I worked on... turning young lives around in Peru

I had been working as a qualified accountant in my native Portugal for more than six years when I decided to move overseas in search of more rewarding professional opportunities. I spent nine months working in Havana, Cuba, before relocating to London in 2008 – right at the start of the recession. Although this made it harder for me to find employment, I had already applied to study for the CIMA qualification before arriving in the UK. This helped me to secure a job with Disney International, working as a retail control analyst covering its stores in the UK and Portugal.

I have always believed that accountants make great business partners. The numbers you take from accounts tell a story and, if you put them in the right format and provide the right analysis, you can help a business to achieve prosperity. That was why I chose CIMA – I wanted to support the commercial teams by providing relevant information, improving procedures and serving as a really active part of the company. The qualification, which I attained in 2013, gives you all the tools to do that. It challenges you to look at the organisation as a whole, see the big picture and consider how everything is related.

Moving on from Disney after two years, I worked with food wholesaler Fresh Direct, jeweller Bulgari and shoe retailer Butterfly Twists. Each of these jobs was challenging, requiring me to work on reviewing procedures, implementing new systems and restructuring organisations. Throughout that period I learnt a lot from my managers, who always gave me the opportunity to express myself. In August 2015 I became UK financial controller of Toy Store, a UAE-based retailer that recently opened its first store on London’s Oxford Street. It’s an interesting time to be a part of this business, which is set to open more stores in the UK shortly.

Last year I also started working as a volunteer through Accounting for International Development (AfID), as using my professional skills to help good causes became one of my main priorities after I’d qualified. In February 2015 I took two weeks off work and became the first accountant to work for Los Pioneros (The Pioneers), a small association based in Callao, the seaport neighbourhood of Lima that has become a drug-trafficking hub. Los Pioneros uses football to help children avoid joining gangs. It attracts kids as young as four to the sport, teaching them the values of a better life. When they become teenagers, they teach the younger ones.

I was there for a very short time, but the support I was able to provide is vital for bodies such as Los Pioneros. My main task was to conduct an internal audit. I asked a lot of questions and undertook a Swot analysis, created cash records, established economic financial reporting and advised the founders on the next steps to follow. I detected some weaknesses that might put the organisation’s funding at risk. In particular, it needed to ensure that all the contributed goods and services would be receipted in future. Because of its small size, Los Pioneros and other associations like it cannot afford to pay professionals to do this kind of work. To us it is a small gesture, but for them it is a big help.

I hope that more and more management accountants can join AfID and help some of these charities. Working through the organisation, the risks posed by the placement are more effectively controlled. Callao was one of the worst areas to be from a safety point of view, but I met wonderful people there and, if you follow the instructions they give you, everything will be alright.

The whole experience was extremely rewarding – I am always surprised at the generosity of people who don’t have anything. I left feeling frustrated that I could have done more, so I’m hoping to go on another assignment at some point.

Name: Paula Meireles ACMA, CGMA
CIMA qualified: 2013
Organisation: Los Pioneros (through AFID)
Job: Volunteer Accountant
Start date: February 2015
End date: March 2015
Location: Lima


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