How a global mindset inspired two next-gen accountants
We connected with EY Alum Pascal Ambrosino and Assurance Manager Erin Godard on their social enterprise in Rwanda, FinanceYOU.
When Assurance Manager Erin Godard traveled from Canada to Rwanda in the summer of 2016 to volunteer, she was overwhelmed by the number of businesses and non-profits who approached her needing help strengthening their financial processes and training their accounting staff. It was then that she realized there was a huge need for accountants in Rwanda, and that she could do something to fill that need.
Within a few months of launching FinanceYOU, Erin was unable to keep up with the demand for accounting training and financial consulting services on her own. Enter Pascal Ambrosino, EY Alum and co-founder of FinanceYOU who worked in Toronto’s Assurance practice from 2010-2014. Pascal saw first hand the impact FinanceYOU was having on both businesses and individuals and saw the huge potential to further that impact. He quit his job and joined as a co-founder, moving to Rwanda in October 2017.
Erin and Pascal were kind enough to share the origin story of FinanceYOU with us in this month’s Alumni Connect feature.
QTell me about FinanceYOU – what’s the organization’s mission?
Our mission is to advance the accounting industry in East Africa, so that it can support the significant development and investment occurring throughout the continent. To achieve this, we provide two services. The first is professional development programs for accountants, which upskill a company’s finance team so they can be more efficient and effective, and provide value to the businesses they work in through financial savviness. Secondly, we advise businesses and NPOs on their accounting and finance functions, including how to strengthen their internal controls and make their processes more efficient.
Our work to date has had a huge positive impact on our clients and the members of their finance teams, however we believe the skills gap we’ve identified is too large to fill solely through business-to-business engagements. Which brings us to the next phase for FinanceYOU – the African Accounting Academy, which we are piloting in July 2018. The African Accounting Academy is a four-month program, which will train students in accounting fundamentals and transferrable business skills to prepare them for the workforce. The program starts with a four-week intensive boot camp, followed by a 3-month internship placement, giving our students the opportunity to apply the skills they’ve learned in a real business setting. The final aspect of the program pairs each student with a mentor, an industry professional, who will provide continuously coaching. We’re very excited about this new project, as this type of program will expand our impact exponentially.
QDid founding FinanceYOU interrupt your careers in any way? Did flexibility at EY help you achieve your goals?
Erin: EY was extremely supportive when I expressed an interest in taking time off to volunteer in 2016, which kick-started the idea behind FinanceYOU. The Partners and Senior Managers I worked with encouraged me to take advantage of EY’s sabbatical program and made sure my clients were well supported during my leave. When I returned, I was able to jump back into my existing client work, as if I had never left. When I was ready to launch FinanceYOU, the same people who were so supportive of my volunteer work provided invaluable feedback and organized a leave of absence so I could pursue the idea full time.
Pascal: In terms of FinanceYOU’s impact on our careers, I personally believe that starting FinanceYOU has propelled our careers to new heights. Not only have we experienced all the challenges of starting and running a business, we’ve done this in a rapidly-growing developing country. Our experience to date has been a continuous learning process, being exposed to different cultures and issues that you wouldn’t typically see in Canada.
QWhat impact do you hope the organization will have on businesses in Rwanda?
Human capital is the greatest asset of economies on the rise. We hope that our organization will be a key player in developing human capital in the East African accounting industry and will ultimately create the next generation of qualified accountants. Our goal for the organizations we work with is to create efficient and effective accounting functions, which fully support the business operations. In terms of the individuals we work with, our goal is for them to become trailblazers in the accounting industry and leaders in the quickly growing economies they live and work in.
QWhat skills did you develop at EY that have influenced your success with FinanceYOU?
The experience we gained managing complex engagements, communicating with clients, and coaching our teams at EY has prepared us for managing FinanceYOU’s day-to-day operations and working with our clients on their accounting systems.
However, we think the most important skill we developed is finding creative solutions to difficult problems – something you do almost daily at EY. Launching FinanceYOU required we first identify a real issue that existed in the world, and then the hard part – finding a solution that would work to solve this very unique problem.
QDo you have any recommendations for other young financial professionals who want to make a difference in their community or in communities across the globe?
There are so many potential ways to make a difference either locally or globally, so my advice would be to search out a cause, issue or group that you’re interested in or passionate about and put your financial expertise to work. I think sometimes we as young professionals underestimate how valuable our skillset is and how much of a difference we can make.
QWhat significance, if any, did EY play on your entrepreneurial spirit?
EY promotes a culture of creative thinking and more importantly, that anything is possible. Through the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year program, we’ve been exposed to countless entrepreneurs who took a chance on their idea and made it work.
QHow can people reading this article get involved?
Right now, there are two ways people reading can get involved. As we mentioned, we will be piloting the African Accounting Academy in July 2018. At this point in time, we are looking for volunteers to assist with the program, as instructors/facilitators, content creators and mentors to our students. Secondly, we are currently seeking members to join our Advisory Board, to assist with strategic decision making and provide guidance as we develop the African Accounting Academy and continue to grow FinanceYOU.
We are also always interested in connecting with individuals in the accounting industry interested in education and international development, so if you would like to connect, you can reach us through our website, LinkedIn, or email us directly at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.