PracticeAccounting FirmsVolunteering: your best foot forward

Volunteering: your best foot forward

With the fight against world poverty in the spotlight like never before, accountants have the skills to play a vital role

The Live 8 concerts, and the publicity surrounding the G8 conference, will
ensure that the issue of poverty will have an airing in the media for some time.

Many of us will have had our consciences pricked by the images and
impassioned speeches interspersed between the music of last weekend, and some of
us will have even signed the online petition.

Depressingly, the needs are the same as they were 20 years ago – but a
noticeable difference between Live Aid and Live 8 is the publicly-stated
requirement for reassurance and accountability about how and where the pledged
money will be spent.

The G8 finance ministers recently agreed to write off a £22bn debt owed by 18
countries, but introduced conditions and criteria that meant if more countries
want to benefit they have to demonstrate good governance and show they are
tackling corruption. This is clearly something that requires considerable effort
and commitment and must be sustainable – long after the publicity of Live 8 has

For some months, ACCA has been looking at harnessing the energies, enthusiasm
and skills of our younger members in developing economies to find a way in which
we could make a practical contribution in the fight against poverty. The concept
that we have developed is a scheme that will encourage pro bono activities by
our members, enabling them to put back something into the communities in which
they live and work.

This will involve public interest causes, such as improving public education,
or ensuring that communities receiving the allocated aid are using it
effectively and accounting for it so that donors know it is being used well –
whether they be individuals, business or government.

The initiative could result in ACCA members advising local farming
communities on a pro bono basis to negotiate better deals on crops they sell.
The work undertaken in education will hopefully address a pressing need to help
empower communities at risk of becoming reliant on aid.

This initiative, officially called skills2share, is ACCA’s version of the
peace corps. To ensure that the skills of our members and students are used to
best effect, we have formed a partnership with international development agency
ActionAid. Formed in 1972, with an aim to fight poverty worldwide, the charity
today helps over 13 million of the world’s poorest and most disadvantaged

We have agreed to run pilot schemes in Kenya, Uganda and later in Pakistan.
ACCA and ActionAid staff are already involved in eastern Africa to ensure the
scheme will deliver results on the ground, and this will set the template for
extending the scheme to other countries where we have a presence.

As David Archer, head of international education at ActionAid, says,
government education budgets are a mystery to most people, and funding for
education can easily be misused. Helping people to understand how the education
budget is supposed to work, and tracking what happens in practice, from national
to district to school level, is an increasingly important part of ActionAid’s

We want this initiative to enable ACCA’s younger members and students to make
a major contribution to the wellbeing of their own communities by supporting
official ActionAid projects. Accountants on the ground have a huge potential
role to play in demystifying national education budgets and scrutinising the
flows of aid for education, thus enhancing the confidence of the aid community
in the application of funds provided.

Developing training budget trackers at district or local level will empower
local citizens to monitor the flows of education budgets to their district and
local schools. And developing alternative budgets will enable community-based
contributions to budget formulation and running projections for the costs of
various policy changes in education – for example, the abolition of user fees.

We expect to see a number of benefits flowing from the proposals, not least
the peace of mind that potential donors can give to ActionAid projects in the
knowledge that a qualified accountant – and someone who understands the needs of
the local community – will be volunteering their services to a reputable aid

Communities on the receiving end of aid will have free, expert advice on hand
about the best way to use those resources, and our students and members will be
able to gain valuable hands-on experience of dealing with important issues,
which might otherwise fall outside of their usual remit.

ACCA students and members will also be encouraged to share their skills with
local schools and community projects in demystifying budgeting, taxation,
banking and investment. We want to empower communities to identify priorities
and opportunities, and be in a position to negotiate better financial deals for
themselves. We hope it will be a win-win situation for all concerned.

This initiative is a positive development in our long-standing commitment to
the developing world. We see this as a long-term project, which will have a real
and lasting impact on helping in the battle against poverty.

ActionAid’s Archer believes that together we can help to ensure public
funding for education is properly, transparently and effectively spent. ‘On this
basis, we can be confident in asking the G8 and others to live up to their
promises on radically increasing aid to education,’ he says.

Next time you experience a Geldof moment, there is another option besides
reaching for the credit card. And who knows, if accountants give their time and
skills, perhaps the musicians of 2025 will put on a concert – not to raise
funds, but possibly, just possibly, to help celebrate the demise of global

Allen Blewitt is chief executive of ACCA


Of course, there are other ways accountants can make a difference. In
conjunction with Accountancy Age, the ICAEW runs an awards scheme, Everybody
Counts, designed to recognise and help support (financially) charitable work
undertaken by its members.

Another route is to contact Mango, a charity that helps aid agencies and NGOs
work more effectively. It aims to help strengthen their financial management by
providing training for NGO staff, finance staff to work with NGOs, and
consultancy services.

The European Commission, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and
the Association of Accounting Technicians are among its major sponsors.

For more information, go to: and

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