Part 1: The Story of Haystack and the African Accounting Academy

Life moves fast. During the COVID-19 pandemic, some weeks have gone by in the blink of an eye, while others have felt like they’ve lasted an eternity. The pace of life has definitely slowed down for me and gave me the opportunity to spend some time reflecting on my time spent in East Africa.

It’s hard to believe it’s already been 8 months since moving back to Toronto. After 2 years working in Rwanda and across East Africa, the time seemed right – both professionally and personally – to come home. Although my time in the land of a thousand hills wrapped up months ago, it’s still a bittersweet feeling that’s hard to put into words. Rwanda is a beautiful country. The landscape is stunning, the weather is perfect (25 degrees every day), the people are warm and welcoming, and I’ve made some lifelong friends.

Looking back on the past 2 years, FinanceYOU has provided expertise to over 10 companies and organizations in a consulting capacity, worked directly with over 100 accountants, and trained over 500 students across 8 countries enrolled in our online course on our Haystack platform (a number that’s still growing every day!). To top it off, we were instrumental in finding more than 50 employment opportunities for our students and graduates.

I’ve shared this story with many but never spent the time to document our key learnings along the way. Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing the story of how we founded the African Accounting Academy, bootstrapped the development of an e-learning platform, and onboarded our first students, as well as discussing the challenges we faced along the way.

The Beginnings

1 in 200 Canadians are CPAs. 1 in 30,000 Rwandans are CPAs. Stark differences. This is the stat we always reflect back on to demonstrate the magnitude of the problem.

Back in 2016, after Erin Godard’s short stint volunteering in Rwanda, she quickly realized that there was an immense and unfilled talent gap in the accounting industry. That led to the founding of FinanceYOU, an organization providing finance consulting services and professional development training to companies in Rwanda using a B2B model.  We both moved to Kigali to live there full-time in October 2017.

We quickly learned that the B2B model would be ineffective because there was a bigger problem that needed to be addressed. The tertiary education system does not prepare graduates for professional roles.  Our newfound mission was to create an environment that trains the next generation of accountants and finance leaders in the region. You can read more about my reflecting of my first 3 months in Kigali here.

Accounting is not rocket science. Assets = Liabilities + Equity. Debits must equal credits. These are simple rules that, in our opinion, shouldn’t be difficult to teach. Our thinking was that if short, immersive coding boot camps have been proven to work, why not accounting boot camps?

In January 2018, we mapped out a curriculum for a 4-week immersive accounting boot camp. Over the next 5 months, we juggled our money-making work (i.e. consulted with clients) and drafted the first iteration of what we decided to call the African Accounting Academy.

Those 5 months were filled with doubt and a fair share of highs and lows as we constantly second-guessed ourselves. Would this garner enough interest? Would people be willing to pay, even just $10? We weren’t affiliated with a university or a large NGO. Neither did we have a budget comparable to some of the other training programs available, and which are often provided for free. However, what we did have was the confidence that we could build a program that was leaps and bounds ahead of what was currently available for accountants in the region.

In my next post, I dive in how we developed the content and piloted our bootcamp with students!

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