Caleb Jenkins of RLJ Financial Services brings his accounting skills and generosity to Haiti
IMGCAP(3)] As the world becomes more interconnected and firms adopt a global mindset, there’s a growing trend to expand accounting services—be they in charity or business—to new and developing markets. Firms of all sizes are getting more involved with bringing their professional knowledge and services to developing countries—programs such as EY’s Earthwatch Ambassadors and Deloitte’s Global Internship Program, to name just a couple. However, it doesn't necessarily take a Big Four firm to make a global impact in the accounting profession.
Caleb Jenkins, staff accountant at RLJ Financial Services in Ceres, Calif., has been working with Christian Aid Ministries to set up QuickBooks for its SALT Microfinance Solutions program in Haiti. SALT, an acronym for “Shared Accountability, Lending, and Teaching,” reaches out to developing countries by teaching about microloans, savings groups and agricultural programs.
“I’ve always [wanted] to use my skills to benefit others, outside of the United States business context, who need that type of service and don’t have the capabilities or resources to pay,” says Jenkins. “They don’t have any background or teaching to get themselves off the ground, basically. That’s what got me excited.”
Notably, Jenkins was named the youngest Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor in the global ProAdvisor Program. At the Scaling New Heights 2016 conference, he was also named a Top 10 QuickBooks ProAdvisor and recognized as the Top Up-N-Comer ProAdvisor.
Jenkins' project in Haiti saw him travel to the country five times in the last three years (with another trip scheduled for the end of August) primarily working in Port-au-Prince, Titanyen and Petit-Goave. In addition to Haiti, the ministry does similar work in Ghana, Honduras, Nigeria, Ukraine and Nicaragua.
In Haiti, Jenkins built and maintained the accounting system for SALT's microfinance program, setting up its QuickBooks system over the course of multiple trips.
“The first couple trips were to learn about the program [and] their needs [to] get a grasp of what the program does," he says. "The second trip was focused on getting them set up with QuickBooks and integrating it with their loan software that they built so they don’t have to double their information and integrate it with other solutions that they’re doing. The third and fourth trips have [involved] going down and reviewing everything and shifting to teaching individual beneficiaries of the SALT program, reviewing what’s going on and making sure the staff[ing] is continual.”
The SALT microfinance program focuses on teaching essential business principles, such as budgeting, saving and business planning. “We primarily teach the loan officers [and] hold meetings with the people getting the loans. Then they go out to teach the clients of the programs,” says Jenkins. “I really enjoy that part of it—just being able to pass on any intellectual capital that we have to them and basically helping them with their businesses.”
The trips aren’t without their challenges, though, as developing countries are still gaining their footing in the modern business landscape.
“Probably the biggest challenge for me is the consistent lack of Internet down there,” says Jenkins. “I'll remote it in a couple times a year and be kicked off half an hour into the call. Or they won’t have Internet for two weeks because the power company pulled the power. The ministry I’m working with has the best Internet and power available down there, [but] it’s a little bit frustrating.”
“The other thing, on the accounting side, is that all the workflows, all the processes they have in place, that people don’t forget various things or miss procedures on accounting," he adds. "That’s been one of the challenges.”
Jenkins says the ministry also focuses on familial issues, which is just as important in retaining financial independence and success as the more technical aspects they cover: “A lot of people in Haiti have no basic family structure, so that interrupts their business life, which leads to lack of finances and more disruption. The loan [knowledge] is important, but without [the family knowledge], they just stay in the same cycle they’ve been in in the past. They don’t necessarily break free from the past generation of teaching. So when we go out and teach them a new way—a better way—than what they’re doing now, it’s liberating to them to start a different pattern than they’ve been taught in the past.”
Jenkins recalls meeting a woman in Haiti in her mid-30s. She obtained a loan of about $150 while making $1.50-$2.00 a day—not enough to provide food for her family. After the loan cycle of approximately 18 months, she was making approximately $15-$20 a day, which was enough to provide clothing, food and shelter that she and her family needed. She was able to use leftover money to provide for her children’s education and medical needs for her parents.
“[It] helped her out of her basic poverty and to reach out to those around her with the resources she now has," says Jenkins. "It’s what these types of programs can do...to help others in their poverty or extreme needs.”
For those looking to get involved in similar endeavors, Jenkins suggests professionals should be given more freedom to achieve their charitable goals.
“I would just encourage [companies to] implement a program to enable their staff to get involved and make a difference around the world—whatever that may be—just enabling them to make their own personal mission to fulfill their own personal vision and whatever type of program they get involved with.”
Jenkins also recommends having the right mindset. “You have to have a heart to help others; that’s the first thing,” he says. “If you don’t have that heart to help, then it just becomes another form of work, a different flavor of work. There’s a Bible verse: 'I was a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched out.' Basically, if you see a problem, find the cause—find the real problem and you’ll find the solution for that problem. Look for those problems to solve, and when you find those problems, get involved and do what you can to fix them.”
Caleb Jenkins is just one entry in our ongoing series on intriguing accounting professionals. If you have a submission that we should know about, email email@example.com.
Other entries include: