As Senior Director, Finance and Operations Europe for the International Rescue Committee, Naima Siddiqi makes the decisions that have a direct impact on the charity’s ability to provide humanitarian relief. Words by Penelope Rance.
Has accountancy lived up to your expectations as a career?
Absolutely. I trained in corporate finance, and at a relatively early stage was working with very senior people on strategic transactions, doing finance ratings, buying and selling businesses, setting up investment funds and advising on venture agreements. It was a privilege to be getting that strategic level of experience and having detailed discussions with those in charge of the direction of their organisations.
How did you move into the third sector?
I did a part-time master’s degree in international human rights and humanitarian law. I also had a child during that time. After I finished the master’s, I realised that I didn’t want to keep working on projects where I completed the work and moved on. I wanted to see projects through from the inside. The organisation I joined had to have more than traditional, narrowly focused shareholder value at its heart. So I looked at the NGO sector and went to Age UK Enterprises as Head of Finance. It was eye-opening – it was a corporate entity at the heart of a charity, making profits that were all going towards its charitable purpose.
What has kept you in the NGO sector?
Being able to use my financial skills and commercial background with the end goal of helping someone. We’re helping the people most in need, ensuring that the money is being spent in the field for people who have been put in a situation which is incomprehensible to most of us. Any daily frustrations I have are nothing compared to the ultimate value that I can bring just by doing my job.
What specific challenges do you face?
We’re driven by humanitarian need, so the strategic planning process is essential – otherwise you’re potentially wasting resources. Part of my role is to make sure we are optimising the way we manage our money so there’s more to be spent in the field. Resourcing for my team can be an issue, as understandably the support functions of an NGO aren’t the ones that get the most investment up front.
What advice would you have given yourself at the start of your career?
Be open to all the possibilities but remember it’s not just your career that life throws at you.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned during your career?
You’re always learning – regardless of whether you’ve just qualified or you are a non-executive director with many years at different organisations. Remember that every experience is valuable. You might not feel it at the time, especially if it’s a difficult experience, but everything makes you a more rounded person who can contribute more.
What are your future career ambitions?
I feel like I’m still at the beginning of my career and there is so much more to do. I haven’t lived and worked abroad for a sustained period of time, which is something I would like to pursue. The exposure to different cultural contexts makes you appreciate varying viewpoints, which is especially important in the current political context.
What does the ACA mean to you?
There is a level of pride I have in those letters. It stems from the exams that you have to take, the pain that you need to go through; it has a differentiating quality. There’s also a strong ethical element intrinsic to it, which is key. In my experience, the ACA makes you the gatekeeper of integrity.