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'Worth the Onions' - A Celebration of the 1000 Members of the Register of Finance Professionals

24 April 2018

The Mango Register of Finance Professionals was created almost 20 years ago in response to a recognized need to match NGOs with dedicated, qualified and experienced finance staff. As we get ready to welcome our 1000th member to join the register, now under the banner of Humentum, we’ve taken the opportunity to reflect on the wealth of talent and knowledge that is encapsulated by the gifted individuals who make up our 1000 strong community of finance professionals.

Our staff members have circumnavigated the globe, bringing financial expertise and assistance to over eighty different countries in the world, from Timor-Leste and Tajikistan, to the Western Sahara and North Korea. Graham Throup, who joined the register in 2013 and who has taken on in excess of 15 consultancy placements recalled how he had been able to indulge his wanderlust through his work, delivering consultancy for Mango and Humentum in almost all the regions of the world; “I had to apply for a new passport because it was fully stamped! Often I wake up in the morning and ask myself which country I am in now!” For Graham, travelling around the work has been a major perk; “it has been a real pleasure to travel for work and I feel very lucky to be able to do something that I love as work.”

Over the years, our members have demonstrated an extraordinary ability to adapt and to be resilient in unfamiliar and sometimes difficult settings, often working in emergency or disaster contexts, or in the midst of violent conflicts. Peter Last, who recently returned from a placement with the Freedom Theatre in the Jenin Refugee Camp noted the paramount importance of adaptability and an awareness of the environment in which you are operating; ‘[i]t is important to be flexible and to have cultural awareness; the most technically competent individuals can be completely ineffective in a development context because of a lack of cultural sensitivity.’ For Peter, adapting meant effectively making use of the magic of Google translate in an Arabic-speaking country where his own Arabic was non-existent, earning him an invitation to dine at the home of the local coffee-stall owner; ‘I learnt so much about the local culture.’

Many lucky members have had the opportunity to work in some stunning locations and we have heard with delight (and admittedly a touch of envy) about some of the incredible landscapes and locations in which they have worked. Donald Boag was placed with Frankfurt Zoological society in 2011 and has since remained in the midst of the Serengeti where he works as the Head of Finance and Administration. Donald and his wife Carole wrote a three-part blog series for us back in 2015 about their life in one of Africa’s most beautiful national parks in which they detailed their experiences of witnessing the annual migration of the gnu, watching the enchanting moment where the animals of the park gathered together at the watering hole, and their struggle with a ‘massive hairy baboon’ with a penchant for peanut butter who frequented their home to steal their fruits and vegetables. In 2017, Louise O’Rourke reported back from Papua New Guinea after finishing a three-week placement with Mission Aviation Fellowship to tell us how she had spent her time flying across the mountains of PNG to remote island locations to deliver finance consultancy. For other members, simply moving from the pubic or the private sector to the NGO sector has been a joy in itself. Juliette Webb, who joined in 2017 wrote of how she was enjoying being part of the international NGO BRAC UK; ‘it might sound like the conventional response [but]… knowing that you are contributing to an organisation that is helping to save lives is a great feeling even if it is just a drop in the ocean.’

 

Above Left: Flamingoes in the watering hole in the Serengeti National Park, captured by member Donald Boag. Above Right: the dramatic landscape of Papua New Guinea as encountered by member Louise O'Rourke.

Of course, not all placements have been easy and working in the NGO sector has its frustrations. We have been impressed with the resilience of our members who have endured frequent losses of power, managed with little resources or unstable infrastructure, operated in insecure environments or coordinated diverse finance teams across multiple countries, time zones or even calendars. No doubt, some members have thrived working in these challenging circumstances. Graham Throup noted how some of his most interesting assignments had involved uncovering and investigating fraud; ‘it was interesting to see the process of how fraud is actually discovered, gathering the evidence and then proving it. I was effectively working undercover!’

Nevertheless, one of the perks for the recruitment team through the years has been watching our members flourish as they develop their skills and take advantage of new opportunities. Cathrine Meda noted how her placement with the Sabre Charitable Trust in Ghana had been ‘a great opportunity for me to showcase my internal controls and design skills and I’ve also had the opportunity to train staff… I pride myself on being able to demystify finance.’ Christina Mangunda who recently started with the British Red Cross in Sierra Leone noted how her new role presented her with the chance to get stuck into mentoring and coaching the local staff; ‘I’m glad to have the opportunity to impart knowledge and to see people grow.’

Left: Member Louise O'Rourke (second from left) on the field in Papua New Guinea with Mission Aviation Fellowship.

Other members who found themselves thrown in at the deep end found that they were soon able to swim. Debbie Lerner worked as a short-term Financial Controller for Afripads during 2016 in what was both her first Mango placement and her first time working in a developing country context. She admitted that she had her apprehensions at the beginning of the assignment about the significance of changing continents and sectors; ‘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… I quickly found myself immersed… The placement was certainly challenging but I had incredible support from the board as well as the directors… I’ve never wanted to get up and go to work more than those past few months.’ Even seasoned professionals have reported that their register membership has helped them to develop. Ian Barry, who has been placed by Mango five times since joining back in 2005, noted that being on the register has definitely given his ‘additional confidence’ as well as helping him to strengthen his consultancy skills; ‘I’ve learnt how to work to tight deadlines, to deliver very specific deliverables, to be precise and to let organisations know exactly what you will do and how you are going to measure it.’ Simply being part of the register has given people an extra boost. Richard Abraham, who was placed four times by Mango before joining our own team in 2015 pointed to the selectivity of the Register; ‘potential employers know you are good quality, so the register provides benefits to candidates as well as benefits to employers.’ Aderemi Sotunbo, now serving as the Director of Finance and Administration of the Life and Peace Institute in Sweden, agreed that joining the register had given him a new confidence; ‘the recruitment process is tough and through, even from the admission process – once you are a register member, you know you are worth the onions!’

Right: Juliette Webb enjoying a walk with her team from BRAC on a visit to their projects in Bangladesh. 

After a catalogue of placements and hundreds of years of combined experience, our members are now well placed to give some helpful career advice of their own. “It’s important not to over-commit yourself,’ Ian Barry advises, ‘because you want to ensure that you are delivering a quality service to those you are working for.’ Richard Abraham encouraged people to be proactive in their search for their perfect role; ‘often people can stay in jobs for too long whilst there are plenty of jobs out there. It’s good to challenge yourself; there’s no need to sit and wait.’ We’re happy to hear that after nearly twenty years our members old and new are still enjoying the triumphs and challenges of their placements across the world. Serial consultant Graham Throup reassured us that he was ‘looking forward to solving the next problem and to visiting the next country. I’m looking forward to the next phone call! It’s been fascinating!’ How fascinating it has also been for the recruitment team to share the journeys of our 1000 members over the years. It has been a privilege to be part of this diverse and talented community. 

To learn more about becoming a member of our Register of Finance Professionals, click here.

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