Kim Coogan CPA uses her accounting skills to help others while volunteering, but she’s also upskilling herself.
By Troy Douglas
Using her accounting and finance skills as a volunteer in a developing country ticked all the boxes for Kim Coogan CPA. “I love travel and had this idea that I’d like to live and work in another country. And it seemed if you were going to do that, it would be good to use the skills and experience you have in that capacity,” she says. “You can’t help but be grateful for the fact that, by accident of birth, you’re born in Australia rather than some of these other countries – how different your life would be.”
Coogan has just embarked on her third trip to Cambodia, this time on a paid venture following two volunteer roles. Her first volunteer posting to the country came in 2013 with Accounting for International Development (AfID), an organisation which believes that skilled volunteering is a socially responsible and cost-effective way for accountants to build their skills while allowing community groups in developing countries to access a vast pool of talent.
For three weeks, Coogan worked at a school that taught traditional music and dance to children. She helped implement controls around cash flow and budgeting, and she mentored a young local bookkeeper.
“You felt as if you really could make a difference. Something we would regard as small improvements, like helping someone with a spreadsheet, they just don’t always have the resources to otherwise have that knowledge,” she says.
“I haven’t actually retired, so I’ll come back from this with a whole new set of skills.”
On her second visit to Cambodia in February last year, returning to the small province of Kampot in the country’s south-east, Coogan did a three-month maternity cover at Epic Arts, a performance arts provider that helps the disabled. Coogan had come across Epic Arts during her first visit to the country.
The strong sense of community and the warmth of the Cambodian people made an instant and lasting impression on Coogan, and she recently accepted a year’s paid contract to work for Epic Arts. She will have a role as an adviser, dealing with the organisation’s international stakeholders and donors, and supporting its bid to build a local management team.
The timing was perfect. Coogan took a redundancy last year from the Tasmanian Government’s Retirement Benefits Fund in Hobart, after 12 years working there in financial analysis and reporting.
“My financial background is obviously going to be a huge asset, and when I was there I didn’t really get the chance to do some of the training I would have liked, so that’s something else that will be part of the job,” she says. “I haven’t actually retired, so feel that I’ll come back from this with a whole new set of skills.”
Accounting for International Development (AfID) coordinates volunteering opportunities for accountants on projects in Africa, Asia and South America, lasting two weeks to 12 months. Projects can be tailored to match individual skills and circumstances.
To date, more than A$17.5 million in pro bono work has been delivered in 50 countries.
Epic Arts Cambodia was set up in 2003 after a series of successful projects in China. Its message is that every person, regardless of ability or disability, should be valued, accepted and respected. It teaches this message by involving those with a disability in art and performance to promote expression and empowerment for the disabled and to educate those who are not.
The organisation runs workshops, training programs and holds performances.
This article is from the May 2015 issue of INTHEBLACK