How volunteering leads to career growth

Rosemary Everett FCPA with members of the Uniting Church of Australia in Papua New Guinea.

Rosemary Everett FCPA is grateful that her accounting career has meant not just a job for life, but tools of a trade that can genuinely help people.

By Katie Langmore

It is commonly said that volunteering has as deep an impact on the volunteer as the people they’re helping, and this has certainly been the case for Rosemary Everett FCPA.

During her career with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) in Hobart, and later the National Office and Treasury in Canberra, Everett spent three months volunteering in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and a year in Fiji.

“When I returned from Fiji, I felt like a different person,” recalls Everett. “I had needed to be very independent, and that had been a very positive thing for me. It was when I returned that the office in Hobart saw this change in me, and suggested I try out for more demanding policy work in Canberra.”

It’s no wonder Everett’s experiences in PNG and Fiji led to personal growth. Travelling to a completely different culture by yourself can feel overwhelming at the best of times, but on both missions, Everett was being sent in to audit and to overhaul entrenched accounting processes – a role that didn’t sit well with everyone.

“I was approached by the Uniting Church of Australia [UCA] in 1992 to see if I could do some work in PNG. They’d been approached by the church in Port Moresby as they needed help with a regional office on an island in Milne Bay Province,” says Everett, who agreed and took leave without pay from the ATO.

“The church office was having some difficulty doing all its accounting work and getting their required funds to head office in Port Moresby. I spent time out there developing systems, checking accountability and auditing past work. Needless to say, not everyone welcomed me.”

Everett says the three-month experience was both tough and fascinating: living in a community without electricity during the day, showering under a bucket, and walking 2km in the heat to purchase food that had been boated in.

Five years later, Everett was again approached by the UCA, this time to reconcile accounts and create new systems at the head office in Fiji, after an incident in which the office had failed to pay a bill from a company that happened to be a subsidiary of The Times newspaper.

“It was splashed across the front page,” explains Everett. “The president of the church there didn’t know anything about it until he read about it in the newspaper. Mortified, he reached out to Australia for support.”

CPA Australia resource: Tools, templates and resources to support you when performing voluntary or pro bono accounting services

The work in Fiji entailed going back over and reconciling accounts. Everett also introduced new systems. “They didn’t have computers and weren’t computer literate, so I managed to bring some in and provide training on how to record financial data.”

Perhaps one of the most high-impact things Everett did in Fiji was to empower some of the local women with work in the church office. “By the end, there were about 12 women in the office. When I left, they all came to see me off in Nadi; I was so sad leaving them.”

Upon returning to Australia, Everett took up the suggestion of shifting to the national tax office in Canberra and never looked back, finding policy work a meaningful way to put her years of experience to use – as she had in PNG and Fiji.

Everett now spends several days a week volunteering for Rotary Australia, having begun work with the organisation as club treasurer before being appointed club president and subsequently district treasurer – her current role.

She has also volunteered as an auditor for The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International, assisting clubs and districts in Australia and the Pacific in managing aid grants received. She says she has always had a strong sense of the importance of giving back, and feels immensely grateful that accounting is such a useful tool with which to help people.

“Back at university, I didn’t realise I was studying something so useful and something that would give me a job for life.”

Rotary Australia is part of a global network of clubs that bring people together to make meaningful change around the world. Rotary clubs work on sustainable local and global projects that address everything from literacy to water and health.

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