As an accountant, I would be the first to admit that the profession doesn't have a reputation for being particularly exciting or dynamic. In fact, one mention of the dreaded "a" word at a dinner party can make the eyes of even the most polite guests glaze over, so it is often a surprise to people when they learn about the organisations out there who are using accounting skills to really make a difference in some of the world's poorest countries.
My career in accountancy started working the City, but after a few years I became disillusioned with the cut-throat nature of industry and decided to start my own projects to make accountancy services more accessible and transparent. I set up both Accounts Assist and Brilliant Bookkeeping both to provide help for small businesses, and as a franchise for finance professionals who want to start their own business.
It was while helping small businesses set up accountancy practices at home that I found out about Accounting for International Development (AfID), a multi-award winning social enterprise offering similar help but to organisations a little further afield than Northampton, and on a much larger scale! They offer finance professionals the opportunity to use their skills to make a genuine difference as volunteers and to gain rewarding hands-on International Development experience.
Through volunteering with AfID, I was given the opportunity to visit Malawi in Southeast Africa, and work closely with an organisation called Community Youth in Development Activities (COYIDA). They do some great work helping with causes like water sanitation, HIV, nutrition, children's rights and sexual protection, and by working with them to establish some best-practice accountancy systems it really felt like I could use my years of experience to make a difference. To make sure there was a lasting legacy left by AfID and myself, I was also delighted to mentor and sponsor an aspiring local finance professional, and I am pleased to report she also recently qualified as a Certified Chartered Accountant.
For any other qualified or aspiring accountants out there I would strongly recommend that they take a look at AfID, and the great work they do. They offer placements ranging from 12 months to 2 weeks, so whether it is a career break or just a couple of weeks away, you can use your skills to make a genuine lasting difference. Plus, how many accountants do you know who have woken up to find a black mamba snake in their bedroom before they go to work - because I did!
Inspired by my experiences, I am currently working on a project to launch my bookkeeping business in India, and in the long-term I would love to expand the practice to offer accessible ACCA training to encourage Indian women to become qualified Chartered Certified Accountants.
I was recently delighted to hear that I have been shortlisted in the finance category for First Women Awards, which is sponsored by the Lloyds Banking Group. While it is amazing to be recognised for such a prestigious award, it would feel like a wasted opportunity if I didn't use it as a platform to tell people more about how accountancy can make a difference to the development of some of the world's poorest countries, and perhaps change people's perceptions of the day-to-day life of an accountant - it's not all suits and spreadsheets, or at least, it doesn't need to be.
Anita Brook is shortlisted for the 2013 First Women Awards.
The awards ceremony will take place on Wednesday 12 June and is hosted by Real Business in association with Lloyds Banking Group.