Starting as an enumerator with the Monitoring and Evaluation team in 2011 when she was fresh out of college, Irene Khatiala, with the Internal Audit team, is one of our longest-serving colleagues who carries with her valuable institutional knowledge. In this piece, she speaks about her job and experience as a woman in Finance, the highs and lows of her role, and what excites her about the future.
How do you introduce yourself?
My name is Irene Khatiala; I am an internal auditor at One Acre Fund. My job is to assess our business processes and provide assurance to leadership and funders that our organization’s risk management strategies and internal control processes are operating effectively.
How many years have you been working at One Acre Fund?
I’ve been here for 11 years now. I started as a data entry casual with the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) team. For my current role, I started as an Expense auditor in late 2012, then moved to Internal Audit, where I have been since 2015.
How did you get to working in Finance?
I’ve grown into my role — ‘grown’ because I studied applied Statistics in college, not Finance. When I took the data entry job in 2011, I discovered it was easy to apply my statistical knowledge to finance work, including flagging process lapses to build efficiency and accountability.
What does the audit process entail?
We conduct audits in four stages: planning, execution, reporting, and follow-up. An audit scope lets us determine the extent of the work, amount of time, and material we’ll need to carry out an audit project. We also interact with different stakeholders, and department leads to get their buy-in and explain the audit process in this stage. The execution phase is an intense period of activity that entails managing teams, reviewing documents, analyzing information, testing hypotheses, documenting work, and interacting with clients (user departments). Effective audit execution is critical to client satisfaction, sustainability, and our morale and general wellbeing. Our audit reports summarize our expert opinion on whether the client’s internal controls comply with our organization’s policies or industry best practices. In the follow-up phase, we review the implementation of audit recommendations against the agreed timelines and agree on the actions to take to close any pending recommendations.
What are you most proud of about your work and the Finance team?
We didn’t have a properly structured Internal Audit team until 2015. We've done well in entrenching accountability and creating procedural efficiencies for people and departments. We have significantly reduced losses and harmonized our spending habits in relation to our revenue to ensure our long-term sustainability. We have also helped departments come up with policies, including the initial drafts of expense policies. This always makes me proud of my contribution to the Finance accountability functions.
How have you seen our processes change since you started in 2011?
The biggest change for me is reforming our financial transaction processes. In 2011, staff used to queue for cash; that is no longer the case. I’ve seen the organization transition from a cash-based transaction regime to a bank and mobile payment-based model for all expenses. This means that where we collected payments in cash from farmers before and paid suppliers in cash, we now use mobile money and bank payments. Although there was skepticism when we changed our model in Kenya, not only did it work, but it also inspired other countries, such as Tanzania and Rwanda, to embrace mobile money banking.
Two of our clients based in Western Kenya, Everline and Mathew, using their mobile phone to repay their loan.
Tell me about your professional journey: as a woman with a career in the finance industry, what are the key challenges you've faced?
It can be difficult to create a balance between professional and personal goals. Parenting, and the challenges that come with it, is something I carry with me constantly. As a mother to more than one child, I need a little time off every so often, which can feel difficult to explain or justify to my manager. At other times, between needing time off and catching up with work, I can easily miss out on important training on my work. These are not unique to One Acre Fund; they are just the realities of the profession.
How have you overcome such challenges?
I have a supportive manager who understands my needs and encourages a work-life balance. At the same time, I’ve been upfront about my parenting obligations which has allowed a healthy conversation on creating a balance, including utilizing chunks of my ‘Duty of Care’ time. My manager and I also have regular career chats, including creating equitable opportunities for my professional growth.
What message would you like to share with young women or girls beginning their careers in Finance?
There's nothing too difficult for a determined mind. If you have a passion for accounting, auditing, or finance in general, go for it. There are opportunities that make the commitment to mastering your skills worth pursuing. Nothing makes me happier than seeing young girls grow into independent women who excel in their chosen careers.
What projects are you working on or about to start that excite you?
At a personal level, I can’t wait to become a certified public accountant (CPA-K), which is something I am actively pursuing. As a team, we are moving towards auditing processes and teams we’ve never scrutinized before, such as Technology and Innovation. In this regard, we are advocating for auditing projects before they start and comparing our projections with post-project audits. We’d like to get to a point where we can decide with certainty whether to proceed with or abandon a project based on impact predictions or be able to integrate controls along the way. It is an ambitious but practical goal and one that would ensure we get the best return on our investments.