In this edition of our In the Spotlight series, which shines a light on different members of the Globethics.net team and their role in driving our mission, we interview Finance Officer Dorothy Kwelu. Dorothy, who is originally from Kenya but now works at Globethics.net Head Office in Geneva, Switzerland, tells Communications Assistant Josie Hough all about her passion for learning and teaching, the importance of ethics and her role at Globethics.net, and why we don’t need to be afraid of numbers.
Josie Hough (JH): Thank you, Dorothy, for taking the time to talk to me today. I know it has been a busy few weeks for you with the annual audit recently wrapping up! I hope you managed to have a relaxing weekend, at least?
Dorothy Kwelu (DK): Actually, I have an exam coming up soon, so I haven’t yet had time for a break! I’m studying for the last papers of the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) qualification. I self-study, and it will be my first online exam. I’ve only ever done paper exams before, but with the pandemic, I have ended up having to do the online one, so I’m a little apprehensive.
JH: That’s great - I am always so inspired by people studying alongside their full-time work. It is such a commitment alongside everything else you have in your life, your family, and so on.
DK: It is a commitment, but it works for me. My friends always joke that I am always studying something new or sitting an exam. When I don't have anything else going on, I get bored! When I finish this qualification, I will probably learn something new afterwards - perhaps German, or perfecting my French.
JH: I have to say, I’m the same when it comes to languages. I’m always trying my hand at learning a new language!
DK: I really wish I had an aptitude for languages. Something I find incredible is how missionaries would learn completely new languages in the areas they moved to, to the extent that they could preach to and communicate with people there, in just a few years. This motivates and challenges me to perfect my own language skills!
JH: Certainly amazing how people could achieve that level of communication, and I would love to have that ability too. These days it’s hard to imagine travelling anywhere without Google Translate as backup!
DK: I think we do have the ability to reach that level too, we just need to push ourselves.
JH: You’re probably right! So, would you say that learning new things is something that motivates you in your role at Globethics.net?
DK: Absolutely, learning new things motivates me. It’s something that has brought me to my role here.
JH: What is your background, and how did it lead you to Globethics.net?
DK: I worked for just over 15 years in the commercial sector, but I always wanted to work in a not-for-profit organisation. I had long looked for an opportunity to work for something I believed in, work somewhere that wasn’t just for profit. Globethics.net did that for me.
I came into the organisation as an intern, despite my experience. Sitting in my interview, Obiora [Ike, Executive Director] just looked at my CV and my certificates, and immediately said yes to hiring me as an intern. Within a month or two of my internship, they realised I was qualified and gave me a contract as Finance Officer. I’m so grateful for doing this internship as a way to get my foot in the door of non-profit work. It is a challenging sector to break into for someone from the corporate world and particularly from the oil industry!
JH: What has your experience been as Finance Officer at Globethics.net? What are the opportunities and challenges you have faced, especially in contrast to your background in the private sector?
DK: Being Finance Officer at Globethics.net has been very interesting, and very different to my previous roles. In a large, corporate environment, you specialise in one area. If you work on payables, you just work on payables etc. In contrast, at Globethics.net, it’s a one-[wo]man show. I see not only the bigger picture but my role covers all aspects of finance and accounting here. I remember the first time I did the annual audit, looking at our audited set of accounts was beautiful - like bringing forth a baby. You put all your work into it and in the end, you get something that is 100% you. I doubt that I would want to go back to the big corporate sector.
JH: What a great analogy! Having so many aspects to your role must keep things interesting. What do you see as your biggest achievement or most impactful activity since being with Globethics.net?
DK: My first audit experience was definitely a memorable and meaningful achievement! Equally, through my role, I have had the opportunity to move Globethics.net’s internal control system away from what it was, a small, very basic document, and to develop policies to improve our working practices. This is an ongoing process and an impactful one. I am constantly looking at where we can improve, where we have gaps, speaking with people from other organisations to get ideas of best practices. I think we have huge room for growth. In fact, as the Global Ethics Network, we could be leading the way as the standard for ethics in accounting and finance.
JH: That’s excellent motivation for constant learning and improvement! Your role at Globethics.net is so interesting because it is at the same time behind the scenes and an important driver in making sure we are ethical. Finance and accounting are key in ensuring we practise what we preach. That must be a lot of pressure.
DK: Something I learned from a manager at my first job was to think about what keeps you up at night, what could go wrong. It can be a lot of pressure, but I look at it like this: what could happen, and how can I prevent it from going wrong? It keeps me on my toes!
JH: I’m sure it does. Would you say that you have a routine workday, week or month, then? What is that like?
DK: Yes and no. Accounting may not seem exciting, it is definitely cyclic and predictable. This is a good thing for me. It means I know what I’m doing on each day of each month. It’s a cycle: these reports are always ready on this day, the minute I receive an invoice, I start that process, and so on. No surprises in accounting is a good thing.
It’s the finance part that makes it exciting - that’s what keeps me up at night thinking about what could go wrong! Sometimes I really can’t sleep at night, then I go and speak to Lucy [Howe López, Deputy Executive Director] in the morning and we work out what can be done. That’s how I come up with new procedures and internal controls as well, look at how we can grow, how we can pursue sustainability. What happens if a donor cannot finance us, for example. This side of my role spices up the routine. I have the room to explore new opportunities, replicate, learn and innovate.
JH: Is this something that stands out for you as a specific feature of Globethics.net, the support, the space to innovate?
DK: Definitely. I know I can speak to Lucy about any concerns, use her as a sounding board without being judged, so that we can then work towards a solution together. In other organisations, particularly in the corporate sector, you’re often apprehensive about exposing your vulnerabilities. In some environments, doing so can be used against you, but here at Globethics.net, it only helps in finding a solution to a potential problem.
The fact that Globethics.net is a learning institution in so many ways makes it unique. It is a free working space, and the opportunity to learn and innovate is one of our strong points. There is always room for new ideas, management is willing to listen to and explore these ideas. Learning is encouraged.
You know, my greatest passion is actually teaching. Originally, I wanted to teach accounting but ended up working as an accountant by default. I have always enjoyed teaching and mentoring, sharing a common understanding with other people. I even did this with young auditors in my previous roles, sharing my knowledge with them, explaining how our systems work. I think that’s why I struggled in the corporate sector, because you really need to hold on to your competitive advantage there. I like to share knowledge. When other people know and understand what you do, then they can contribute to the learning and innovation.
Finance and accounting are such mystified roles. People are afraid of so many numbers. But in my eyes, we’re just telling a story using numbers instead of words.
JH: Do you see yourself teaching in the future?
DK: I actually do teach now, but not accounting. I teach young people between 12 and 17 years old life skills and Christian values as part of the “Pathfinder movement”. So I never really stopped teaching. But maybe I’d enjoy teaching accounting in the future.
JH: Ethics in higher education is Globethics.net’s core mission. Why is this important for you, how does ethics matter in your role?
DK: In education, just like in accounting and finance, anything and everything could go wrong. Stories - whether those told through numbers, or those told through words - can easily be manipulated - like with Enron, or with Credit Suisse - and that’s why ethics is so important. Accounting is a role that is developed over time through training. It’s during this formative period that you can identify loopholes to explore. This is particularly the case with tax. Tax evasion remains huge, but as an ethical accountant, you would look for tax avoidance, not tax evasion. Tax avoidance is legal AND ethical. It means looking at what alternatives can be legally pursued. That could mean buying something cheaper, smaller, different - you ask yourself, how do I find the solution to my issue legally and still get the right fit for the organisation?
JH: That’s where that learning and innovation comes in again! Thank you, Dorothy, for giving such an interesting perspective of finance and accounting and of the importance of your role at Globethics.net. I’ve learnt a lot! Any final words to share?
DK: Just that there is really no need to be afraid of numbers. Numbers don’t lie, it is the stories behind them that may be manipulated, and that’s where our ethics must drive our actions.