A profession is only as good as the quality of the individuals that make it up and their shared capacity to work and learn together. That is the philosophy that inspired leadership development and coaching experts Joanne Searle CA(SA) and Matt Shelley (a certified master coach with the Institute of Management Consultants and Master Coaches South Africa, IMCSA) of the Sandton Coaching Centre to launch the SAICA mentorship programme in 2017 along with Nazeer Patel CA(SA) and his team at SAICA.
They initiated the programme in response to the need for newly qualified CAs(SA) to receive mentoring, especially in relation to their career paths. In addition, experienced SAICA members had also expressed an interest in offering mentoring, which was a happy coincidence, with many volunteer mentors remembering the challenge of choosing a career path once the single all-consuming goal of achieving CA(SA) status had been achieved. Applying their expertise, they have provided training to the programme’s community of ambassadors, mentors and mentees.
For the pilot, Nazeer Patel and his team adopted the methodology proposed by the Sandton Coaching Centre to focus on developing the capacity in-house, within the membership itself. The aim has always been to build capacity in a group of volunteers to deliver mentoring programmes and pass on mentoring and facilitation skills in a self-sustaining environment.
Mentorship is more important than ever
There is a renewed focus on the importance of mentorship in today’s business culture, and for good reason. It’s a tool that individuals and companies can use to further their goals and objectives. Through policies and specific intent on fostering an environment of collaboration and curiosity, organisations can help younger, less experienced people grow their personal and professional skills. What’s more, research suggests that the mentor and the mentee benefit from mentorship.
‘Over the years SAICA has worked tirelessly to enhance professional development in the accounting profession in South Africa,’ says Matt Shelley. ‘Academic standards and rigorous technical competencies are fundamental. SAICA recognises that the situation in South Africa and the world means that we need to add different dimensions to professional development. CA2025 identifies new aspects, and it asks members to also take a new approach to their development as accounting professionals, with a greater focus on leadership, digital acumen and continuing professional development.’
Mentor relationships that have always been important have now become especially crucial as COVID-19 has forced people to look to their mentors to help them make sense of their new reality and continue to make positive choices.
Co-founder Joanne Searle qualified as a CA(SA) in 1988. Like many other CAs(SA), she was not a big fan of articles, but she enjoyed supporting trainees who were completing theirs. ‘During my second and third year of articles I was involved in a pilot mentoring programme supporting trainees,’ she says. ‘I moved to the UK after articles as I was seconded to the Coopers and Lybrand London office. In the quiet summer months, I worked with the training department to train clerks in technical and soft skills. I found that I really enjoyed supporting and developing people, so I retrained as a psychotherapist in the UK in the mid-90s and became a career coach.’
Searle came back to South Africa in 2003 and discovered that SAICA provided ongoing membership for people who had changed their focus, provided they kept up their CPD, and she re-joined SAICA in 2016. When Nazeer Patel noticed that she had re-joined the organisation, he asked if she would be interested in running a pilot mentoring programme.
‘Nazeer worked in the area of member engagement,’ Searle says. ‘For many years members had been asking for SAICA to offer a formal mentoring programme for newly qualified CAs(SA). Nazeer was also working in an action learning team that had been tasked to find a project as part of the leadership development training they were doing. The mentoring programme met this aim and has evolved through several different iterations with new elements added in each round.’
Newly qualified CAs(SA), says Searle, move from a very structured environment of career development aimed at the singular goal of becoming chartered into the real world. ‘After they achieve the qualification there are many different career paths available to them, and little support to guide them in the choices that lie ahead. With the challenges of the modern work environment members need to take a very proactive approach to their career development. SAICA has recognised this challenge in the new approach outlined by CA2025. Mentoring has always been an important aspect of any successful professional body. It is even more vital in the current global environment.’
Searle says what she is most proud of having achieved through the programme is the enormously positive response and feedback, the support of ambassadors – there are 30 in 2021, running 24 pod learning groups, the high levels of attendance by participants and ambassadors and the shifts all participants (mentees, mentors and ambassador) have experienced during the programme.
Looking ahead, Searle and Shelley are aiming to broaden the network of CAs(SA) who are involved and to continue to increase the programme’s reach.
Already the extension to overseas SAICA members has been met with excitement and positive feedback and engagement in the UK and Australia.
They are also exploring the possibility of extending the programme to prequalified members, creating more networking and collaborative special interest groups in areas such as soft skills, ethics, and other aspects of the CA2025 framework, and developing a more detailed connection with the structure and aims of CA2025. The goal is to have every member engaged in the programme in some way.
Searle and Shelley say they are inspired by the financial, administrative, marketing and communication support they have received for the programme from SAICA. ‘We have had unequivocal support and internal championing from some exceptional SAICA employees who see the value and potential for the programme for SAICA,’ says Shelley.
A CA(SA) for almost 25 years, Sanjay Soni is what most would describe as an ideal mentor. He is an executive director and co-shareholder in the Black Lite Group which focuses on B-BBEE strategy advisory services to large corporations, multinationals and established SMEs. Through its investment arm, Black Lite Investments, the company is invested in a 4IR/IoT business. He recently co-founded a virtual accelerator focused on township entrepreneurs, is actively involved in investing in early-stage and start-up businesses and has been involved in co-founding 10 start-ups. A highly experienced leader and an enthusiastic mentor, Soni is actively involved in four mentorship programmes across different sectors.
‘I was fortunate enough to have had mentors support me in my career and joining the pilot programme was a fitting opportunity for me to pay forward my learnings and experiences to other young CAs(SA) who will be our future leaders,’ he says.
He believes that being an ambassador brings with it a huge sense of responsibility. ‘We play a vital role in shaping the programme and ensuring it delivers optimal benefits to mentors and mentees. There is much planning, iterating, organising, communicating and engaging required, but it is an investment of time in what is certainly a worthy initiative.’
‘In 2020, we introduced pod groups where mentors and mentees are able to engage with each other to share experiences and learnings. Each pod typically comprises six to eight mentors or mentees and is hosted by one of the 24 ambassadors. This has also created an opportunity to expand each participant’s own network and has led to friendships and ongoing mentoring relationships being forged.’
For Soni, mentoring allows for the transfer of knowledge and skills and sharing of experiences and creates a conducive environment to form supportive relationships as well as an enabling platform for joint learning.
‘From our humble beginnings in 2017 with 26 mentors and mentees, we now have close to 200 in the programme. We are aiming for 500 mentors and mentees in the next 18 months, with upwards of 75 ambassadors. We want to continue to expand the programme nationally and internationally. We are also looking at alternate ways to have further recognition of the programme through SAICA and its members.’
Fiona Watt qualified as a CA(SA) in 1998. She worked for many years in forensics at EY and then for nearly a decade at Nedbank in multiple roles. Today she is a professional coach and runs her own company, New Perspectives 4 Growth.
‘SAICA’s pilot mentorship programme launched just after I started my own company in 2017,’ she says. ‘Considering I had already moved out of finance and into people development, stepping up as a mentor was a natural progression for me. I have been involved with the programme ever since.’
‘Being an ambassador means that I can reach a group of people, rather than just one or two mentees. In 2020, and again this year, I facilitated a pod of mentors from the programme. In our pods we have created great supportive communities. I encourage all pod members to share their experiences on the programme, what they’ve learned and what suggestions they have for others. I certainly don’t have all answers, and I have been pleasantly surprised by the contributions from our pod members. The mentors seem to get as much out of the programme as the mentees, if not more. There is a definite sense of reciprocal learning.’
Watt says the global pandemic combined with the massive shift that is happening in the chartered accounting profession, have made mentoring vitally important.
‘In addition to the bad press some CAs(SA) have had recently, artificial intelligence, and the move away from traditional command-and-control models to a more inclusive, open-minded, less hierarchical and more innovative environment are forcing change to take place. Skills such as creativity, communication, complex problem solving, and collaboration are vital. Learning formulas and following processes will no longer be a route to sustainable success.’
Watt says she is proud of the programme’s success and of how much her own pod group developed last year. ‘How wonderful would it be if every CA(SA) who needs a mentor is matched with someone who is able to give them a helping hand? That is my future goal for the programme.’
A CA(SA) for almost 30 years, Gorete Welland is a senior project manager at Discovery. She has had extensive exposure in the financial services industry, having started as a financial manager, and then moving into operational management in the collective investment schemes industry. Prior to joining Discovery, she was a risk manager.
‘I see myself as a problem solver who likes to work in a dynamic, creative and innovative environment,’ she says. ‘I am a leader who is passionate about liberating the best in people and I’m motivated by diversity, variety and change.’
Welland joined the programme as a way to give back to the SAICA community. ‘The impact that it has had on our members and colleagues has been phenomenal. We have seen mentors and mentees challenge, support and rally behind each other for the greater good of the SAICA community. As ambassadors we are able to support the facilitators, hold their spaces and grow the programme to reach more members. We have such a wealth of experience and incredible journeys to share.’
She says mentorship is beneficial for people who need someone to help steer them and hold them accountable for what they want to achieve. Mentoring relationships are all different as people have varying needs and those needs change over time. Some may seek specific outcomes, like growing their accounting practice. Others may want a career change and are struggling to define the next step. Some may be looking for guidance on work-life balance.
‘In 2020, we extended the programme to include KwaZulu-Natal,’ she says. ‘Amazingly, this was done virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic. We would like to continue to increase the reach and number of people. We would also like to see this extended to trainees and affiliated groups. Personally, I would like to facilitate a group in the future.’
Wallace Siakachoma joined SAICA in 2016 but has been a chartered accountant under a UK accounting body since 2001. He is a consultant in a business advisory firm that is seeking to invest in selected entrepreneurial projects in Africa. He has many years of experience in the financial services sector.
‘I am a product of mentorship and I have relied on advice from those who were more experienced than me throughout my career,’ he says. ‘I look at the ambassador role as a supportive one. At each stage of the programme there is a need to ensure that participants understand what mentorship is about and how they can maximise the benefits they get out of it. Ambassadors are key in providing guidance as well as running various hand-holding activities to ensure that the programme achieves its objectives. The mentorship programme is a way of developing leaders within the profession who are able to handle difficult issues, grow their careers, and protect the profession’s reputation.’
Siakachoma has mentored several CAs(SA) and had oversight of a pod of mentees to ensure that their mentorship relationships were going smoothly.
One successful outcome he remembers is that of a mentee who wanted to change careers. ‘We worked through this and at the end of the programme, he landed a more fulfilling role and is still there today.’
Another mentee wanted to be able to manage his career responsibilities while juggling his aspirations to give back to the less privileged in a tangible and meaningful way. ‘We shared different ideas on how he could be a better leader at work and have some time to invest in community projects; during the programme he was promoted at work and was also able to find time to set up a gardening project for a group of women who he empowered to be able to grow and sell vegetables in a competitive manner and at better margins via local supermarkets and other similar outlets.’
Siakachoma says he intends to continue being an ambassador and would love to see the programme grow to include more CAs(SA) each year. ‘The increased use of technology should enable all of us to be more impactful in the mentorship programme without impeding our existing day-to-day responsibilities elsewhere.’
A sole practitioner who has run her own accounting, auditing and tax practice since 1992, soon after qualifying as a CA(SA) at KPMG, Laetitia Bezuidenhout was inspired to join the mentorship programme because of changes in the profession and the evolving needs of many of her SME clients, whom she found were seeking mentorship over and above service delivery.
‘Being part of the programme means you are willing to share your experience and knowledge to help others,’ she says. ‘What appeals most to me about the way the programme is structured is that it is created for members and delivered by members. We have developed a safe space in which to explore topics like ethical issues, where the profession is heading, and more.’
As technology becomes increasingly sophisticated and present in all aspects of business, accounting professionals can expect a shift towards more strategic and analytical roles. Businesses rely on their finance teams to provide strategic advice on top of compliance and cost-saving guidance. It’s for this reason, Bezuidenhout says, that mentoring is critical.
‘Pure service delivery is not enough. With automation coming into play the future will require CAs(SA) to play a far more interpretive role in organisations. In addition, soft skills like communication and creativity will become more and more valuable and sought-after.’
Bezuidenhout says the programme has helped her change her own points of view and to understand and be more receptive to a broader audience. She is hoping that the programme continues to expand, especially to help break down much of the isolation that many professionals experience in their careers.