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Making a difference

I studied for my CIMA exams when I worked for local government in Wexford, Ireland, as I thought this would be ideal for working overseas in the development sector.

I began working for the Irish humanitarian organisation GOAL in 2003 in Kosovo, followed by roles in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa.

In 35 years, GOAL has spent more than €720m on humanitarian programmes across more than 50 countries, employing more than 2,800 international staff and thousands of local staff.

In 2009, I was offered the role of country director, India, working in Kolkata, where the organisation was formed in 1977 in response to a major famine.

GOAL has since expanded into West Bengal, working with local organisations in rural and urban relief, rehabilitation and development.

GOAL has an integrated programme to improve access to education, healthcare and livelihoods, with a strong focus on children, and to improve empowerment and protection.

The Indian government has many schemes for the poor, but access is a key problem. GOAL, in liaison with local authorities, creates awareness and helps communities to access their entitlements, such as schooling.

It provides infrastructure as part of its support, including the rehabilitation of rural schools and the provision of water and sanitation facilities – with a focus on girls’ schools in Kolkata.

It also provides guidance on how to raise hygiene standards, and builds health and education centres for children and adolescents in the notorious brick kilns and municipal dumps.

Children get the opportunity to learn how to read and write, as well as other skills that may give them better work opportunities. We also help vulnerable families in North and West Bengal who rely on forestry and tea estates for their income.

Many of these estates are closing down, leaving the families struggling to survive.

As a result, these families are often targeted by labour traffickers, who claim to offer work in the city for their children, but force them into prostitution or domestic positions where they can be abused and exploited. Many are never seen or heard from by their families again.

Just before I arrived, GOAL in Kolkata had carried out a baseline survey on the geographical locations we worked in, to make sure the integrated programme was based on a needs assessment.

A mid-term evaluation was conducted after 18 months, which included an area where we didn’t work, to ascertain the success or otherwise of the programme and to take key findings on board for the remainder of the five-year strategic plan.

The evaluation showed a marked improvement in the health and education status of communities. It also showed that the design of our “livelihood programme” required more attention.

Ongoing monitoring and evaluation are crucial to ensure that the programme design and delivery meet the needs of the target communities and achieve the desired results.

We also instigated the Community-led Total Sanitation project to address the considerable improvements needed in the areas where we worked.

One of the biggest benefits of gaining the CIMA qualification was the strong emphasis it has on overall management, which enabled me to coordinate budgeting and programme planning with my team and partner organisations.

Organisations in the development sector are not always good at the “coordination” angle of the finance and programme components.

This can result in poor decision-making or delays in taking corrective action, leading to overspends. It can also lead to underspends, which mean returning money to donors. This is equally problematic and undesirable.
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Photo: Corbis


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