I worked on… an educational project in Botswana

Name: Gary Ede ACMA, CGMA

Organisation: South East District Youth Empowerment Association, via Accounting for International Development (AfID)

Job: voluntary finance manager

CIMA qualified: 2014

Start date: October 2014

End date: November 2014

Location: Botswana

I started my career at catalogue retailer Freemans in 2001, where I’d worked on a placement while studying for my degree in business studies at the University of Portsmouth. Joining the firm in London as a financial analyst, I was soon encouraged to take the CIMA qualification, which I did as I progressed through a number of analytical roles.

When the company transferred its finance function to the north of England seven years later, I joined betting firm Gala Coral as a retail financial analyst. I’d been there for only just over a year before it also shifted its operations northward, so I moved to car sales website AutoTrader, where I became a commercial finance manager. When it too relocated its finance function, I decided to take some time out.

I wanted to help people in some capacity and was keen to volunteer my professional skills to a good cause in the developing world. A project supported by Accounting for International Development (AfID) seemed the obvious choice. I especially wanted to work on a scheme with a sporting bias, so I picked a two-month assignment with the South East District Youth Empowerment Association (Sedyea) in Botswana.

Sedyea uses sports (particularly football), the arts and outreach programmes to promote social change and raise awareness of HIV in the south-east of the country. Botswana has one of the worst HIV/Aids problems in the world: about a quarter of adults in the country are thought to be infected. The association runs educational activities – all of which are led by young people – designed to promote life skills and safer sexual behaviour. It also operates a catering firm that supplies local businesses and councils.

As Sedyea’s second overseas volunteer, my main task was to build its financial capacity by improving the accounting function and mentoring members of the team. My predecessor, who’d been there for eight weeks, gave me a to-do list in the handover and stayed in touch on his return to the UK. After I’d established more effective controls to record the finances – including a cash flow register and better reporting templates – we realised that Sedyea would miss its targets if it didn’t come up with new fundraising activities. As a result, I got involved in a lot of non-accounting work – for instance, organising football tournaments and setting up regular staff meetings to discuss ideas – to address the situation.

I started a competition for Sedyea members to design T-shirts stating what their organisation meant to them. I also designed a template for its website and liaised with the local university that was planning to create the finished product. As many people in this rural region do not have internet access, we discussed how to communicate with them on the radio and via leaflets, too.

Living and working in a very different environment took me completely out of my comfort zone, but I found the whole experience incredibly rewarding and have made some friends for life. The support that AfID provided throughout my assignment ensured that it was a success.

My CIMA qualification helped me tremendously for the challenge, too, as it gave me confidence in the all-round skills I’d picked up during my studies. In my recent jobs, I hadn’t needed to draw on many of the aspects I had learnt, but they became crucial to me again once I arrived in Botswana.

AfID by numbers

345 charities supported

37 countries of operation

600 volunteer accountants

125,000 hours of pro-bono financial management coaching (worth £10m of professional services)

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