FD in Five Minutes: Indira Mahalingam-Ellis

The finance, facilities and corporate partnerships manager at Action West London talks versatility, singing and charities operating in a dog-eat-dog environment

Indira Mahalingam-Ellis
Indira Mahalingam-Ellis

Why did you take a role in the charity sector? I joined Action West London nine years ago. However, I have worked in the non-profit sector for more than 20 years as a qualified accountant. I chose to work in the sector because I wanted to make a real difference at a grassroots level, especially in local communities. No day is typical and there is never a dull moment at AWL. Being a medium-sized charity, I learned very quickly that my role wasn’t a purely transactional financial job. Over the years it has expanded to include facilities management, IT and digital marketing, and recently corporate partnerships.

How does working in the charity sector compare with working in the private sector? Charity accounting is not something that is taught in accounting schools so you tend to learn it on the job. It’s quite different from commercial sector. It is complex and risky as the nature of charities is not about profit-making. However, without making sufficient surplus the charity would run the risk of draining its reserves.

What do you do in your spare time? I sing in a choir, I am an avid reader and enjoy playing golf and dancing, especially salsa.

If you were charities minister for the day, what one thing would you do? I would make it compulsory for all large commercial companies, through their corporate social responsibility policies, to allocate part of their profits towards smaller charities. Smaller charities struggle to compete with larger organisations, which in the long term puts local communities at risk.

Are you optimistic for the future of the charity sector? Versatility, adaptability and open-mindedness are vital values to possess in the ever-changing face of the charity sector. Although charities are not answerable to shareholders like the private sector, the sector is going though massive changes with challenges competing with businesses and local authorities for funding in an almost dog-eat-dog environment. In order to survive this difficult and challenging climate, charities need to be courageous and innovative in diversifying their income streams in order to maintain sustainability for the future.

Action West London is an employment charity that operates in the London boroughs of Ealing, Hounslow, Hammersmith and Fulham, Brent, Harrow, Hillingdon, and Barnet

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