
The project aims to teach why women must be able to rest when pregnant and after giving birth, and provide surgery and financial support for those worst affected by overwork. Happily, its efforts are bearing fruit.
‘You can really see the difference,’ Aurelia smiles. ‘People were really happy to see us. Importantly, men were beginning to understand what had happened to the women and the mentality was beginning to change.’
Using CIMA skills
The complicated nature of ISS’ financial transactions made Aurelia’s CIMA skills invaluable in helping the organisation. ‘ISS has to report to four or five different donors,’ she explains. ‘The problem was their accounting was simply entering [numbers] manually in a ledger.
‘The accountant, who’s really qualified, was spending his time adding up the ledger, and had no time to explain anything.’ Consequently, donors were simply receiving a list of numbers, without any analysis.
Her masterplan was to create an electronic financial system, but there were unexpected difficulties. ‘I realised they had never used Excel properly. The first month we spent learning how to do formulas, pivot tables and so on. Then we developed a financial system.’
Finally, they had reports organised properly by project and donor, allowing time for the accountant to analyse the data. ‘It will free time to do analysis, budgets, and apply for more funding,’ she says. Furthermore, these skills will be passed on: ‘The accountant is also a teacher, so he could use what we did in his teaching.’
A day in the life
Living in Nepal was, Aurelia remembers with a rueful smile, ‘really different. We were waking up at half past six and working ten until four or five o’clock. Between half past six and 10 o’clock, as a woman, you do all the house chores, the shopping, the cooking…’
Yet the strong community feel was demonstrated by her evenings. ‘Once you’ve finished work you go to the market or go and have tea at someone’s, so the evening is really sociable,’ she says. ‘I was lucky enough to go when the cricket world cup was on; that was very important!’
Aurelia encourages others to become involved in voluntary work, feeling her time with ISS was of benefit to herself as well as those she helped. ‘My expertise is actually in a very small area in my company, but with CIMA we get that overall knowledge,’ she notes. ‘With ISS it was more that overall knowledge of the company that I had to have.
‘For example, I had to understand how a ledger was working, which I’ve never done in my work. It was the first time I felt I was important in finance.’
Want to know more about volunteering with AfID?
Accounting for International Development partners with over 80 grassroots charities in 20 countries across Africa, Asia and South America and is looking for accountants to coach and mentor staff. AfID works with a range of non profit organisations.
Work includes conducting financial health assessments, coaching, developing the accounting skills of local staff and assisting with the preparation and analysis of financial plans and budgets.