From teaching maths to tracking finances: How Akiko was inspired to use her skills to help change the world
Meet Akiko Hasegawa, Donor Reporting and Partnerships Specialist at UNDP Headquarters in New York (*), who shares with us how volunteering as a teacher in Vietnam inspired her to pursue a career in sustainable development.
My passion for working towards sustainable development was cultivated in a small school in Vietnam back in 2008. Serving as an international volunteer for an NGO there, I supported the operation of the school and taught children basic math and English skills.
The NGO provided after-school activity classes for those who lived in temporary settlements since they were able to attend only a part of the class at the elementary school due to their economic situation. Seeing their joy from learning, with a pure mind and fully motivated, made me realize how their inability to go to school had nothing to do with their competence but everything to do with the socio-economic situation they found themselves in.
Seeing the world through a different lens
Born and raised in Japan, and with the support of my family, I fortunately never had to worry about whether or not I could receive an education. However, my experience in Vietnam opened my eyes to the fact that this kind of situation was a reality for many countries all across the world. I believe that, regardless of the socio-economic environment, everyone should have an opportunity to develop to their full potential and have a chance to lead lives they value. And it was this belief that motivated me to pursue a career in sustainable development. I was determined to leverage my expertise and experience to help improve the vulnerable situations in which human beings all around the world find themselves.
I spent the next eight years working in the private sector, at management advisory and accounting firms, hoping to gain necessary professional experiences in business and finance. But I made a promise to myself to not forget my passion to contribute to sustainable development. This drove me to finally head to the United States, where I studied for my master’s, majoring in international development and business.
Ever since my experience in Vietnam, working for the UN was a career I was passionate about pursuing. Although it was not easy to find a job opportunity at first, my experience in business and finance in the private sector is what opened up a door for me with the UN family. And now here I find myself, working for UNDP’s Finance Department at Headquarters. I started as a Programme Analyst and then became Specialist/Manager for Donor Reporting and Partnerships in the same Department.
Adding value behind the scenes
Although I don’t have many opportunities to visit the beneficiaries we serve or observe the project sites like colleagues in the Country Office do, I know that my role is vital. Through my support, and the support of my department, I am confident that colleagues who are working in the field are able to deliver the result in a more efficient and effective manner while ensuring financial sustainability.
While I have worked on many aspects within the finance department so far, currently, my responsibilities lie with the Donor Reporting and Partnerships team. I am primarily responsible for the reporting and analysis of UNDP’s financial data to our funding partners, including the design, development and effective implementation of corporate reports. These reports help maintain transparency and accountability with our funding partners.
When the global pandemic struck in early 2020, UNDP successfully deployed funding, through the re-programming of its portfolio, to provide immediate support to vulnerable countries, helping them prepare, respond, and recover from the devastating effect of COVID-19. My role involved helping provide a preliminary analysis to senior management as well as expanding our operating platform, ensuring the financial resources dedicated to the crisis response could be easily tracked with the relevant information. In addition, during the pandemic, I led the team to issue UNDP’s annual Certified Financial Reports to funding partners electronically, digitizing business processes and reducing carbon footprint, which was done for the first time in UNDP.
By keeping our funding partners in the loop, we ensure UNDP maintains a technically strong, professional, and credible image in the area of financial management, and that we can continue to collaborate with funding partners to advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
So, while I may not be that close to the beneficiaries, I am able to contribute meaningfully to the mandate of UNDP and I really see the value of my work, helping accelerate the delivery of projects and programmes out in the field and throughout the world.
(*) Editor’s note: The title and contents are from the time when the interview was conducted, Akiko started 3 months ago her new assignment in a UNDP Country Office as Finance Specialist — her journey to contribute to sustainable development continues…!