From Calgary to Zanzibar: accounting education abroad

From Calgary to Zanzibar: accounting education abroad

This article appeared in the Fall/Winter 2018 issues of Dividends | By Ginny Ao | Photo supplied

When one pictures a typical university accounting course, one imagines a large, indoor classroom with students taking notes as the instructor explains concepts. However, one Alberta accounting instructor has decided to think outside of the box and ask: are there other ways we can educate students to help them develop skills needed in the real world?

This question is what Fiaz Merani CPA, CMA, instructor at the School of Business, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), is seeking to answer through the Business beyond Borders program. This program takes students out of the traditional post-secondary classroom and challenges them to apply their knowledge in an international setting while also learning about philanthropy and goodwill.

“We teach things in the classroom—things that are theoretical in nature—and then offer students an opportunity to integrate this knowledge with practical field experience,” says Fiaz. “Going abroad and immersing in a different country and environment allows students to learn in a holistic way, while, at the same time, helping not-for-profit organizations.”

With support from the SAIT School of Business and the CPA Education Foundation, Fiaz received funding for the inaugural trip to Belize in 2017 with two accounting students. In July 2018, Fiaz received additional funds to spearhead another trip abroad—this time over 14,000 kilometers away to Zanzibar, Africa with fellow SAIT instructor, Abidemi Akinloye CPA, CGA.

“There are certain key competencies [that CPAs must possess]: resilience, adaptability, and innovation,” says Abidemi. “We are teaching these skills both in and out of the classroom and challenging students to apply them in a different environment.”

Over five weeks, their team of four SAIT students, Pei-Chien Liao, Brennan Shannon, Jesse Wicks, and Romeo Galeos, were on a mission to apply their classroom knowledge and make a difference in a community. The team travelled in staggered teams to work with a local not-for-profit organization, Zanzibar Learning 4 Life Foundation.

The Zanzibar Learning 4 Life Foundation helps young people by providing them with life skills education and micro-finance services. The organization offers education, including vocational training, to prepare students and youths for finding jobs or setting up their own small business.

The SAIT team provided valuable business training and mentorship advice. “Each day we would go to the organization to teach the youth basic skills. These were simple things like business and entrepreneurship basics. We would answer questions like, ‘Why would you go into business? What are you trying to achieve? How would you market this?’” says Fiaz.

“We also offered one-on-one consultations with existing business owners,” Abidemi adds. “We would give advice on sustainable environment practices or evaluate existing business practices. We looked at their business from a practical approach and gave recommendations.” In one particular case, Abidemi and his team provided suggestions to Yusuf, a budding entrepreneur, to expand a grocery delivery service to home owners and local restaurants. The team also helped him establish sound business procedures and tight accounting controls.

This experience has had a positive and meaningful effect on the students as they contemplate their future in the profession.

“Some of the richest learning and development doesn’t come from a classroom, but how you apply what you have learned,” says Brennan. “It has given me perspective that will allow me to use my future opportunities and experiences as building blocks on my road to achieving my CPA.”

Volunteering internationally was an opportunity for business students to gain a global perspective and build their skills. Stepping outside of their comfort zone allowed the participants to face new challenges not offered in the traditional avenues.

“I was able to share the knowledge I gained from my education at SAIT with local entrepreneurs,” says Pei-Chien.

With the success of another trip abroad, Fiaz and Abidemi are looking ahead to 2019: the CPA Education Foundation and SAIT are supporting the international program for a third year in a row. With this additional funding—and potentially more in the future—Fiaz and Abidemi are eager to offer the Business beyond Borders program to more accounting students and help more communities around the globe.

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