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Why getting involved can make a real difference

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Published: 12 Mar 2021

With District Society AGMs just around the corner, this is a great time to find out more about your local member group and to get involved with your committee. We spoke to some members who’ve already taken that step - and explored the many ways that they – and their fellow members – have benefited from their involvement.

Joining a local District Society committee is a great way to help shape the future of the profession by getting more closely involved with your institute. The committee acts as a conduit for two-way exchange of information between ICAEW and its members locally; volunteers play a pivotal role in providing insight into the challenges and opportunities for business and the profession itself.

The benefits of getting involved do though flow both ways. From developing new skills, to making invaluable connections and raising your profile, you may be surprised by the ways that joining your local committee can benefit you, both personally and professionally.

What’s involved?

Most committees meet between six and eight times a year. Historically, these have been physical meetings, but COVID-19 restrictions have seen them move online. It is anticipated that virtual (or semi-virtual) meetings are likely to become the norm for many District Societies going forward, as it enables members who may not have previously been able to participate, perhaps due to geographical, work or time constraints, to get involved and to support their local fellow members

Working with ICAEW, committee members help shape local activities and take the lead on various initiatives, such as championing the needs of local members and key ICAEW strategic issues, such as diversity & inclusion and sustainability.

Depending on your level of involvement, you’ll typically only need to spend a few hours a month volunteering. As Stelios Kornaros, Deputy President for ICAEW Scotland, explains it’s an investment that can pay huge dividends: “Being involved in the committee is nothing but positive – the time commitment isn’t significant and the opportunities to meet fellow accountants and gain fresh perspectives far outweigh anything else.”

Making connections

This opportunity to meet fellow professionals, explore new opportunities and make connections that may not otherwise have been possible is a huge plus for many committee members.

Like the profession itself, District Societies and local committees are made up of members from a wide range of backgrounds and sectors. “In Scotland, we have quite a diverse committee – it’s not what people might expect a ‘typical’ committee to be like – among the group are people from across very different sectors, from practices large & small, from across industry, and public sector and charities. Because it’s made up of people of all ages and from different backgrounds, our committee has a diverse range of views, ideas and ambitions,” says Stelios.

This can translate into a great opportunity for members to broaden their personal and professional networks. ICAEW East Anglia President, Gareth John, says that his involvement has helped expand his contacts: “It’s had a positive impact on my personal and professional networks – being on the committee and being involved in events means that I’ve got to know more members from different organisations and sectors than I would normally have the opportunity to connect with. These connections are, obviously, beneficial at work – as we all know, especially in business, it’s often as much about who you know, as it is about what you know and knowing who has expertise in certain areas can make a real difference.”

Connecting with new people can also help you achieve a fresh perspective. “We often find ourselves bogged down with work, so it’s good to interact with other members of the institute and get an idea of the profession as people who work in different industries experience it,” says Stelios, who has embraced the opportunity to share experiences with fellow members. “It’s a great chance to help each other, network with new people from different sectors and in different roles, and to exchange ideas,” he says.

Julian Daly, President of ICAEW Beds, Bucks & Herts, agrees that the connections that he’s made since joining his local committee have given him invaluable insights into what the business world is doing from a broader perspective than he would normally have. From a professional point of view, he cites the chance to connect with fellow ICAEW members from a range of sectors as a huge plus: “In my ‘day job’, it’s good to have a feel of what’s going on and the economy, and – for me – there’s no better way to get those insights than talking accountant to accountant.”

Expand your horizons, build your brand

Playing an active role in local activities has also been a great opportunity for Julian to network and raise his personal profile within the wider business community – one example being a large scale virtual event to promote ICAEW’s quarterly Business Confidence Monitor (BCM) which was organised in partnership with two neighbouring District Societies (East of England and South Essex) and which attracted around 320 online delegates. “Things like that put you, your personal brand and ICAEW in front of a lot of people,” says Julian. “It’s a great way to improve your knowledge of the profession and to broaden your horizons.”

Gareth agrees wholeheartedly: “Being part of the committee has had a transformational impact on my relationship with ICAEW and has served as a springboard into various other roles and activities. Saying ‘yes’ to opportunities like this opens the door to so many things. I’ve met many new people – both from within our profession and beyond – and benefited from being able to embrace new experiences.”

Hone your skills

It’s not just the opportunity to connect with fellow professionals and extend your professional network that could benefit you. Getting involved with your local committee cannot only enhance your CV, but it’s also a great way to develop new skills.

Stelios cites the opportunity to develop soft skills, such as presentation skills, as one of the benefits of being part of the ICAEW Scotland committee. He explains that working with such a diverse group of fellow professionals also means that he has learned how to be more adaptable and how to hold his own and build his confidence during discussions. It has also helped hone his creative and communication skills: “Being on the committee means having to express yourself and share your ideas with people from different backgrounds, as well as develop new ideas and explore ways to improve things,” he says.

Wherever you are in your career, the skills and connections you can gain by getting involved can really be beneficial for those starting out, it’s a great way to build a wider network, boost you confidence and acquire skills, such as chairing meetings, which may not be part of your day-to-day remit.

“It’s a good way for newly qualified members and those in the early stages of their careers to see more of the profession and connect with people beyond their workplace,” says Stelios.

At the other end of the spectrum, for those members more experienced in their careers and who may be planning to volunteer as board members or are looking to take NED roles, it’s a great opportunity to gain additional experience and enhance the skills that many organisations and charities are looking for when considering appointments to such roles..

Take the plunge

Joining an existing and established group can be a daunting prospect, but Gareth’s main advice for anyone thinking of getting involved is don’t be nervous, as you’ll be supported by a welcoming and very capable committee.

“It’s a great opportunity to challenge yourself and see what you are capable of. The more in life that you push yourself out of your comfort zone, the more you’ll succeed and achieve things you can be truly proud of,” he says.

In addition to support from those already involved at a local level, if you decide to take an active volunteer role with your District Society, you’ll also be supported by ICAEW, including through a programme of personal development courses. These courses, run with peers, cover the essential ‘soft skills’, including chairing meetings and effective presentation & public speaking; all designed to help equip members for active roles on the District Society committee

Final thoughts

As our conversation draws to a close, Julian reflects on a recent discussion he had with ICAEW Beds, Bucks & Herts Vice President, Lucy Ghawss, about the personal benefits of being actively involved with your local District Society in terms of promoting your personal profile alongside that of the profession. “It’s more than networking – it does raise your personal professional profile, which of course can benefit your business, but it also raises your reputation and that of our profession.”

It’s a view echoed by Stelios: “Give it a go – you have nothing to lose by getting involved; my own experience has been nothing but positive and I’d say being part of your local committee is something that anyone who wants to have an impact beyond work should consider. It’s also a great chance to shape what we do.”

Gareth, meanwhile, has one regret when it comes to getting involved with his committee – he didn’t do it sooner: “I wish I’d done it years ago,” he says. “I’m actually quite envious of the younger volunteers I meet in other parts of the country, as their involvement will have a greater impact on their career at an earlier stage.”