For over 10 years, ICAS Members have been providing crucial financial management support to charities across the world through UK Social Enterprise Accounting for International Development (AfID).
Volunteers would spend anywhere from two weeks to six months on the ground working with local finance teams. But in the midst of a global pandemic, what happens when overseas travel is no longer an option?
AfID adapted their programme to a model of ‘remote’ volunteering, which looks set to continue even once the world starts opening up post-pandemic and overseas travel becomes possible again.
AfID’s volunteer manager Dave Busby explains: “When the true extent of the pandemic first hit, our immediate priority was of course to get our overseas volunteers home safely.
“And then the reality of the situation really hit home. Our overseas charity partners were still very much in need of crucial financial management support, often for their very survival, but there was little prospect of being able to send volunteers to work with local finance teams for the foreseeable future.
Our overseas volunteers often do some preliminary work from home with the organisations they’re heading out to support, and we started thinking about how this could be extended.
AfID’s first all ‘remote’ volunteering assignments were with organisations that were due to receive the support of a volunteer in person. The original assignment briefs were adapted to suit the new circumstances.
To date, remote volunteers have supported AfID’s partners in many different ways. Assignment briefs have included identifying gaps in financial management systems, and working on improvements; providing training on Quickbooks and Xero; providing advice and guidance to inexperienced Finance Managers; and developing and streamlining financial processes and procedures.
AfID is hopeful of being able to start facilitating overseas volunteer assignments, initially to a limited number of countries, before the year’s out. But they also see ‘remote volunteering’ as something that will continue alongside this.
Dave Busby says: “Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, AfID volunteers have been continuing to provide crucial remote technical support and it’s been a real success, perhaps more so than we had envisaged at the outset.
“Although we are incredibly eager to resume overseas placements, we’ve seen that for many organisations part-time remote support over a longer period is exactly what best fits their needs.
“It gives local staff the time to absorb new information and put what they’ve learned into practice, before checking in with the volunteer at a later date to pick up on any queries or gaps in understanding.
Nothing will ever replace the effectiveness of a qualified finance professional sitting next to a local bookkeeper and going through things one-to-one in real time with them, but we definitely see a more mixed approached to supporting our partners in the future, combining both in-person assignments and remote support.
“A huge thank you to our remote volunteers and charity partners for their flexibility, adaptability and patience in making it such a success.”