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Mango Members on Placement: Debbie Lerner in Uganda with Afripads
23 January 2017
Debbie (front row, far left) poses for a selfie with the rest of the Afripads team.
Debbie Lerner is a new addition to the Mango family and has just recently completed her first Mango assignment. We caught up with Debbie after she returned from Uganda where she worked as a Financial Controller for Afripads in Uganda. Below, Debbie tells us how she learned skills she thought she never would during her placement and explains how Afripads are providing invaluable education and support to girls in the local area.
'I’ve just finished working as a maternity cover Finance Manager, with AFRIpads in Kampala, Uganda. Being my first ever placement in the field, as well as a change of sector and continent I was definitely nervous. Having been a Finance Assistant in my previous company I was worried if I even knew how to be an accountant outside of that business. Thankfully a balance sheet is a balance sheet and I quickly found myself immersed in the world of reconciliations and reporting packs; the only real difference was that I now worked in Ugandan Shillings giving me some rather big numbers.
AFRIpads is a social enterprise producing reusable sanitary pads in Uganda, with the mission to empower women and girls through business, innovation and opportunity. Without the education or means of managing their monthly menstruation, girls often miss school or are forced to use unhygienic methods such as dirty rags which are not only ineffective but can lead to future health issues. AFRIpads provides an affordable and effective solution to this problem. It also partners with multiple organisations to provide menstrual hygiene training within schools and the AFRIpads Foundation donates many thousands of packs each year to help those who are most in need. All production is done in Masaka, a town in southern Uganda where employment opportunities, especially for women, are extremely limited. AFRIpads employs more than 150 staff, over 95% female, giving them a monthly guaranteed wage, health insurance and other benefits that would be commonly found in the start-ups of Silicon Valley.
At the start of my placement I jumped straight into month end. Having gone from managing a team of three in my previous role to having just one finance assistant I found myself going back to basics, posting invoices, accruals and prepayments as well as bank reconciliation; it was actually the perfect way to understand how things worked. It lead me to identify areas where there were some easy wins in terms of streamlining processes and where internal controls needed to be tightened. This would come in handy later on when I was working on developing additional policies and writing a finance manual. Culturally Uganda is of course very different to the UK and required some aclimatization. However, influence of the Afripads directors who were originally from American and Canada, meant that the overall culture shock was less prominent than in other local organisations and this made it easier for me to adjust. That said, there were still times when the lack of infrastructure within Uganda made me want to cry out in frustration. The placement was certainly challenging but I had incredible support from the board as well as the Directors, Paul and Sonia. AFRIpads is just like a family, one that I am incredibly proud to be a part of. If this is what working within the NGO sector is like then I’m in; I’ve never wanted to get up and go to work more than these past few months.'
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