By Yoko Chiba – Senior Accountant and PwC Ambassador
It is strange to think that just 8 months ago I was nervously preparing for my 12 month secondment to The ISIS Foundation. In my head, I had an idea of what I thought it would be like, and was keen to develop my skills as an accountant and as a person, diving headfirst into the not-for-profit world. However, nothing could have prepared me for the reality! The workplace and the people at ISIS are extremely passionate about the work they do, and everyone around the world brings different expertise to the table. I was made to feel very much part of the ISIS family from day one. What’s more, the skills I learnt (and am still learning!) far exceed my initial expectations. Working with projects in developing countries really makes you think twice about the importance of internal controls and processes that reduce risk, and it trains you to think more critically about the financial information in front of you.
At first glance, it might seem that my role is not all that different to what I do at PwC. I still sit in front of a computer every day, working with numbers on an excel spread sheet. However, the key difference is that the spread sheets I am working on at ISIS tell different, more personal stories and allow me to feel the impact the work we are doing is having on the community firsthand. As an auditor at PwC, we would do analytics or reviews over the profit and losses – figures which tell stories of what a business has experienced during the period. What lines of business made profit that year? What acquisitions or purchases were made? What were the highs and lows in the operations during the year?
At ISIS, these spread sheets tell stories of patients going to HIV clinics, activities to support formerly trafficked children we care for, investments being made into community infrastructure projects which help reduce illness and children benefitting from access to education in remote mountainous Nepal. It is a different feeling reviewing or analysing numbers where you can feel the stories and the impact they are making. This makes it extra meaningful for me when doing my work.
Likewise, other aspects of my job are similar but their impact is so different. The budgeting I did at PwC was mainly around internal resources for a job. But at ISIS, I have been assisting with budgeting for multiple projects and entities that The ISIS Foundation operates in globally. This has lead me to budget for items from office stationary in the head office in Sydney, to medication and syringes in Uganda, to vegetable seeds and cows in a remote village in Nepal. The decisions made about what to include or not include in the budget could impact directly someone’s life or their community. It has made me understand quite quickly the great weight each dollar and number carries, which is not something I had experienced day to day at PwC.
It has been incredible but there have also been challenges. Working with colleagues that are not necessarily accountants has been an eye opening experience for me, as at PwC I would primarily deal with accountants or people with a finance background. At ISIS, this is often not the case. On a day to day basis, I may be working with development project managers on the ground, doctors, researchers, office administrators, communications teams, or donor managers compiling financial information that needs to be 100% accurate to the dollar, but also easy to understand for someone who does not come from a finance background. However, I do feel the skills I have acquired in learning to communicate my knowledge in different ways has been invaluable to my personal development as an accountant, and something I think will be an asset to me when I return to PwC.
Working for ISIS has given me many experiences which I think will benefit me when I return to PwC. Earlier this year, I had my first experience on being on the ‘other side’ of an audit, something which has made me much more aware of what a client may feel when they are being audited and has helped me realise the do’s and don’ts as an auditor. The most important thing is the need to communicate regularly and directly. Talk to your clients and don’t be afraid to ask questions, and if there are lingering issues or questions discuss it with them early on!
I have a little over four months left at ISIS, and I intend to make the most of it! Excitingly, I still have my trip to the field to come, and am very excited to go to Uganda to experience the projects we support firsthand. In my time there, I will be ensuring compliance of our latest registered entity, The ISIS Foundation (Uganda), and have the opportunity to apply my skills and experience directly in developing and implementing processes and controls on the ground to make sure the programmes are running as efficiently as possible.
I hope to use my remaining time to learn all I can, to develop skills outside of auditing whilst doing work that I feel is meaningful and helps make changes to the lives of people and communities. This is the best lesson I have learned from my time at ISIS – we should feel confident in the knowledge that our skills as auditors or accountants can help make a significant difference in the world.