Accounting skills help save elephants, tigers

John Reynen CPA used his skills to help a wildlife conservation project in Thailand and a social enterprise in Cambodia.

John Reynen CPA has put his financial skills to good use helping two very different projects in South-East Asia.

Not many people can claim to have improved the plight of women who have endured human trafficking, or done their bit to help endangered tigers, elephants and pangolins. John Reynen CPA has done both. 

During two volunteer stints in the past 16 months – the first in Thailand with an animal conservation program run by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), and the second in Cambodia supporting social enterprise Khmer Creations – the finance executive has used his business and accounting nous to assist the charities. 

“They were both very different experiences, but both noble causes,” says Reynen, whose resume includes private banking and wealth management roles for Credit Suisse, Barclays and Standard Chartered Bank. He is now non-executive director and company secretary of import-wholesale business By Brody, based in Singapore.

Although he has previously participated in charity bike rides and helped build houses for those in need, Reynen says he was keen to use his financial skills.

“I thought I’d add most value if I could do something related to my accounting training. When you look at an accountant building a house, well, I’m sure there are people who can do that better than I can.”

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Through Accounting for International Development, a British social enterprise that offers experienced finance professionals roles as volunteers, Reynen headed to Thailand early last year to join ZSL, which runs elephant and pangolin conservation projects. Spending three months in Kanchanaburi in western Thailand – a town famed as the location of the bridge in the 1957 film The Bridge on the River Kwai – he improved ZSL’s grant accounting processes and implemented new accounting software.

“There’s got to be accountability attached to grants to say, ‘OK, this is what we said we were going to do, and here’s how we accounted for the spending of that money’. I helped with that,” Reynen says.

Earlier this year, Reynen worked in Cambodia with handmade jewellery business Khmer Creations, a social enterprise that provides work for disadvantaged women. As a small business, it cannot afford to employ a dedicated accountant. 

Following in the footsteps of other AfID volunteers, Reynen fine-tuned its business strategies and rolled out efficiency measures, “so they can focus on doing the core things they want to do rather than sorting through the books and records”.

“It feels good to be able to contribute to making their lives better.”

Reynen says his experiences in Thailand and Cambodia have fulfilled a desire to help those less fortunate than himself. “It feels good to be able to contribute to making their lives better,” he says.

While some bosses may baulk at giving employees weeks or months off to volunteer, Reynen says the personal growth of participants – and the chance to use their skills in different contexts – makes it an invaluable experience.

“For a company to allow someone to do this kind of thing, it really will give that person a broader perspective on life. As well as the feel-good experience, it gives you skills that you might not have had before. I can’t recommend it enough.” 

Khmer Creations

Khmer Creations in Cambodia manufactures and sells jewellery for the international market. Managed and staffed by Khmer women, the Phnom Penh enterprise provides skills training and secure employment for young women from disadvantaged backgrounds, including those who have been subject to human trafficking. The group also helps with healthcare and child care, and provides a safe and rewarding work environment for the women. The jewellery is exported to customers in Europe, North America and Australia. 

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August 2017
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